How we can manage life difficulties?
What do you want to manage?
Whether our life changes dramatically, be it through menopause or retirement, or whether we are in a crisis (before, during or after midlife), whether we have fallen ill (depression, anxiety, phobias, sleep, chronic pain) or are haunted by a traumatic past, whether our low self-esteem is feeding our inner saboteur or whether shame and guilt persistently get to us – we do not want to be exposed or subjected to any of these experiences helplessly. We want to be able to manage them.
What does ‘to manage’ actually mean?
Synonyms for ‘to manage’ are many. To name but a few, the word manage can be replaced with control, organise, direct, govern, lead or handle. What they all have in common is the idea that we stay on top of a process that might be complicated, overwhelming and possibly even distressing or anxiety-provoking. Whilst this understanding of ‘to manage’ is quite clear and obvious, a more implicit quality of managing signs and symptoms is often less spoken about. That of skills, knowledge and expertise.
Managing means exploring
In our working life, we might have suffered from managers who seemed to have little skills, displayed knowledge that appeared to be entirely irrelevant to the job and showed hardly any expertise. We might have moaned about them as we felt their impact on our lives and how much they avoided managing any problems. And we might have thought how much better we could do their job. We all remember bad management…
Allow me to stop us there and, for a moment, invite us to honestly reflect on our own management skills in the area that is most important to us: living a valued life. How good is our knowledge around the experience we want to manage for ourselves? Have we become our own expert in the field of the menopause? Do we know what triggers pain flair-ups? Do we know how we react to unbearable emotions – and whether this reaction is nurturing or depleting? Have we investigated what our guilt wants to tell us? What would your answer be?
Managing starts with awareness of what is
Here is something interesting. I felt a bit nervous asking you the above questions and thought whether it might be best to avoid them. I feared they might be interpreted as blaming or negative judgement. But this is far from the case. If you have answered with ‘no’ then you are in good company. Let’s face it; it can be so very hard to engage with what feels difficult. And it can be so very human to avoid this difficulty, avoid managing the problem, and even avoid asking questions.
How to manage?
The first step when working with a client is to demystify the unknown. What can we learn about (for example) your shame? If we could pop it on the table, if you and I could observe and analyse it – what could we learn? And how could this empower us? Moreover, how would your relationship to shame change when we allow ourselves to become curious around it?
As you can see, ‘managing’ difficulties goes hand-in-hand with discovering what they mean, what they tell us and how we can relate to them. All of this therapeutic work is in the service of reducing the depleting power that they might have over us.