Friday, May 24, 2013

Dreamers vs. Realists: Magic or Toxic?

Many of the most exciting people are also the most dangerous. Reckless people can be detrimental to our health.  To what lows will they go to attain new heights? Because they've got the emotional range of a roller coaster, when they go down, they go down hard. Anyone in their path will be dragged along with them. When they're experiencing one of their highs, they can be nearly irresistible.

We are often drawn into relationships that perpetuate a pattern we are familiar with. We all pick our partners in life in hopes of getting the love we longed for and may not have gotten from our parents. Unfortunately, in our cleverness, we often pick partners who are reasonable facsimiles of our parents. Since we still need love and approval, we continue to try to get it from our partners just as we tried with our parents.

As I explore the sometimes toxic relationship between “Schoolmarms and Cowboys” It seems that what I’m actually looking at is the contrast between dreamers and realists. The realist and the dreamer are often to be the most unlikely of friends, polar opposites in fact, often standing in direct opposition from one another. Dreamers love to indulge in the land of “Imagine if…” They are “big picture” people with ambitious ideas and high hopes for radical outcomes and experiences in life. They live with their head in the clouds imagining and wishing for a better tomorrow. Unfortunately dreams don’t become a reality based on enthusiasm alone.

When it comes to relationships, dreamers are romantics. They are inspiring and encouraging people to be around and their “Land of Oz” mentality makes them contagious leaders. The difference between dreamers and realists is that dreamers recognize the change necessary for their desired outcome. Instead of wallowing in thoughts that reassert the limitations and tribulations that they’re experiencing they indulge on their dreams and desires and focus all their energies on what they passionately crave.

The realist, on the other hand, is much more concerned with the practical details. They pride themselves on having their feet firmly planted on the floor and their head in the real world.  They are practical thinkers and problem solvers, high achievers and highly productive. The realists have good intentions to bring constructive ideas and feedback to see forward movement, but they are often accused of being dream destroyers because of their profound ability to instantly identify potential obstacles and issues that can bring down a dream and smash it into a thousand pieces with one word!

Opposites attract, or so the saying goes, but at first glance this relationship seems doomed. The dreamer is constantly frustrated because he feels as though the realist is always negative. The realist is driven crazy by the unrealistic fantasy-like ideas of the dreamer. However, when the best aspects of these two characters are meshed together magic happens! When the dreamer can encourage the realist to lift her head a little higher and dream a little bigger and when the realist can encourage the dreamer to come back down to earth long enough to put some form and structure in place, the sky is the limit!  The result could be one very dynamic and successful partnership.  The best chance of seeming a dream fully realized is to get both aspects of these characters on board. And it is the hope of creating this magic that draws the two together like moths to a flame.

Unfortunately, the relationship can just as easily turn toxic. Dreamers are often narcissistic in that everything centers on their needs and wants. If you have been trained to put the needs of others above your own, you spend your time in service to your partner. The relationship begins to alter who you are and you lose control of your life. You become more invested in the relationship because you are serving your partner. Yet they grow less vested in the relationship and show less respect for your efforts. Each day you surrender a part of yourself in order to keep your toxic partner from jumping on the roller coasters and taking you on another emotional, toxic ride.  You begin to feel devalued. You get weaker and weaker until you don’t like who you have become.

 So why would anyone get caught up in this terrible situation in the first place?  Why wouldn’t they get out at the first sign that the relationship has turned toxic?  The easiest choice is to continue the relationship and hope that the other person changes. This is rarely successful, but the one most socially acceptable to previous generations of men and women caught in toxic relationships. It’s what perpetuates the myth of “Ozzie and Harriet” that we all lead lives of perfect harmony. The second is to attempt to minimize the damage that the relationship is causing by limiting contact, also known as “The Silent Treatment”, and trust that the other person will get the message. Neither of these methods of dealing with the situation has ever proven very successful.  The third, and definitely the most challenging, is to confront the issue and end the relationship in all forms.  This is also the most painful choice if ending the relationship involves children, uncertain finances and social pressure.

Dreamers and realists will continue to be attracted to one another as long as there is a chance that we can create the magic. But if the relationship turns toxic, we must be willing to cut our losses and move on.  Once we know why we make the choices we do, we can begin to constructively change our way of thinking about relationships and choose the healthiest option, rather than the most comfortable one.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cleaning Closets

According to Psychology Today, everyone procrastinates sometimes, but 20 percent of people chronically avoid difficult tasks and deliberately look for distractions—which, unfortunately, are increasingly available. Procrastination in large part reflects our perennial struggle with self-control as well as our inability to accurately predict how we'll feel tomorrow, or the next day. Procrastinators may say they perform better under pressure, but more often than not that's their way of justifying putting things off.

I’ve never considered myself a procrastinator, but I have suddenly awakened to the fact that I’m actually quite good at it!  While I was working, it was easy to put off things around the house while I focused on meeting the deadlines at work.  Now, in this first year of retirement, I find that old habits are hard to break.  I should, for example, clean out closets and get rid of unwanted and unnecessary items, but every time I open the closet door, I can think of a dozen reasons to put it off.

The same demons have plagued my resolution to exercise more and lose weight.  Perhaps the two are related since my closet is filled with clothing of various sizes waiting for me to get back to a size where they will fit again.  The closet is filled with the ghosts of the person I used to be and it is a metaphor for my current battle with procrastination.

After spending last week doing research for a chapter of my book, I realized that I actually needed to do a complete rewrite of several chapters to tie up loose ends and present the time and events with accuracy. Instead of getting right to it while the information is fresh in my mind, I find myself looking for reasons to put it off. The book and the research have caused me to open the closet door to my past and examine skeletons I thought I had buried long ago. I have reflected deeply on the people and events that led me to the point where I am today and realized that I wasn’t always fair in my evaluation of the situation. The writing has forced me to change perspectives on my view of the past and look at things through the eyes of my characters.  In so doing, I have gained new insight and respect for their motivations, but it is often a painful revelation…much like looking at a closet full of clothes that I most likely will never wear again.

The reality is that even if I were able to fit into my old clothes, I would feel uncomfortable and out of touch.  I’m not that person anymore and bell bottoms will hopefully never come back in style! I must remember this as I write.  That girl doesn’t exist anymore, but she is responsible for making me the woman I am today.  For that I thank her and forgive her silliness and misconceptions, but it is time to focus on the person I am today. It’s time to clean out that closet!