Lesson Number Eight

Change, or learn forbearance.

One of my colleagues came up to me after a lecture that I gave on change with a particularly interesting question.

Do we have the obligation to change or to learn forbearance?

Although this site is about learning from my patients, in truth, I will learn from anybody who is prepared to teach me.

Sometimes, I struggle with this question. There is much to be said for both alternatives. Therefore, obviously a mixture is required doing both – demanding change or putting up with the situation as flexibly as one can.

Niebuhr’s Serenity¬†Prayer – “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference” rings through my head fairly often. However, there is a situation that keeps coming up at my practice – individuals who have frankly been treated badly.

Of course, the mixture exists – and my rule of thumb (probably coming from my own background) is to suggest that you try and change as much as you can. If after trying everything, change is not possible, then there is a choice of forbearance or a radical move. Usually, it is that of leaving the relationship or leaving the job or leaving the situation or sometimes inserting a greater distance between yourself and the family that is causing pain (or family members that are causing pain).

So, my first choice is not forbearance. I try and get individuals to change matters. It requires individuals shifting how they see the situation and making a choice of response based on a different view. It is not a question of forbearance.

Although the Christian view would be that one loves one’s neighbour somewhat more than one’s self, Judaism suggests it is a question of loving oneself first – and only then is one in a position to love one’s neighbour.

Although this sounds rather self-centered, the thinking is fairly clear. If there is resentment because one’s own needs are being neglected (it’s fine if you are happy with the forbearance or sacrifice) then individuals tend to punish one another. Resentment is not a great perspective. One punishes oneself, punishes the other person in frustration, or even worse, punishes a third person who is not even part of the difficulty!

Thus, it is a question of having one’s own needs met and negotiating one’s own needs with the other person. Thus, it is change first – and only then, if change is not possible, then the choice of forbearance or departure (or geography) becomes the obvious next choice.

So many individuals feel guilty about making a choice that meets their own requirements. I understand why this occurs. However, there is a different model that says that I am prepared to put up with what you do, provided that my rights are met. If you cannot meet my rights or needs, it then is not my choice. I am telling you what you would need to do in order to have what you want. I am not trying to deprive you. Rather, I am simply saying to you I will give you what you want, but in exchange for this, I have requirements.