The Power of Great-itude

greatitudeNovember is Thanksgiving in the U.S. and there’s usually a lot of talk about gratitude at this time of year.

The practice of gratitude is good for mental health and well-being. But it’s hard to feel grateful when life isn’t treating you so well.

Sure, your basic needs might be met and other things might be going okay, but when your relationship with an adult child is troubled, giving thanks isn’t necessarily your first impulse.

When gratitude eludes you, you might still be able to practice what I call “great-itude.”

Great-itude means being great in the face of the not-so-great stuff that life deals you.

Estrangement from adult children is just one example.

Practice Great-itude

When someone ignores or actively rejects you, it’s normal to feel like not giving them anything.

We humans don’t like to “reward” behavior that hurts us by being extra-nice to the perpetrator It’s counter-intuitive.

Sometimes we need to transcend human nature for relationships to flourish.

The simple but difficult-to-follow advice to “turn the other cheek” (instead of resisting being slapped) has been around for millennia. True wisdom survives the ages.

When you can overcome the pull of Nature and be consistently nice to someone who’s being consistently mean to you, you get your power back, and then some.

It’s a gentle power, like that of water droplets eroding solid rock over time.

Whenever you respond to sharpness with kindness, you neutralize any ammunition the other person feels they have against you.

The longer they go on being mean to you while you’re being perfectly nice to them, the more uncomfortable they become.

At some point it becomes impossible for most people to continue to mistreat someone who’s being nothing but loving and receptive.

Turning the other cheek, being great in the face of not-great treatment, removes fuel from the fire and injects a big dose of goodwill into your relationship.

Refuse to Play Ball

Being great in the face of others’ non-great behavior is the most effective reconciliation tool there is.

When someone treats you poorly, says unkind things, or refuses to acknowledge you, it’s as though they’re hitting a tennis ball to you.

If you react negatively to their behavior, you’ve hit the ball back to them.

As long as you keep returning the ball, they can hit it to you again and again.

If you don’t react with anger, resentment, frustration, or desperation, it’s like you’re not hitting the ball back. They have to collect the ball themselves if they want to hit it to you again.

If you keep refusing to hit the ball back, they can’t fail to notice that you’re not playing the game anymore. It’s just them, hitting the ball at you.

At this point, a rational person starts to ask himself or herself, “Why do I keep hitting the ball when it’s not being returned?”

They’re forced to examine their own behavior. They can’t pin it on you, because you’re not participating.

Here’s an example from my own life:

Sometimes when I write a post over on PsychologyToday.com, someone will leave an angry comment, accusing me of saying and believing things I didn’t say and don’t believe.

My first impulse is ALWAYS to defend myself, to explain what I meant, and to suggest that my words have been misinterpreted. But I know that won’t have the intended effect.

What I try to do instead of hitting the ball back to them like that is to bend and meet them where they are. I find ways in which they’re right to be hurt, angry, or outraged by what I wrote.

It’s not always easy, believe me, but my policy is to apologize for giving the wrong impression, for not being clear in my writing, for causing them pain. Mea culpa.

Usually, the commenter softens. Many even apologize to me for their harsh words!

There’s no need to hit another ball at me because we’re not playing a game of back-and-forth.

Being great-full works. Try it and see for yourself.

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It…

Great-itude isn’t easy. It’s a conscious, effortful and long-term project. It can take time for great-itude to have an impact on those around you.

However, practicing great-itude has an immediate impact on you.

The self-control, high-level discipline and — I’ll say it — greatness it takes to be great in the face of non-great behavior will impress you. And so it should. Not everyone has the will or the stamina to be great-full.

Great-itude takes integrity, compassion, and strength of character. It also builds these qualities whenever you practice it.

Be sure to practice kindness and compassion toward yourself while you do this.

Get your emotional needs met — especially the need for visibility, belonging, and love — somewhere else while practicing great-itude toward your estranged adult child.

A full bucket is your best tool when it comes to healing estrangement.

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