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Reality Show

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One of the Buddhist noble truths is that “Desire is the root of all suffering.”  In thinking about disappointments, you will no doubt find this to be true.  The source of suffering comes from a desire for a different outcome, or a failure to accept reality. 

Consider this disturbing, yet enlightening example from famous psychologist Albert Ellis. In an interview on National Public Radio, Ellis is heard in a group therapy session that he was conducting with a woman who was distraught about the unsolved murder of her sister from eight years earlier.  The woman stated that she believed her sister should not have been killed. Murder was not the expectation she had for her sister, and the pain of the murder was compounded by the fact that the assailant was never captured. 

Dr. Ellis tells the woman that she would be well-advised to believe that her sister indeed “should” have been murdered.  And then there were gasps of shock from the woman and the other group participants.  Was Dr. Ellis being cruel?  Had he lost his mind?  No.  While Dr. Ellis would certainly not deny the woman her right to grieve, he also recognized, with compassion, that the murder victim would not want her surviving sister to suffer like this. 

He went on to explain that believing the sister “should” have been murdered is not cruel, but rather it is simply an acknowledgement and acceptance of reality.  After the initial period of shock and the process of grieving, failure to accept reality (based on her faulty expectations) had greatly “robbed” the surviving sister of any peace that she could have achieved over the past 8 years. 

Those well-meaning friends who commiserated over the years and reinforced the thought that the terrible event “should not have happened,” inadvertently kept the surviving sister “stuck” in a state of emotional limbo without closure.  After her session with Dr. Ellis, the reality, of course, remained unchanged and sadness persisted, but the surviving sister experienced a cathartic insight of acceptance that liberated her and allowed her to reclaim control of her emotions (and her life). 

Indeed, failure to accept reality has a great emotional cost.  Even when reality is particularly grim, there is a great value to striving for Zen-like acceptance in the name of your own emotional survival and peace of mind.  A “Maximum Strength Parent” can’t change what happened, but can change what happens next.