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Sometimes, Love is Pain (and a Piggy Bank)

Most people assume my attitude is naturally positive. I get comments like, “What a gift to be that positive,” or “your outlook on life is so amazing!!”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s very flattering to hear those words. But what most people don’t understand is just how hard I have to work in order to get myself there. In fact, there are many times when I simply can’t get myself there alone. That’s where “my people” come into play. A very small circle of family and close friends who I allow to speak harsh truth to me when the reality in my eyes has become a bit diluted.

I can be dramatic. I would say that 90% of the time, I blow most things out of proportion. A bad night’s sleep or a week of crappy workouts in the gym – you’d think my world was ending. I’m not proud of that fact, and I’ve worked to improve it. I’m just letting you know that my natural tendency is to lean on the side of pessimism and call it realism. I am NOT one of those “glass half full” people by nature. 

My sister Megan, on the other hand, is the definition of glass half full. In fact, her glass could have an inch of milk in it and she’s spreading joy and speaking words like it’s overflowing. Milk abounds.

This has always been the case with us since we were kiddos. I also happened to share a room with Megan, so she was privy to maybe a few more of my dramatic meltdowns than my other two siblings. Lucky her.

As I entered my middle school and high school phases, some of these meltdowns became regular occurrences in specific situations, like going to the beach. It’s not that I had a panic attack every time I saw the ocean. It’s just that in order to get into the water, I would have to take my leg off and hop through the waves. Slightly uncomfortable, yes, but more of an issue in my mind because of the stares I always got from surrounding people. 

On one of these trips, I showed my amazing aptitude to feel sorry for myself. I wanted to get into the water but didn’t want people to stare at my leg, so naturally I was choosing to sit on the ground and whine about it.

Sweet, kind Megan looked me directly in the eyes and said, “Amy Elizabeth, WHY are you giving strangers this much power over you? You’re choosing to throw yourself a pity party and have a terrible time. The stares are over in a few minutes. You sitting out of the fun is not ruining the stranger’s day. It’s ruining yours.”

I learned a few important lessons that day. Not only about refusing to allow strangers to dictate my emotions and what I chose to participate in. That was an extremely important lesson, and one I sometimes need to be reminded of even still. But I also learned that sometimes loving someone means telling them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. That can be painful.

I had every right to be self-conscious. No one else on that trip has ever had to strip a literal leg off to get into the water. But it still didn’t change the situation. Allowing me to sit in my feelings and feel sorry for myself may have given me the slightest bit of self-satisfaction, but it would not have helped me grow. Truly helping me meant telling me it was an opportunity to become a stronger person through it.

Sometimes, even though the person needs to hear something wrapped in tough love, it doesn’t mean they are ready to hear it, or that it will be well-received. More often than not, the deep lessons I learned from moments like that did not sink in until later on. In the moment, I’d react with anger. Even though I knew she was right, I wasn’t ready to outwardly accept it.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t speak the truth, just be aware of the situation. Perhaps most importantly, make sure you actually have a relationship with this person. Megan, just like my other siblings, can speak truth to me like that, because they have put “deposits in the bank” over years and years, so to speak. Megan could tell me my attitude sucked because she had also comforted me countless times. She was at my side while people stared, she watched me struggle and pick myself back up and knew the ins and outs of what she was just asking me to do.

Politely, if you have not put deposits down with the person you’re trying to communicate with, your message will most likely fall on deaf ears, even if you’re technically in the right. You’re trying to make a withdrawal without any investment, which typically isn’t how a bank works.

Show up for your people in love, first. Over and over again. Then, when it’s time to present them with a different kind of love, the tougher kind to swallow, it’s much more likely to have an impact.

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