No One is Stealing Your Toys

red teddy bear, pink plushie, green background
Image by artbystevejohnson / CC BY

“Fear makes come true that which one is afraid of.”

-Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search For Meaning

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Well, it’s good to know that I can count on you to stab me in the back, they texted me. I saw the tag on Facebook. Hope you enjoyed it at least. One of us ought to.

The texts poured in.

It’s just another case of make one friend, lose three.

I was stunned. I had moved halfway across the country to be with them.  My crime? Going out for sushi with a group of people while they were out of town. All I was trying to do was get to know other people in the area, make sure they weren’t my only social support. And why wouldn’t I be nice to their friends?

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In a zero sum game, when one person gains, the other loses. And some people apply this mentality broadly to all of their interpersonal relationships.

Because they look at relationship fights as something you either win or lose, they become defensive at the smallest conflict and jump to the attack, fighting dirty.  They’re jealous of the smallest things.

It’s a miserable way to live. It can literally drive you crazy.

And while there may be contexts where competitive behaviors can serve you well, your relationships aren’t one of them.

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I’ve previously written about the merits of compersion, i.e., feeling happy when good things happen to other people.

One of the questions I often get is how exactly a person goes about cultivating compersion and developing empathy for others’ positive emotions and circumstances.

A few activities work well  to develop your sense of security as well as increase positive empathy for others.

Practicing Random Acts of Kindness 

Paying it forward to other people is amazing. First, it just feels good, not only for them but for you. Set a goal of doing an act of kindness as often as you can manage it. Once a week was realistic for me. Some may be able to manage more, others less. The more often the better, but the key is consistency and developing the habit.

These do not have to be grand gestures.

For maximum effect, change up the kind act and who you are doing it for each time.

Randomactsofkindness.org has an exhaustive database of  ideas to get you started.

Gratitude Journaling

Part of getting away from fear is really appreciating the present reality of what we have. One way to do this is to keep a gratitude journal.

At the same time each day, write 5 things you are grateful for. Be specific and detailed as possible about them. Elaborate. Don’t just write “the people I love.” Write something more like “That my boyfriend brought me lunch even though it was really far out of his way.”

It’s fine to write about prized possessions, your pets, or abstract states (being grateful for your health, etc), but make sure to mention at least one social relationship every day, and if you’re struggling with jealousy or social insecurity, the more you can be grateful for the people in your life, the better.

If you adhere to this practice faithfully, you’ll find yourself looking for opportunities for your journal throughout the day, which will prime you to see the good in your interactions with other people and the things in your life.

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And finally, be kind to yourself if you do feel envy, jealousy, or fear. It’s not your fault. We are surrounded by people modeling competitive behaviors –we’re in this culture. It’s easy to get caught up.

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