Bad things can happen to good people

It doesn’t seem fair, does it! If you do everything by-the-book and behave as you imagine you are expected to, everything should be hunky dory and fine. Do good things and good things will come to you.

But life does not follow logic as clearly as a math equation. There are many variables over which we have no control. So, good things happen to bad people. And good folks suffer negative experiences. No harm, no foul; no fault, no reward. Trying to figure it all out is a waste of energy.

That includes analyzing your feelings. It is usually pretty easy to determine an excuse for how you feel (answering the “why” question); but unless it leads to some type of resolution, it’s not much help.

Debra was faced with a life changing situation, recently diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. I asked how she felt. She was a former client so she understand I wanted her to be radically honest about it. Feeling scared was a given. Also, since it was a recent diagnosis, she was still experiencing a sense of denial (This cannot be real).

She then confessed she was really angry. “Why does this have to happen to me?” The anger was directed at a parental God, “It’s not fair! Why me?”

As we talked she migrated from anger into self-deprecation. “Maybe it is my negativity that brought this on?” Her query was half in jest, and she wasn’t ready to hear it from me, but she was bordering very close to the truth.

I listened with compassion. What to do for one with such devastating news? “Why breast cancer? Isn’t that code for a death sentence?”

I wanted to help her feel better, but I also needed to very clear about my role in this drama. There is a major difference between being either an adviser or a friend. A friend provides comfort and support, lacking the skills or experience to do much more than that.

As Debra’s coach, I allowed friends and family their role, knowing that I would need to go beyond that. I saw my job as first getting Debra to face facts; then help her confront and deal with the situation at hand by creating a plan to cope positively with the challenging days ahead.

Debra had a history of seeing the dark side of any situation. At the time of the cancer diagnosis we had been working together to help her develop a positive approach to life. She reflexively jumped to the worse assumptions at any challenge, so a cancer diagnosis would be a real test of her progress.

Initially we looked the known facts and I gave her permission to rant, rave and cry. When she was thoroughly spent, I was able to take some notes on her most pressing fears, and we went to work.

“Let’s start with your anger. You ask why me? If I give you ten compelling reasons why this has happened to you, will it make you feel better? Would it make it easier to accept your condition?”

An emphatic “No!”

“If I could identify exactly what you have done wrong in your life to cause this, would it change anything?”

A less emphatic “No.”

“Well then, has the energy you spent being angry helped you at all?”

A self-conscious “You are right.”

“OK, let’s spend some time figuring out what is helpful to you. The doctor told you it was Stage 2. Aren’t you glad it was not Stage 4?”

She managed a hesitant “Y…yes.”

“Good. Now, did you just tell me your doctor already has a treatment plan in place for you? Didn’t you say that a new protocol is available to you? Didn’t you say your chemo is already scheduled?”

Nodding softly “Uh-huh.”

“Now, tell me what positive elements you can derive from these facts?”

After thinking it over, and with some gentle coaxing, Debra began to acknowledge that her cancer diagnosis was NOT a death sentence. The doctor had not said she was going to die. In fact, just the opposite, they had caught it early and there was a treatment available.

In Debra’s mind she had retreated into a dark room. My goal was to help her find a small window and, though it required some effort on her part, force it open just a crack to let some light seep in.

Facts are facts. Debra had cancer. That necessarily entailed discomfort and inconvenience; but ‘death’ went beyond the facts. Once Debra could see that bit of light she was on her way to coping in a more positive way.

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