“Poor Laura Linda Tucker! Almost nothing was the way she wanted it to be.”
So goes the opening lines of Next Door to Laura Linda – a 1960s children’s book about a girl who is dissatisfied with her life, from the colour of her house, to the sex of her sibling.
Without wishing to spoil the ending, she figures out that not everything has to be just as she thinks she wants it to be in order for her to be happy. For a while though, Laura Linda is stuck in the ‘suffering gap’ – that is the space you can sometimes occupy between how things are in reality and how you would like them to be. While few of us will waste much time wishing our eyes were a different colour like the character in this children’s story, we can all get pulled into the trap of wanting things to be a certain way; wanting things to look a certain way, and wanting others to show up in a certain way.
Mind the gapBut what happens if you spend too much time in the suffering gap. What happens to your energy? What happens to your levels of motivation? What happens when you’re trying to change others so that they show-up in the way you’d like them to? As much as we’d sometimes like to, fundamentally we cannot change the behaviours of others. We can influence them, of course. We can tell them that a certain behaviour is unacceptable, for example if it oversteps our boundaries, or we can walk away – but we cannot change them. What we can do is change how we respond, and we can take a look at ourselves. It’s worth finding a moment to think about where are you expending huge amounts of time and energy trying to mould and change someone else because they don’t reflect how you would like them to be? Consider what it is about that person that is pressing your buttons? What is it that they are doing that you find unacceptable? If it is simply a case of unacceptable behaviours, do you need to remove yourself from the scenario? Perhaps you’re that person’s boss and you need to have a very honest conversation with them about the impact they’re having? Or are your buttons being pressed because someone is needling something within you that you haven’t addressed?
Sometimes, when there are things about ourselves we don’t want to look at, we can project them outwards – so seeing them reflected in another person rattles us; there is an emotional charge to it.
Lighting up the shadow work
Taking a deeper look at what’s upsetting us can help us uncover what we may have disowned, pushed down or disregarded. We call it ‘the shadow work’, and this ‘shadow’ stuff will show up at different times in our lives, through different scenarios and situations, and crucially through other people.
So, perhaps it’s time to shine a light on your ‘suffering gap’, and examine what’s really