Chapter 3

One thing you shouldn’t resign
yourself to: Handicaps

Imperfect – but with the chance
that you can  improve yourself

Human beings are imperfect. They err and they make mistakes. They behave in ways that bother them but, despite all of their resolu­tions to the contrary, they keep on falling back into these ways.

No matter how hard mothers and fathers try to do a good job of bringing up their children, their influence on the up-and-coming generation has both positive and negative sides. And at the same time, parents are often unaware of what will have a positive effect and what will be negative. Much of what they do is wellin­ten­tioned but nevertheless has negative conse­quences: handicaps.

Resear­chers have obtained a wealth of insights that can be used to analyze actions that come across as proble­matic. While it can help us under­stand the behavior, the person in question has to solve the problem himself or herself.

Work on yourself!

When you go to a psycho­the­rapist, you get help with delving into your past. Explanatory paradigms reveal to us the evolution of our behavior that is often compulsive. Recognizing and under­standing the causes and effects allows us to obtain approaches for getting rid of the handicaps.

However, some of us simply use the explanation pattern to liberate ourselves from the feeling of guilt for our unpleasant behavior. To blame is the autho­ri­tarian father, the overpro­tective mother, the father who is always absent, the mother who is overwhelmed by her double duty as mother and working woman, the parents’ strained marriage or the shock of a hospital stay, etc.

In order to overcome handicaps or at least to deal with them, we first need the ability to look inside ourselves and observe ourselves. It is crucial, however, for us to be able to deal with them construc­tively. In other words, to work on ourselves. Many people are afraid to do this. They would rather acquiesce to obliga­tions imposed on them by others than force themselves to do something.

How to resist temptation

Working on one’s self does not require any heroic efforts, but instead calls for properly dealing with one’s self in the little events of everyday life.

Take the example of “getting up in the morning”: If getting up in the morning has not become an automatic habit, then the following scenario will ring a bell: Why not stay in bed a little longer? The weather outside is bad anyway. I’ll just close my eyes again for a few seconds and enjoy the nice, warm bed. Now it’s too late anyway. Being well rested helps you work better. There are a thousand reasons for why it could make sense not to force yourself to do something unpleasant and just stay in bed. After all, it’s a free country, and you can do what you want.

If you want to resist the tempt­ation to stay in bed and instead, follow the need to get up, you can’t allow yourself to engage with the internal dialogue entitled the “advan­tages of staying in bed” but must focus on the “advan­tages of getting up”. This means concen­trating on a tasty, relaxed breakfast, on meeting people, on the activities and events of the day and on everything that makes this day worth experi­encing.

The power of the factual is used by those of us who set goals and imagine them and use their mind, body and soul to achieve their goals. Goals that beckon on the horizon are the moving force that take us away from self-pitying obsession with our handicaps.

Make a decision!

Young adults are supposed to make decisions. One of them is whether we should move out of our parents’ house or whether we should stay. The right time for making this decision is when we graduate from high school. From my own personal experience and based on my obser­va­tions of young people I say: “Move out!” And make sure to move far enough away so that you are outside the monitoring range of people who would like to keep you close by because they love you, feel respon­sible for you and have the best of intentions.

If you do not go out “into the big wide world” to try your wings, but choose to try this at home instead, you run the risk of two things: Either you will fail to spread your wings and will never manage to detach yourself from your social environment or the confron­ta­tions will lead to ongoing conflict possibly culmi­nating in irrecon­cilable enmity.

In contrast to their siblings who have remained at home, many young adults find their way back to a harmo­nious relati­onship with their parents after their “years of appren­ti­ceship”. Even if they turn up at home again as a “prodigal child” after a long period. Parents have to let go of their children after puberty. Children who are in the process of becoming adults must experience that they can manage on their own.

Psycho­lo­gists use the term “cutting the cord”. This works best when young people have the oppor­tunity to do this in an unfamiliar place, “unsuper­vised”. Nor should they be super­vised by their peers, for instance, in shared housing. The bottom line is, dare to “take flight”, pack your things and leave. As a young adult, you have the right to try things out without constantly getting wellmeant advice and having risks pointed out to you. You have the right to make mistakes without being observed and to learn from them.

Earning freedom!

A second question must now be decided: When do I want to perma­nently commit myself to another person? You have to decide this before you meet the great girl or the great guy you want to move in with. Every commitment initially clips your wings. When a couple declare that they will permit each other absolute freedom, they are deceiving themselves.

While I was at university, after I had left home, I decided that I would not enter into a relati­onship defined by marriage and family. This is because in the first place, I wanted to remain “completely free” and in the second place, I wanted to be sure that I could organize my life independently. And I recalled what our German teacher had told us: No man meets just one woman he could marry during his lifetime.

A “completely unfet­tered life” gives rise to a third question: How do I obtain financial indepen­dence? Firstly, by gathering experience dealing with money as a young person, for instance learning how best to divide up your allowance. And secondly, by having had a job at some point.

For example, playing an instrument and playing a gig, offering computer services or tutoring. I have heard of students who have hired themselves out as temporary workers, not just to earn money, but because they wanted to get to know a company from the inside out and to make contacts. Furthermore, look for paid internships and find out about schol­ar­ships. On the expen­ditures side, be frugal and look for discounts.

Focus on your talents!

Sadly, we take our handicaps with us when we leave home. Still, it is easier to deal with them in a new social setting than in the milieu in which they came to be. Deal with them? Only to the extent to which we bother others with them. If the reactions of others show me that my behavior strikes others as unpleasant or if I get angry about myself, this should stimulate me to think about my behavior and consider how I can correct it. Otherwise, you should just try out different varia­tions and continue developing.

In order to recognize the fantastic goals that can be achieved while living your life, you just need to take a look at the biogra­phies of people who have stood out for their achie­ve­ments. Very few of them achieved the impressive moments en route to and at their goal without having exerted a great deal of effort along the way. They had to deal with setbacks, disap­point­ments and detours. Many of them had starting positions that were actually rather poor. Some of them were so impaired by physical limita­tions that it seemed as though the possi­bi­lities for them to develop seemed very remote.

Still, despite all of their handicaps, people constantly prove that each and every one of us has huge potential for develo­pment. No one is born without talent. Focus on your strengths, not on what hinders you! Physi­cally challenged indivi­duals can teach us how we can deal with our handicaps such that while they are parameters of life, they are not our sole purpose in life. They demons­trate a zest for life and joie de vivre that serve as a model for how having goals pushes handicaps to the background.

We all have to live with our personal handicaps, but we need to keep our eye on our goals at all times. This is the only way to keep our dealing with the reasons for our disad­van­tages in life from becoming self-pity but rather allowing them to become a soberly clari­fying analysis that aims to develop precisely designed future projects. Once I find out where my short­co­mings are, I can compensate for them, and often even eliminate them.

Becoming your own boss

We will most likely never find out to what extent our genetic material and to what extent the context in which we were brought up influence the way a person develops. The two are inextri­cably linked. On the other hand, it is clear that diffe­rences in the quality of our upbringing do impact the develo­pment of handicaps and the way we deal with them. There is no one-sizefits-all upbringing. All of the scien­tific efforts to develop a child­rearing approach that is univer­sally valid results in ideolo­gical impasses rather than opening up oppor­tu­nities for people to develop their perso­na­lities.

We develop our perso­nality with and through people. Because their father does this or that kind of sport, his children do this as well. Because his girlfriend has this or that prefe­rence, her boyfriend tries to match it. People open up the world for people. Affection always plays a role. We take most of the affection from people to whom we are attached, who love us and whom we love.

The first key people in our lives are assigned to us. We cannot choose our mother. Nor our father. We have to accept the people whom we need to survive at the outset of our lives as given. And they are the very ones who determine a great part of the horizon of life that opens itself up to us. Children experience their depen­dence on their parents not only as loving security, but also as a restriction of their freedom.

For this reason, the impact of all upbringing is charac­te­rized by ambiva­lence: doing the opposite. In certain develo­p­mental phases, there is nothing more interesting than breaking rules. Puberty should be followed by cutting the cord from the parental home: Do not settle in the comfort of the “Hotel Mama”.

With initiative, ideas and perseverance

Once you have moved away from home, it can be extremely enriching to undertake something like an extended trip that you have arranged yourself. Not a tourist trip, however, but rather an expedition that you have meticu­lously prepared, executed according to plan but which is still open to situa­tions that crop up and documented through notes and photos. The important thing is to immerse yourself in another culture!

A vital point for your prepa­ration: Collect addresses and make contacts that open up possi­bi­lities for paying a visit. Then, when you are underway, be flexible enough to be able to adjust your plans if a “once in a lifetime oppor­tunity” for a tour or for an experience comes up. In this case, you may also have to dispense with your documen­tation or record the events by memory after the fact. After you have returned, you need to work through the trip.

As a young adult, you should also unremit­tingly enrich yourself where you study and learn. You need to devote yourself to an area of knowledge that you are interested in. Whether it is a foreign language, a certain area of the world, a person or history is moot. You need to pursue it with initiative, ideas and perse­verance. In so doing, you get to know yourself and others.

Leave the past behind and act!

Most handicaps disappear as we continue to develop. Experi­encing this is extremely pleasurable. Still, a few bad habits can continue to stubbornly impair every one of us. They have become ingrained, as it were. In this case, you have to deal with them speci­fi­cally, for instance, the fact that you blurt things out, without thinking about what you want to say beforehand, or that you constantly allow yourself to be talked into doing things and can be seduced.

You have to deal with these deeply ingrained behavioral handicaps. There is no way around it. You can’t escape. You have to take a hard look at the damaging effects and keep reminding yourself to get rid of this behavior.

To this end, there are different means that you should not be afraid to use. For instance, you can write reminder cards and put them where you will see them all the time. You can make up symbols and place them where you will constantly see them and write about them in a journal until you have managed to eliminate them.

This type of self-impro­­vement method is a very personal matter, and we learn to be our own masters, independent of others.

Observing yourself

Only rarely are the formative events of one’s childhood and youth so final that an adult is unable to direct his or her own life and make something of it, despite all the handicaps. In fact a handicap can even motivate us to show everyone that we really can do it, and even better than everyone else. Here, ambiva­lence also plays a role. The one-time follower develops into a leader. The former ne’er-do-well becomes a high-achieving and respon­sible contemporary.

As adults, we have to achieve a distanced attitude towards ourselves, stepping out of ourselves and observing ourselves — the way we occasio­nally observe ourselves in dreams. What matters is not that we assess ourselves positively or negatively, but only that we ascertain, soberly and honestly, where we stand toward ourselves and what we can appre­ciate about ourselves.

The following exercise can be helpful for achieving this: Every time you meet with others, consciously describe the position you took within the group. Ask yourself the following questions:

Questions for self-observation

  • Did I stand more toward the centerof the group, i.e., where the impact on the other members of the group is the greatest?
  • Did I say everything I wanted to say? And did the others accept it?
  • Did I have a great impact on the group’s actions?
  • Did I stand more at the edgeof the group, i.e., where the impact on the other members of the group is the least?
  • Did I always manage to speak when I wanted to say something?
  • Did the others expect more activity from me than I contributed?
  • Did it depend on thetopic or the activities whether I stood more in the center or more at the edge of the group?
  • Did I feel at ease? If so, why? If not, why not?
  • What position would I like to havewithin a group?
  • What is respon­siblefor me not being able to take the position I would like to take?
  • Do I prefer to be alonerather than in a group? Does the size of a group determine whether I feel at ease in it or not?
  • Why do I like being together with others?
  • Independent of being together with others, what are my successes based on? My failures?

Self-develo­pment gets rid of handicaps

These questions give you a mirror for self-obser­­vation. After all, the behavior of the group members not only tells you something about them, but indicates something about you, namely, what kind of impression you make on others.  This is how you can identify your rough edges and find out where you have to work on yourself.

The responses to the questions in the list above will allow you to find out

  • whether you have trouble expressing yourself clearly and compre­hen­sibly at the right moment,
  • whether you under­stand the other group members properly and assess their inten­tions and tendencies correctly,
  • whether you have enough infor­mation and experience to parti­cipate in conversations,
  • whether you are plagued by the fear of saying something wrong or inappro­priate for which you will be made fun of or be consi­dered to be incompetent,
  • whether you have the urge to constantly say something, so that you are unable to listen to the others at all.

 

You can save yourself all the getting to the bottom of how and when one or more of your handicaps may have evolved. Handicaps are not the bad part about life, since everyone has them. What is bad is resigning yourself to your handicaps, not doing anything about them and leaving them up to fate. 

 

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