Once when I was maybe nine or ten, I fell through an opening in our barn from the top floor to the bottom floor, skimming through piles of hay, scraping against a gate, and finally landing with a thud on the cold hard concrete floor.
I’m not sure if that’s exactly how the fall went. I just know I fell. I was at the top, and then suddenly I was at the bottom. The details of the fall are fuzzy, but what I remember most about the ordeal was that I got a new t-shirt out of it.
This was back in the 80s, when “t-shirt stores” were a thing, where you could pick out a picture of some kind of cute kitten or rock band, and have them iron that image onto your shirt. Cool stuff, I tell you. As it happens, my sister was having her own traumatic day… I feel like maybe that was the day she got braces. At any rate, she got a t-shirt too. T-shirts trumped the trauma. We were happy girls.
It’s amazing how sometimes the feelings surrounding a bad thing can truly go away if you just quickly insert a good thing. I fell, and that hurt, but then I got a t-shirt and forgot all about the fall. As parents we use this technique all the time—you’re mad because your brother took your toy so I give you a “better” toy to play with; you cry because your balloon popped at the birthday party so I carry you, helicopter style, over to where the cake and ice cream are. Once our minds are able to focus on something happy, the thing that was making us so mad or sad seems to dissipate in the wind.
Now, there are certainly times this is easier to do than others. An “ouchie” in the form of a scrape on the knee is easily replaced by a sweet treat. But what about ouchies that are harder to see? Sometimes the bad things are much deeper—when we are teased by others, when we are left out,when we are made to feel foolish or embarrassed. It might be hard to think of a good thing to replace those feelings. But for every person that would find joy in teasing us, there is another out there who would only find joy in celebrating us—we just have to find them. For every activity that would leave us feeling less than, there is another activity where it would seem we were born to be. For every relationship that makes us feel we are not worthy of love, there is another one out there waiting to make us feel unworthy of so much love.
Our challenge, then, is to find the “replacement.” To insert the good thing. Sometimes it’s easy; sometimes it’s a mountain to climb… but the good thing is there, somewhere. I believe it, I truly do. And I think sometimes just moving away from the bad thing in pursuit of the good thing can already make us start to feel better.
Dealing with an "ouchie" today? Where can you find the “happy replacement”?