In Case You’re Prone to Manufacturing Misery

flikr, evil erin

Now that I no longer have this problem, it’s safe to tell you about it:

I used to be a scanner.  

I lived on “high alert” much of the time.  I spent a lot of energy looking out for things/people/situations that could hurt me and the people I love, and then I would practice making up response scenarios.

Our armed forces, terrorist response teams, and fire and medical people train in similar ways, except there are very real reasons those professionals need the training.  I was just a highly skilled amateur.

If you always felt safe in life and haven’t the first clue how a scanner lives, let me bring you up to speed real quick.

Here’s what living as a scanner is like:

  1. You scan your environment for trouble.

  2. If you’re already in trouble, you get busy.  Since you tend to be an overly-responsive (reactive?) sort of person, basically, you take a bazooka to every threat, real or fancied.

  3. Then, you talk about it.  To everyone.  Ad nauseum.  Because you just gotta have your reassurance, right?

  4. If you don’t see any trouble, it’s because you’re not looking hard enough.  So, you rescan.

  5. OR, you are pretty certain that, though everything is okay right at this moment, in just a moment or two it won’t be, so you start

MAKING SHIT UP!

That’s right.  You get to work on your “what if?” scenario plans.

What if – your partner leaves you and you have to pay all the bills by yourself?

What if – you get laid off and you can’t find work?

What if – your kid’s teacher keeps haranguing him?

What if – so and so in the family doesn’t start living “right/” (As you define “right.”)

What if – the war in the Middle East escalates, or goes on another decade?

What if – there really is(n’t) global warming?

What if – this shit about gluten is real?

What if – my whole life has been a charade – a farce – a lie of epic proportions?

You see how this stuff escalates?

Here’s what makes breaking out of the scanning habit tricky:  there is real and actual TRUTH to each of your worst-case scenarios.  Yep.  A whole lot of this bad stuff happens EVERY SINGLE DAY to other, unsuspecting, hapless non-planners.

(By the way, can anyone clue me in on the kind of “hap” that is opposite to “hapless?”)

Here’s the thing:  Making scary shit up is not especially the best plan for a joyous life. Indeed, Manufactured Misery is a highly infectious disease. (click to tweet.)

Manufactured misery starts at one localized place, but then quickly spreads to the healthy psychological tissue that is adjacent to the original point of entry.

Your original worry is confined to thus and such, but then, as you’re planning for your response to this or that, it occurs to you that so and so and this thing or the other could also prove troublesome. So you gotta pile that worry on.

Manufactured Misery is also quick to change hosts.  When you are a doomsday lover, you tend to infect others.   People who live more fearlessly just don’t hang out much with scanners.   It’s too hard to be around chronically unhappy and frightened people.

If you’re feeling angry at me right about now, let me assure you that I totally get it!  I’ve been there.  I, too, have wasted whole chunks of my life stuck in worry, self-pity, doubt, and indecision.

It’s hard to face the fact that that time is gone and lost forever.

Sometimes it feels less painful to attack the messenger instead.  Attacking, by the way, looks like this:

“I hear you, Jen.  But my case is different.  You see . . . (launch into justification of why you’ve chosen to live in fear.)

“Well, that’s easy for you to say, Jen.  If you had MY problems/family/health situation . . . (launch into justification of why you’ve chosen to live in fear.)

“Who the eff are you to judge me, Jen?  We haven’t even met!  You have NO CLUE what I’ve been through!  (launch into small rant followed by justification of why you’ve chosen to live in fear followed by hitting that “unsubscribe” link at the bottom of my message to Beautiful YOU!)

Here’s who I am:  I’m the abandoned daughter of a dead alcoholic father who spent her childhood planning her “escape.”  I then went on to have a year or two of false security followed by a marriage that ended a decade or so after I held my baby while she died.  I then was left to support my small family by myself with NO JOB and a legal system that DOES NOT adequately support custodial parents.  Oh, PLUS I have my own potentially fatal disease or two.

Or, maybe THIS is who I am:  I’m a woman like most others who has had my share of trouble and heartache.  Living through the tough times taught me a LOT about how to triumph over all forms of adversity.  And the hard times also allowed the beauty in my life to stand out in gorgeous stark relief.  I’m happy because I have KNOWN sad.  Each state defines the other.

There are so many other versions of myself I could define as “absolute truth” in my life. Today, I choose to tell myself the versions of my own truth that serve me and others the most.

I am a retired scanner.  Every now and then I find myself unconsciously looking for doom in all the wrong places.

And then, I come back.

Right here.  Right now.

In this moment, between these two breaths.  I pause.

All is well.

Love, Jen

P.S.  Don’t forget to mark your calendars for Wednesday, January 22 at NOON EST for our first monthly coaching seminar.   This session is absolutely FREE but is ONLY available to subscribed members of our community.

If you want access to these exclusive sessions, we would love to have you. Please let us know how to reach you moving forward.


photo: flickr, evil erin

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18 Responses to In Case You’re Prone to Manufacturing Misery

  1. Debbie says:

    I, too, have spent most of my life as a scanner. Now when I catch myself scanning, I ask certain questions. Is the threat true? If yes, is it happening now or will happen soon? Is there anything I can do to prevent or lessen it if the threat is true? If my perceived threat isn’t true, I let go. I know what worrying about these non-threats do to me and my health and I’m getting better about putting me first.

  2. Pam says:

    I really don’t remember how I found this blog. I don’t. But I’m glad I did. You seem to be reading my mind and are spot on. I’m a scanner. I’d never thought of the term. I say fretter. Stewer. Worrier.

    As I said the other day, I’m widowed about 8 months. My marriage was pretty difficult. I spent a lot of years tap dancing as fast as I could to attempt to keep an unhappy man happy. Nothing I ever did was right. I mentioned that he was buried with another woman, his third wife. I am sorry my husband died. If he had lived, I still be right there with my tap shoes on trying to stay upbeat and happy. I was little Miss Mary Sunshine to his grumpy old man. The more negative he got, the more positive I got.

    I spent the summer crying, grieving, thinking. I got sick in July. I got rid of the other woman’s furniture. Yes. I slept in the late wife’s dream bed for 15 years. I served family dinners from her table. I felt like my husband was “married guy,” and was often unaware he’d changed administrations. When I sold her bedroom furniture, I found a pair of purple thongs under a drawer. So, in those 15 years, I had the other lady’s panties under a dresser drawer in my room.

    I went to a grief workshop in the fall. And, probably way too soon, I met a nice man. We met through friends. Started talking on the phone around December 1. We met December 27. We’ve had 4 dates in two weeks. We are on the same page as far as wants, hopes, dreams and desires. We share a vision for the rest of lives. We’re in our fifties. We have had sweet conversations. Serious conversations. We hug. We snuggled a little bit. We’ve yet to have a first kiss. Well. He didn’t call me last night. I melted down, sure he was talking to someone else. Positive it’s over. My mind started scanning–what if he’s dumped me? What if he’s lying about everything? He canceled a date Saturday because he was sick. He called me to frigging tell me, “I don’t want you to think I’m putting you off. I care about you. I want to see you. Can I come for dinner on Monday instead of tonight?” My mind started scanning, “what if he’s not sick? What if he’s seeing someone else?”

    The man has laid his cards on the table. He wants a home. He thinks the woman is the heart of the home. He feels like he’s met the woman he wants in his home at some in the future but there’s no rush on either side. He’s a busy man with a stressful responsible job. I’m a busy lady in transition trying to sell my house, downsize my late husband’s massive glass collection. (If you need any American Fostoria, contact me. I probably have what you want.)

    I went to bed last night and crashed, positive my guy is never calling me again, but I woke up to a text, “sorry I didn’t call you last night. I fell asleep with my phone in my hand. Call you on the way into work.” Which he did, and I feel silly.

    I was sitting at my desk, thinking I’ve got to do something to turn off the scanning. I’ve got to be proactive about stopping. Stop scanning–stop the “what if my house doesn’t sell? What if I have to live with this glass forever? What if my guy decides I’m not the chick for him?” And I know the answer is that God’s in control and that things work out. I knelt at the alter Sunday and gave it over. Why do I keep trying to take it back?

    Anyway. Thanks, Jen. Spot on as usual.

    • Jennifer says:

      Hello, again, beautiful Pam. I wish for you a slow beautiful return to strength. If you can, don’t rush on anything. Bereavement is a slow undulating process. The more you run from it, the stronger it gets.

      That’s been my experience anyway.

      Love, Jen

  3. Sue says:

    Another life-long scanner weighs in: I was raised by a miserably unhappy mother whose discipline was to lash out and hit. I was SURE I was the reason she was so unhappy. I was unworthy and inadequate. I spent my young life scanning and ducking.
    Then I picked a husband….who shared a lot of her traits. It felt comfortable. I was determined to show him I was good. While not physically abusive, he destroyed with his mouth and attitude the little self-esteem I had. This verified my view of my unworthiness. Then he became an alcoholic and my scanning grew to include counting beer can pop tabs and measuring the whiskey bottle level to judge how much dancing would be required.
    I tap danced my entire 68 years till I finally got sick and a light went on regarding my mortality. I found a program. I learned things. It was not my fault. I was not responsible for his unhappiness; it started long before I came along. I no longer ducked and placated through the drama. I looked straight at him when he started in. I felt proud of my courage.
    The biggest TaDa: Other’s opinions/views of me are NOT my business. They are THEIRS. Viewed through THEIR life filter, and those crazy-makers are suffering, too. Now, granted, I’m not well, but I’m not nuts! I now consider the damaged source the vitriol is coming from, and look dispassionately at it for what it is. I truly believe that anyone attempting to bring me down is dealing with their own demons; it has nothing to do with me and my precious soul.
    Thank you, Jen. You’re a major part of this revelation!

  4. Anne Rodrigues says:

    You got me again, Jen. I’m a scanner too, but not because anything major has happened in my life that has been disastrous, so it’s almost as if I’m waiting for something bad to happen. All around me, women I know have dealt with difficult circumstances and I always ask myself “Why am I so lucky?” So, I always feel I am waiting for something bad to happen to my family. As I’m approaching 50, I have been trying to stop myself in my tracks when I start thinking like this and refocus my attention on something that matters. I know if things happen, I will have to deal with them at the time. I just can’t help myself thinking “What if?”

    • Jennifer says:

      Oh, I’ve heard of this kind of scanner. You’re really a statistician. The very fact that nothing terrible has happened before ENSURES that the next time it will. I mean, the odds just make that so obvious, right?

      Jen

      • Anne Rodrigues says:

        Exactly! A statistician? It makes it sound good, but I’m working on cutting out this bad habit. Even my kids have noticed I do this. That makes it more of a need to change.

  5. Patty says:

    ROFLMAO!!!! “Chicken Little” was a nick-name one of my loves had for me in a previous incarnation of myself. And then for a time I went to the opposite end of the spectrum on this…good ole deep denial! Thankfully time and trial by error has tempered both of these tendencies in my nature. When I “go there” now, I usually have the presence of mind to recognize it for what it is – knee jerk reaction and what a dear friend of mine calls the “first edit”. Fortunately I’ve gained enough wisdom to not automatically react to these thoughts or twisted perceptions and learned to apply a reality check before I waste any precious energy acting on these impulses. At this point in life this is an indulgence I can no longer afford. And it really is an indulgence, a unproductive and overpriced one at that. Its been an expensive and costly lesson to learn. I’ve become very frugal with how I spend my time and energy at this stage of my life. I’ve also grown somewhat hedonistic – if it isn’t fun or bring me joy on some level, it ain’t gonna get much of my time or attention.

    • Jennifer says:

      Okay, I LOVE your perspective. I LOVE the part about “an indulgence I can no longer afford.” That’s where I’m trying to get with self-centered fear.

      Thanks, love.

      Jen

  6. Tiffany says:

    You know those moments where you discover you are not alone with your internal struggle? This is one of those for me. I should be running the Manufactured Misery Masterclass. My variation is that I don’t talk, I think. The misery I imagine and problem solve and create epic, brave and thought through scenarios to engage with, well that misery is only in my head, it never gets an external voice. Until today. How fabulous it is to find there is a party of legendary LWT women with me in my head. I am not alone there anymore. Yippee! Oh and Pam of the upbeat tap shoes? I have a well worn pair under my bed too. We should have a yard sale and laugh a lot! Thanks Jen. My paradigm just got the arse kicking it so desperately deserved. I love this place – we rock!

  7. Pam says:

    We absolutely rock. That would be one heck of a garage sale.

  8. Pingback: Considering the Clues Right In Front Of Us | The Delight Detective

  9. Ann Bevans says:

    As always, I love your honesty. For me, it all comes down to staying in the present moment. I recently picked up this helpful question: “what problem do you have right now?”

    The “right now” is the key to it. The question is not “What problem will you have in five minutes?” Or, “What problem might develop if you continue down this road?” The question is “What problem do you have right now, in this moment?”

    If you actually had a problem right now, for example your car was about to go off a cliff or you were being held at gunpoint, you wouldn’t be asking yourself this question. You’d be dealing with the problem from a space of no-mind!

    Stay in the moment as much as you can, and many of these phantom emergencies will disappear on their own.

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