Living with Limits

Someone asked me the other day whether I think it is harder to live with a physical limitation that is congenital vs. one that is acquired later in life.  I replied that I think both situations have their own challenges.  If you are like me and were born with a congenital condition (I had spina bifida), how well you cope depends so much on your personality, parenting you receive, and the skills you acquire in the process of coping.  Children can be amazingly adaptive given the right guidance and support from adults.  If you sustain an injury, become ill, or simply age, you have the challenge of grieving and adapting to the loss of abilities you previously took for granted.  In any case, coping with a limitation imposed by your body is a tremendous challenge everyone will eventually face.  Learn how you can deal with your limits more effectively by reading this previous edition of my Healthful Changes newsletter:

Changes in Health and Limitations

A change in your health, whether from normal aging, a medical illness, or an injury, can quickly put you in touch with your own physical, mental, and spiritual limits.  When your mind or body does not work in the way it used to, you cannot help but experience a reaction to that change.

If the change in your health is a temporary one, you may feel frustrated, but can take comfort in the fact that the experience is a time-limited one.  Your surgical incision will eventually heal.  Soon or later, you WILL get that cast off your leg.  However, when changes are permanent, grief is a common response. It is not unusual to feel sad, angry, disappointed, or even guilty about alterations in your health.

When you experience a decline in your physical, mental, or emotional functioning, you become acutely aware of what you can’t do anymore.  When an athlete who has always been able to run fast loses her leg because of an accident, she will obviously react to the new limitation.  A professor who could always think quickly and clearly may be devastated when he has a brain injury.  Any individual who is typically energetic and optimistic can feel tremendously trapped in the midst of a severe depression.

New limits can make you feel like you are locked in a box.  The harder you push against those limits, the smaller the box feels.  One of the great lessons in life is learning that you must stop fighting limits and learn to work with them in order to be
successful.  When you do so, the walls of the box begin to move outward in reaction to your own emotional and spiritual growth.

The way our society views limitations makes it even harder to cope with them.  Many people believe that limits are weaknesses, when in fact, they are just a reality of our existence.  We may not be aware of it at all times, but we always have limits.  None of us can live under the water or run 500 miles per hour.  Yet, we don’t think of these things as limits, we just accept them as realities of our existence.

Certainly, limits can be tough to live with, especially if they are permanent and affect major areas of functioning.  However, within every crisis, there is opportunity for growth.  Dealing with a new limitation allows you to mature emotionally and spiritually if you are willing to take on the challenge.  How “limited” you truly become ultimately depends in large part on your perspective and your openness to the important life lessons hidden within those limitations.

Tips for Living with Limitations

1.  Allow yourself to move through your grief.  Journal, cry, talk to a loved one, or work on a project.  Just do something that allows the energy of grief to be channeled in some constructive way.  Remember, you have an innate capacity to heal emotionally if you will work with the healing force within you.

2.  Remember that you are not alone.  Everyone has limits.  To be human is to have limits.  We all want to hang onto the illusion that we are invincible, but sooner or later we are all confronted with our frailty as human beings.

3.  Be kind to yourself and patient with others in your life affected by your difficulties.  It takes time to make sense of major changes in your health and your life.  Move at your own pace and let others help you on this journey.  Over time, things will feel easier, but you need time, support, and practice to adjust.

4.  Be willing to manage whatever health limits you have before they manage you.  The more you participate and educate yourself about your health problems, the more powerful you will feel.  Remember that acceptance of limits takes strength and is not a weakness.

5.  Focus on your strengths.  Even though you may have some new limitations, there are still things you can do.  Don’t forget that.  Having a limitation does not mean that you are limited in EVERY aspect of your life.  Put your energy into building on your strengths.

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Licensed psychologist in San Antonio, Texas.
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