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Can Being Too Optimistic Work Against You?

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen Tribune News Service.

Have you ever stayed in a bad job or a bad relationship way too long? Maybe you feel so optimistic that things will eventually change, you don't run when you should.

You know how this goes. You're one of those people who always looks on the bright side. You convince yourself that if you keep on smiling, things will start to ease up.

For example, there are plenty of people living with substance abusers who "hope things will change soon."

And haven't most of us have told ourselves that an abusive boss or crazy neighbor will "see the light" and turn around?

However, it's a good idea to gauge a bad situation or a bad relationship using some logic. Otherwise, you can wake up one day to find out you've wasted years of your life.

These tips can help:

-Pretend you're solving a problem for someone else. This helps you take a step back and get your emotions out of the way. Ask yourself, "What advice would I give my best friend?"

-Look at the time you've already wasted. Have you celebrated your 20th anniversary with an abusive spouse? If so, it's time to rethink the situation. Can you afford 10 more years like this?

-Examine every option you have. For example, if your son is one year away from high school graduation, you might not want to end a bad marriage now. But, could you be making plans to escape during the next few months?

"I felt awful entertaining the idea of leaving my husband," says a woman we'll call Lynda. "He is a veteran, and I knew he couldn't help his issues, given that he'd been in combat. But, I had not had a sound night's sleep in over five years."

Lynda's husband, Carl, has post-traumatic stress disorder. Lynda made up her mind to get her husband into a VA facility for emotional therapy and needed medication. Within six months, Carl was a different person.

"Carl lives at the VA facility, and I did not divorce him," says Lynda. "He is doing much better, meaning he no longer has bad nightmares, and I visit him every single day. Our kids have a better relationship with him, although our life is far from ideal. Maybe soon, though, he can move back home."

We applaud Lynda for not leaving Carl, and we admire her for facing up to her own stress.

"Coming to the VA to live saved my family and me," says Carl. "I know I would have eventually hurt my wife, my children or myself if my wife hadn't demanded some kind of change."

A businessman in our region, whom we'll call Ronald, had to quit his job because his boss was a bully. "My boss was using drugs, stealing money from the company and driving the staff nuts," says Ronald.

Ronald told us that his boss got into rehab "after the whole staff quit." Later, his boss told Ronald that coming to work with an empty office was his wake-up call.

"Anytime you keep on smiling through emotional pain, you are increasing your tolerance for disaster," says Ronald. "It's better to wake up, admit you've had all you can take, and plan accordingly."

Enabling bad behavior, uncontrollable behavior, or tough situations in life helps no one. Drawing your line in the sand to say "enough is enough" will set you free to make other choices. ___ (Judi Light Hopson is the Executive Director of the stress management website USA Wellness Cafe, Emma Hopson is an author and a nurse educator. Ted Hagen is a family psychologist.)

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