Living in peace is an attitude and way of life, which can help us live well and with purpose, even during difficult times. It means we are at peace with who we are and have developed positive coping mechanisms for times of personal crisis. How does it work? I have identified 7 key steps.
Let me start by clarifying my position on some commonly held beliefs. There is nothing right or wrong about them. But you need to know where I stand.
Some common misconceptions about why we cannot learn how to live with inner peace:
“I am too old, too ill, too mixed up … it is too late.” – Never.
“I have not got what it takes.” – You do. We all do.
“I have done too many bad things to find peace.” – Ok. Then you may need to work harder at it.
“I have to start meditating, do yoga, become a vegetarian ….” – No. You need to find your own way and decide what works best for you.
“The world is a bad place. Living in peace only works if I go off living on an island by myself.” – Running away is not the answer. You can make peace with life here and now.
What is the “living in peace” attitude?
This attitude consists of
- A realistic and non-defeatist acceptance of who you are.
- The belief that you have value and carry the ability for positive change.
- The commitment to play an active part in your life, during the good and difficult times.
7 key steps towards living in peace
1. Get to know your self.
Firstly, we need to develop insight into our self: the things that work well for us, those we may find difficult and the reasons why this may be.
This means understanding our personal history: experiences and events that have shaped the way we feel, think and behave.
Understanding how our history shapes us, means we understand how to shape our present and future.
2. Accept who you are and believe in yourself.
To be able to live in peace with our self requires that we accept who we are, without negative judgment. In that way self criticism and defeatist attitudes like “I have failed” or “I am a lost cause” will turn into “I have done the best I can and will continue to do the best I can”.
Realistic and fair expectations of our self help create a positive mindset for personal development. That in turn makes it possible to start believing in our self; even liking our self!
Without self belief and unconditional positive regard for our self true living in peace is not possible.
Self belief also means being willing to take responsibility for mistakes we have made and any helpful changes we may want to make about the way we feel, think, behave and live our life.
3. Feel empowered and take your place in the world.
To be able to live in peace also requires an attitude that does not perceive others, society and the world first and foremost as a threat.
While there may be real, justified and even unjustified problems that can impact us, we should not face the world from a default position of a victim. This will leave us feeling disempowered and resentful. The reality is, we can exercise a lot of power peacefully.
To comfortably play our part in relationships and society, we need to feel comfortable about who we are and acknowledge our self value.
We all are individuals as well as relational beings. We need a good balance of meaningful solitude as well as the togetherness with others.
A lot of the quality of your life depends on the relationship you have with your self .
Therefore, living in peace is based on a) the peace we make with our self and b) the peace we make with others and the world we live in.
Sometimes others are beyond our reach, because their actions impact us indirectly or because they are unwilling or unable to engage with us. In such circumstances we can choose to make peace implicitly and without the knowledge of the other concerned.
4. Face up to difficult realities about your self and your life.
It is understandable to delay facing up to difficult questions or to deny their existence. However, sadly such tactics do rarely help improve matters. Instead, they can make things a lot harder.
Difficulties are part of our existence. The way we deal with them can shape who we are and how we feel about our self.
Our struggles are human:
- Feeling disappointed in our self and others;
- Burdened by shame and guilt because of things we have or have not done;
- Not being able to trust our self or others;
- Feeling hurt and wounded;
- Finding it difficult to forgive or to accept things we do not like;
- Feeling disempowered when tragic events happen in our lives;
- Not being able to shake off anger over unfairness and injustice;
- Being suffocated by fear and hopelessness;
- Feeling lonely, abandoned, misunderstood or not loveable;
- Not knowing how to deal with mortality, dying and death (our own and that of others).
Our troubles are especially hard when there are few solutions, or none we welcome.
It can be tough to face up to challenging issues. However, doing exactly that, thinking them through and deciding on our way of dealing with them – that is empowering.
Facing up to difficult realities can help reduce anxiety and remove internal blocks that stop us from making peace.
5. Embrace positive coping mechanisms.
We all need ways to deal well with the range of problems we experience in our life time. Some can have short- or long-term effects on our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing – on our ability to live in peace.
Positive coping mechanisms are those, which do not create more problems and undermine the peace we are looking for.
Some common coping mechanisms, which provide fast emotional relief (eg the consumption of food, alcohol, nicotine) come with their own consequences.
Because the ‘relief’ they provide helps alleviate pain and distress. And with that, we may end up tolerating difficulties for longer, sometimes for years or even a life time.
Negative coping mechanisms distort rather than clarify or help resolve the root problem. They keep us trapped.
While we may need some time to develop positive coping mechanisms (like physical, spiritual, social or creative activities), they come with fewer (if any) drawbacks.
They provide more secure grounding and anchoring in our self, which is less dependant on the availability of outside stimuli and substances.
Positive coping mechanisms help us feel stronger and empowered to regulate our emotions, thoughts and actions by reviewing our options for meaningful change.
6. Nurture your attitude of living in peace.
Living in peace is an ability we should not take for granted. It is an ongoing process that requires nurturing and maintenance.
New experiences and difficulties can challenge and disturb the foundation of peace and harmony we have created.
At times our understanding of who we are are, the world we live in and coping mechanisms, that work best for us, may be thrown into disarray.
We may feel confused, frustrated, hurt, frightened, demotivated, hopeless and defeated.
The maintenance programme for living in peace requires a flexible approach and willingness to review whether what we have learnt is still sufficient or requires change.
7. A personal crisis can help you reinforce your commitment to living in peace.
At moments of personal crisis living in peace can feel impossible and even inappropriate – a place we can no longer reach.
But it is exactly in those moments that reconnecting with our ability to live in peace is most important. This might require time, focus and determination, but most of all, it requires trust in our self and in the process.
To give you an example:
When I was diagnosed with cancer my world collapsed. You do not need to be affected by cancer to understand what I mean. You may have your own personal crisis story.
I was not at ease. I certainly was not at peace.
Peace with my self and the world felt unobtainable, unrealistic, pointless.
But I knew instinctively, that I needed to deal with my restlessness, my fear, my anger and my hopelessness. Because it was eating away at the little energy I had to make important decisions about my life.
I was on the verge of defeat, not by the cancer but my inability to take charge.
What to do?
No one really understood and provided meaningful guidance. I embarked on a search and remember well the moment someone told me “healing is different from curing”. I was aghast.
What is the point in healing, if not curing? I did not understand or want one without the other. I wanted to live.
Some years later, I understood that sadly things are not that easy. The ‘healing’ the person talked about is about ‘making peace’ with myself, irrespective of the cancer. It means making peace with my life and with my death.
Making peace is important because of the uncertainty of our life time – how much of it we have and how well we can use it to the best of our abilities.
It does not need to be a serious illness to upset our sense of being at peace. Plenty of other events, people and even we ourselves can do that just as well.
Being at peace, understanding our self and knowing what works best for us – all that goes a long way in managing such challenges.
Without being at peace, difficulties would be more intense, more destabilising, causing deep and ongoing anxiety and a sense of de-pression, undermining our quality of life and slowing down the things we want, need and can do with our lives.
Where can I get help?
Sometimes in life we need extra help to get a new perspective, to work things threw, to tell our story, to make sense, to get that extra push and a bit of hand-holding. There is no shame in that.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It can take courage and it can be the smart thing to do.
- You may find the right support in your network of family, friends and colleagues.
- Sometimes we need someone independent, a coach, a counsellor or therapist.
- Attending a course or workshop (including online) can assist and give us new ideas.
I always encourage people to look around. It might take time and feel frustrating, but if you keep looking you are bound to find what works for you.
Do not expect all the answers all at once. It does not work that way.
The more you look, the more your questions will change, as will the answers you need.
Understanding your self, the things that work well and those that can trigger difficulties for you, that might be a good start.
Perhaps you can benefit from some supportive therapeutic guidance to identify and process any difficult experiences you might have had, which block your search for inner peace.
Whoever you are and whatever has happened, it is never too late to start living in peace and benefiting from it.
To help you make peace, join my online talk “End of year reflections and new beginnings”
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Need some advice? Submit your question to my #DearKarin advice column here. Karin Sieger BA (Hons), MA (PsychCouns), Reg. MBACP (Accred) is a therapist and writer. All rights reserved © Karin Sieger. Neither articles nor videos substitute medical advice or therapy.