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Coping With Everyday Life

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What This Blog is About

This blog is devoted to discussing how to cope with everyday life, and your hosts (see menu listing of your four blog hosts) will post information from the world of psychology, counseling, and education. Our message revolves around three basic themes: First there is acceptance. There are certain basic truths in life that we simply must accept before we can decide how to act. Second is the notion of meeting challenges. Unfortunately, too often we avoid challenges that confront us because it’s the easy thing to do. Successful coping, however, requires us to take a more difficult road and meet life head on. Third, we must learn what things are under our control. We get in all sorts of difficulties when we try to control things we can’t. The truth is there are only two things we can control: Our own thoughts and our own actions.

We invite our readers to join in our discussion and share their own insights. This blog is not an advice column, but a forum in which to share ideas.

If you are interested in pursuing the psychology literature on any topic we cover, feel free to contact us by email at charlesbrooks@kings.edu. We also encourage you to visit our website (www.subtlesuicide.com) to learn about our published books on subtle suicide, dysfunctional giver/taker relationships, and research on how psychology applies to everyday life.

ALCOHOLISM, GLOBAL WARMING, AND COPING

One of the greatest obstacles to effective coping is losing focus and concentrating on irrelevant aspects of the problem. Imagine talking to a 48 year-old man who has panic attacks and other social anxieties. He heads for counseling, and when asked, “How would you describe your problem?” he responds, “I remember when I was in the fifth grade…….” Whoa, buddy! Fifth grade? You want to focus on events that took place nearly 40 years ago? Let’s back up and focus on describing your problem in the here-and-now.

In the 1970s there was a debate in psychology fueled by Mark and Linda Sobell’s research on alcohol consumption by alcoholics. The debate, a pseudo-debate really, considered the question, “Can the alcoholic learn to drink socially?” The Sobells said their research suggested the answer is “Yes.”

The question is considered both absurd and dangerous by rehabilitation groups like Alcoholics Anonymous. Such programs are based on the view that the alcoholic brain is addicted to alcohol in such a way that controlled, moderate consumption is virtually impossible to achieve. Any success will be short-lived, and over time the alcoholic will descend into the uncontrollable drinking that led their acquaintances and family to label them as alcoholics. In the words of a Kenny Chesney country song about tequila, “One is one too many, one more is never enough.” (Who needs psychological research when there are country songs to teach us life’s truths?)

Earlier I called the moderate drinking debate a pseudo-debate. Why? Well, if someone has a problem with alcohol consumption, why on earth would they want to focus their coping efforts on controlling the problem only partially by moderating their consumption? Am I missing something here? Isn’t there always a chance of “slipping” out of the moderation? Why would someone want to take that chance?

We have someone with a severe alcohol problem, someone who has perhaps lost job, self-respect, and family, someone who perhaps has been arrested as a result of abusive drinking. Isn’t trying to teach him or her moderate drinking gambling with disaster? You want that person to learn moderate social drinking and hope that the moderation lasts? You want that person to gamble that there will be no chance of a “slip” into the former habits?

Why not just ask the alcoholic to stand in front of five explosive mines on the ground, explain that only one is active, and then say, “Pick one to step on!” Wouldn’t it be wiser to turn around and walk away? By the same token, wouldn’t the best strategy for an abusive drinker be total abstinence?

Wouldn’t the logical approach for the alcoholic be to accept, “I can control my thinking and actions except when I am drinking. Therefore, I must take better control of life, especially my relationship with alcohol, by abstaining completely. That’s the only way I’m on safe ground.” The point is, focusing on moderate drinking is poor coping because it runs the risk of personal tragedy. That focus is dangerously misplaced.

I see an analogy here with the global warming debate. People ask, “Is global warming real? If so, is it caused by us?” Is that the focus you want, simply looking for someone to blame for the rise in annual earth temperature? Isn’t that focus irrelevant to the core issue: A clean environment? Shouldn’t we view laws geared to reducing carbon emissions as laws that will give us cleaner air to breathe? Shouldn’t we see such laws as showing that we can exercise some control and keep our environment clean and healthy?

If we do value such things, what’s all this fuss about climate change? How many people are getting all stressed out fighting and arguing about whether it’s real or not, man-made or not, or some dastardly plot by Big Brother to subjugate all of us into mindless slaves? Why do we feel so compelled to take an issue that impacts our physical health and psychological well-being, and force it into a liberal vs. conservative, Democrat vs. Republican, us vs. them conflict?

I’ve heard people say, “Those global warming freaks just want to raise taxes on businesses and put people out of work!” Seriously? What responsible member of society wants to put people out of work?

Maybe all the “freaks” want is to breathe cleaner air, and to strategize with new and emerging industries and technologies about how to do it. Wouldn’t developing such strategies be a great example of effective coping by making us feel empowered to exercise some control over our physical and psychological welfare? Surely, supporting policies that reduce pollutants does not inherently mean humans are causing climate change; it means we want to live in a cleaner environment.

Why is it so important to some people to declare that alcoholics can learn to drink socially, or that the earth isn’t warming? In a coping context, those arguments are examples of losing focus and taking our eye off the ball. In one case our focus should be on maximizing an alcohol abuser’s prospects for a safe and productive life; in the other case the focus should be on keeping our “home” clean.

Here’s our coping lesson: You have a problem facing you? To cope effectively with it you must define the parameters of the problem and focus your coping strategies within those parameters. Don’t let others distract you and lead you into irrelevant areas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YOUR ACTIONS CAN INFLUENCE YOUR THOUGHTS

Readers of this blog know that the first step in effective coping is understanding that there are only two things you can control: Your thoughts and your actions. You can get into all sorts of coping difficulties when you venture out of that personal control circle, such as trying to control other people.

Time and again we have seen students whose preparation strategy for an upcoming test is to try and influence the professor. “Can you ask mostly multiple-choice? The material seems best for that.” “Can you give me extra time? I’m really swamped with other courses.” These students head down a futile blind alley trying to control what they cannot………..the professor’s behavior! If they focused on what they can control, their preparation for the test, they would be in a lot better shape.

You might be nervous about a job interview because you have no idea what questions the interviewer will ask you. Of course you don’t! That’s something out of your circle of control, so forget about it. Focus on how to prepare, which is in your control circle, for all sorts of questions. That preparation might require you to do research on the company, and to think creatively about your strengths and how they would fit the characteristics of this organization.

One thing you should not do is rely exclusively (the key word in this sentence) on positive thinking for your preparation. “There’s really no need to sweat it. I can handle myself.” Trust us, folks, the power of positive thinking is not all it’s cracked up to be, UNLESS that thinking is based on results from positive actions.

It’s great to be optimistic about life, but there’s a danger in being unrealistic in your optimism. We know a famous psychologist who said that growing up he truly believed he could be a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. “Sometime in college I realized it wasn’t going to happen. Contrary to what my folks always told me, I came to the realization that living in America did not mean that I could grow up to be anything I wanted to be. No dream was too big, they always said. Well, playing for the Cubbies was too big.”

The power of positive thinking is limited. The power of positive actions, however, is unlimited. One of the secrets to effective coping is to engage in positive actions. By positive we mean actions that bring both you and others satisfaction and comfort. Seeing yourself perform these positive actions will give you a sense of empowerment, and will also invest you with optimistic thinking that is based on reality, not on a pipe-dream.

How often do you get caught up in irrational thinking? Examples would be: “I must succeed in everything I do or I’m a failure.” “I must be admired and respected by everyone or I’m worthless.” “That mistake I made at work today is going to cost me my job. I’m better off quitting.” “I struck out three times in our game today. That does it. I’m batting .268 but it’s clear I’m a burden to the team and I’m quitting.” “The boss gave the project to my colleague. She obviously thinks I’m incompetent.”

Such thoughts are demoralizing and make you vulnerable to depression. Telling yourself, “I’ve got to stop thinking this way” is futile. Instead, focus on actions you can take. “I need to talk to my supervisor about how I can guard against making a mistake like that in the future.” “That pitcher really fooled me with his curve ball. I need to study the tapes plus take more batting practice against that kind of pitch.” “I need to let my colleague know I’m available to help should she need it. I also need to share with the boss some ideas I have for other projects.”

There’s never any guarantee you will succeed. But by focusing on positive actions you can take, at least you’re teaching yourself to persevere even when frustrated; you’re showing yourself that you are self-sufficient enough to engage in some proactive actions; and you’re doing things that give you a chance to feel good about yourself. Such positive possibilities certainly outweigh marching in your personal pity parade.

 

ADULT ADHD IS PERFECT COPING MODEL

I once met a gentleman at a social event who was President of a major corporation. We hadn’t been chatting long before it became clear to me that this was one impressive guy, and it was easy to understand how he ended up at the top of the “business ladder.”

It was clear he wanted to talk about psychology, which was fine with me. At one point he volunteered that he had ADHD, and I asked him what sort of concessions he had to make to succeed in his world. In so many words, of course, I was asking him how he coped. To paraphrase his reply:

“I really became aware of my condition when I was in college. Up to that time I had a lot of trouble focusing on things, carrying through with my plans, and keeping myself occupied with the task at hand. In high school I could coast along, but college was another matter. I took a basic psychology course in my freshman year and one day I made an appointment with the professor. I  told him my symptoms and he suggested ADHD. That changed my whole life.”

He went on to tell me how he learned all he could about his condition and what steps he could take to compensate for it and be a successful student. As we continued to chat I began to see the specific characteristics that explained why I was impressed with him: His level of achievement motivation was clearly off the charts at the high end; his work ethic was unmatched by anyone I had ever known; his energy level was unbounded; he was articulate and a clear thinker.

He went on to tell me he continued the coping strategies he developed in college. Specifically he noted that he gets up an hour earlier than necessary to be at work at the time he wants to arrive. “During that hour I map out my day, literally writing down meetings I have, memos I need to write, tasks I need to assign to others, and so on. To do all that, of course, I have to refer to a complete list of what I had done the previous day and what was still on the list. I also refer to my appointment book for the upcoming day.”

As soon as he gets to work (about an hour before anyone else on his office floor) he puts in a call to his Executive Associate. “She knows the daily routine and she knows the call is coming, so I’m not disrupting her own early morning schedule. We go over everything on the list I have prepared for the day. We spend about 15 minutes adding some things, deleting some things, and editing others. As soon as she gets to her office, which is next to mine, we go over things again and I’m now ready to face the day.”

Not surprisingly the assistant was at this function with him, literally only a few feet away. In fact, during our brief conversation she intercepted others coming to chat with him, saying something like, “Give him a minute and he’ll be right with you. So how have you been?” Had she not done so, she knew his attention would have been diverted to the newcomer and my conversation with him would have ended, hanging in the air.

He told me his Executive Associate is indispensable as he goes through the day. “She keeps me on schedule, keeps me on track during meetings, and knows that when something unexpected comes up, she must keep it under wraps until we get together at the end of the office work-day. Then, together, we discuss where the matter belongs for my evening and the next day.”

It is no exaggeration to say that by the time our conversation had reached this point I was literally exhausted. The energy level he expended telling me his story was intense and required some mental effort just to follow him! Still, his words and fast presentation style showed considerable sophistication. I have had interactions with people who, in my estimation, would clearly be diagnosed with ADHD. Unlike this gentleman, however, there was little underlying structure or logical organization to their words, and trying to follow them was like trying to converse with a fly.

Our CEO’s approach to each day is a model of effective coping: He does not allow his ADHD to define who he is; he attacks the day as a challenge to be met within the realities of his condition, not something to be avoided because of his condition; he develops a strategic plan not only to take on the things he knows are ahead, but a plan that also allows him to deal with unexpected contingencies; he enlists the help of someone else in carrying out his plan, admitting that he can’t do it all alone, and that there is no shame in reaching out to another person.

In short, this man exemplified principles of good coping, based on focus, organization, and a realistic acceptance of his limitations.

I recently saw a newspaper piece by Kristin Woodling, owner of Pamper Your Mind, a private counseling practice. She was describing the characteristics of successful entrepreneurs and noted that those characteristics are typical of ADHD diagnoses: high energy, vision, creativity, insight, impulsiveness, and risk-taking. She noted that the trick for them is to channel these traits so they can lead to productive results.

My CEO friend used his executive assistant to help him channel his traits that, unchecked, could produce haphazard decisions, projects hanging undone, and general disorganization that would frustrate all involved. These are lessons for all of us. Coping with everyday life often requires us to meet challenges by taking risks, engaging in creative strategies to deal with problems, organizing our efforts, maintaining our energy level to persevere, and enlisting the assistance of someone trustworthy.  Go for it!

DO WE SEND IN COUNSELORS TOO SOON?

A recurring theme in this blog is the damaging effects of Denial. Refusing to face challenges establishes an avoidance pattern totally incompatible with effective coping. You all know the routine. Someone you know has undergone some traumatic or upsetting event. You reach out to them and they respond, “I don’t want to talk about it!” Denial rears its ugly head. But is it ugly in this case?

Let’s fine tune our look at Denial and ask if it can ever be helpful in the coping process. For instance, consider horrific events like a mass shooting at a school (along the lines of Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and Columbine). In the immediate aftermath of such tragedies, we hear officials say something like, “Classes will resume after a day of remembrance. Counselors will be available for anyone feeling the need for help.”

Counselors will be available……..and fast (this is called Immediate Crisis Debriefing). After all, psychologists know that letting stress from a traumatic event fester can lead to severe emotional problems down the road. So we need to nip things in the bud right away.

Sounds good, but there is research showing that immediate crisis debriefing is often ineffective and in some cases even makes things worse for victims. How can this be? How can talking with a counselor about your anxieties resulting from a trauma you experienced not help you? Let’s consider two possibilities.

First of all, maybe the debriefing took place too soon. Whenever a traumatic event strikes us, our brain needs time to process the event. Sometimes for days we can be in somewhat of a fog over what happened. At a conscious level we seem to be denying the event when we say, “I don’t want to talk about it.”

At a sub-conscious level, however, once the emotional reactions begin to subside, our brain is processing and sorting and attempting to make sense of it all. Talking about it during that period may be quite ineffective because the cathartic restructuring of our thoughts resulting from the counseling is premature. The brain is not ready to process the healing.

A second potential problem with immediate debriefing is that it may give the victim a false sense of security. Thus, several weeks after the event you may say to a friend, “You know, you still seem a little out of sorts about it. Maybe you should see a counselor.” The victim responds, “No problem, I already talked to a counselor. Everything’s cool.”

But everything is not cool because the “counseling” took place before the victim was cognitively prepared to profit from it. In a sense, the counseling never took place. Unfortunately, the victim, feeling reassured from talking with a counselor, has trouble recognizing the coping problem.

All this raises the crucial question: When is the right time to encourage a victim of a traumatic event to receive counseling? One week later? Six weeks? Several months? Unfortunately, there is no absolute answer that would be appropriate in every case. That reality can make it difficult for a friend or relative to know when to reach out to a victim, and when to back off for awhile.

If the victim is a relative or a close friend, the odds are you will be able to sense that he or she is not progressing well following the event. Just remember, for a few days following the trauma that is to be expected. Once several weeks have gone by, however, and you still sense poor coping, it is probably best to get more forceful in getting the victim out of the denial and avoidance pattern that is still present. Again, there is no hard and fast rule to follow here, so you have to depend on your instincts. When we’re talking about a good friend or close relative you know well, those instincts can often be quite accurate.

One of my students told me a story that shows how easy it is to think you have “put a trauma to rest” in your mind. About four weeks after 9/11, this student went home for Fall break. She lived in New Jersey and the World Trade Center had always been plainly visible from her bedroom.

That night she crawled into bed and reflexively turned toward her window to say goodnight to the twin towers, her “guardian angels” since she was a child. “My God!” she said to herself, “they’re gone!” She was surprised at how startled she was because she knew they were destroyed in the attack four weeks earlier. “In a sense,” she told me, “I guess I had not really processed the reality directly, and at some level in my mind there was denial that the event occurred. It’s fascinating because I had talked about the event several times with my parents on the phone and I had obviously seen news clips on TV. But there had been no direct contact until that night in my bedroom. In that sense, I had not really directly experienced the reality of the event.”

My student was not suffering from PTSD, but her story illustrates the dynamics of recovery from trauma. At some level, and at some point in time, the victim must “establish contact” with the reality of the event. How this is done varies from person to person.

For some, mentally reliving or rehearsing an event and talking about it is sufficient. Others, however, may require something more tangible. Many Vietnam veterans find remarkably positive effects from visiting “The Wall” in Washington, just as survivors of the Orlando Pulse Club mass shooting find solace when standing next to the Club. WWII veterans have had similar cathartic experiences visiting Pearl Harbor or the beaches of Normandy. The grief-stricken can often cope with a traumatic loss better by visiting the grave of the lost one. Our blog posting of July 14, 2016 showed how a victim of a traumatic car accident was helped by visiting the accident site.

The important point here, however, is that “making contact,” whether mentally or physically present, is most likely to be beneficial when there is a time gap between the event and the safe contact. Time must be allowed for the mind to process the event. This processing delay may look like Denial to an outside observer, but it is absolutely essential before the mind can begin the healing process. If crisis debriefing takes place too soon, that healing is obstructed.

So when you see a friend troubled by an extremely upsetting event (and that can include a romantic breakup), and they don’t want to talk about it right away, give them a break. Grant them some “denial breathing room” for a period of time. That period will probably be longer for serious trauma, such as a rape or near-death experience, compared to milder events, such as a romantic partner announcing, “I hope we can still be friends.” In either case, however, allowing a victim some time to process the event will make your helping actions more effective.

 

 

 

 

 

ACCEPTANCE PART IV – PUT IT ALL TOGETHER

Suppose you have a bad case of social anxiety. You’re not too outgoing unless among friends and you become a total wallflower when with folks you don’t know. Generally, when you’re in a room full of strangers you look for the exit.

So here you are. Your boss has sent you to represent your company at a social function with reps from other companies, both local and out of town, to hear a presentation on improving employee morale. You walk into the room and fear strikes your heart as you look around and realize you don’t know anyone! And then the critical introspective examinations begin: “I’m going to look and sound like a total idiot.” “They’re all going to wonder, ‘Who’s that poor soul without a friend in the world?’” “I’ll never make it through this thing.” “I’ll just grab a drink, hang out at the food table, and wait for the program to begin. Maybe hanging in the restroom would be better.”

Where is your focus? It’s directly on the negative emotion you’re feeling, and you’re obsessed with how to avoid or escape the emotion. You are also focused on putting yourself down by assuming you will be the laughing stock of the room, so you create a pessimistic self-fulfilling prediction that you will fail. You are defining yourself by your undesirable emotion; you are thinking irrationally and assuming that you are not living up to expectations of others; you are seeking an avoidance strategy so you don’t have to confront and accept your fears.

Are there other, more effective coping strategies you might use to turn the situation into a challenge and not a threat? Of course there are. You can engage in some deep breathing exercises and other mental techniques to relax you a bit. (In a future blog we will take a look at some of these calming methods.) You can challenge your irrational thinking: “Let’s face it, no one is paying the least bit of attention to me and my anxiety, and they might even know someone at my company if I bother to tell them where I work. Just head for the food and ask some folks where they work and let things go from there. Ask if they know the presenter, have ever heard her before, or ever been to an event like this. Simple stuff, small talk. These people are not here to judge me.”

Self-talk like this will help you stop trying to avoid your uncomfortable emotions. If you consider specific actions to take that allow you to behave within the reality of the emotions, you will feel much more in control of your thoughts and behavior. You will feel greatly empowered to confront and challenge situations that bring you fear and anxiety. Remember: The key is to focus on things under your control. In the example given, you have no control over the other people in the room; you do, however, have control over your thoughts and the actions you can perform to make those thoughts work for you, not against you.

The essential core that holds everything together is acceptance. Growing to accept yourself and your emotions is a process, a way of living and interacting with others. It takes preparation, practice, and effort. Acceptance grows out of a type of thinking and acting that focuses on being realistic, not irrational; it emerges from facing your conflicts and anxieties, not avoiding them; it is based on positive, not negative, actions and thoughts, as long as your optimism is realistic and not pie-in-the-sky fantasy.

Perhaps most of all, acceptance is based on a personal system of values and standards that provide you with a social conscience and give your life purpose and meaning. Your values give you the ability to act independently, and result in actions and thoughts that will provide you with a sense of satisfaction and productivity. Cultivate a value system that allows you to venture outside of yourself. Remember, when it comes to effective coping it’s not all about you.

 

 

 

 

ACCEPTANCE PART III – THE ANTHEM, KNEELING, AND COPING LESSONS FOR US ALL.

Quite often events that take place on a large stage have considerable relevance for effective coping at an individual level. Thirteen months ago NFL player Colin Kaepernick began staging a protest against racial injustice by sitting or kneeling during playing of the National Anthem before the game. As I noted in a September 2016 post, his action produced a lot of discussion that centered on his protest method, but not on the issue he was protesting. No surprise there.

And now, a year later, here we go again, although this time more NFL players are involved in the sitting/kneeling protest. Once again, the impetus behind the protest, racial injustice, has been lost in the uproar about the method of protest. POTUS, a self-proclaimed champion of honoring our war vets and current troops, has led the charge accusing players of disrespecting the flag and US service personnel who have died protecting it (although in expected hypocritical fashion, POTUS has spent more time ranting against the NFL than in honoring four US soldiers killed by ISIS two weeks ago in Niger).

NFL players need to face reality and accept the fact that they will lose this battle. Not only do they face one of the most gifted showmen at “playing” the masses who ever lived, but also the patriotism card will always trump the race card. So here’s what I would say to the NFL players:

 

 

Accept it, men. You can’t win this one; your coping technique is inappropriate and continuing it is a form of denial. Your method of protest has been hijacked from you and turned into an issue, patriotism, that is not what you are protesting. But the hijack has succeeded and now beyond your control. By continuing your method of protest, you are violating the first rule of effective coping: Determine what is within your sphere of control. What your method stands for in the eyes of others has been co-opted and placed out of your control.

OK, what coping alternatives might exist for you that you can control? Let’s remember that you are high-profile men with considerable financial resources. Why don’t you seek more proactive actions based on your strengths and resources? First, reach out and attempt to partner with other players, coaches, owners, the Commissioner’s office, law enforcement personnel, the armed forces, and the media. Get together with them to brainstorm and strategize about positive ways to attack racial injustice in America.

Just off the top of my head, you could pour lots of money into already-existing, and new, programs designed to increase contact in favorable settings, and improve communication, between warring factions, notably communities of color and police. Pitch law enforcement to communities as an honorable profession. Ask law enforcement how to minimize misunderstandings between police and citizens. How about working with the armed services is developing strategies to foster a positive view in young people of serving the country. Invest funds to improve ROTC programs in junior high and high schools. Bring recruiters and police into the neighborhoods with you and give presentations that illustrate how to treat audiences with respect, not with suspicion. And through it all, involve parents and families!

Work on the rich fat cats who own those luxury boxes at NFL stadiums to donate to your cause, and to invite disadvantaged youth and their families to watch games, accompanied by veterans, current troops, police, and high-profile athletes. Make doing positive things with all these constituencies the norm, not the exception.

Imagine walking to an NFL stadium gate and seeing other fans, police officers, military personnel, families and kids of all races standing at the gates with contribution jars for your programs. The point is, you should structure things so everyone can become a part of your effort. One way or the other, get people to commit, even if it means dropping a buck into a jar. And get the media to give you immense publicity for all your initiatives. Saturate the airwaves with free coverage and paid advertisements.

I hope you understand that the key here is to ally yourselves with constituencies admired and respected by those who have been led to believe that protesting during the National Anthem can only mean one thing: You are un-American. Now you’re playing on someone else’s field. Take back your issue by allying yourself with all those admired and respected constituencies and demonstrate that, contrary to being un-American, you are showing that by taking positive steps to protest racial injustice, you are glorifying and strengthening America by bringing people together.

Remember that one who “plays” people using deception, indoctrination, and distorted facts weakens our great country by dividing us. Division produces frustration, hurt, anger, and hostility, causing us to act like meek sheep and passively attach ourselves to the false messenger. On the other hand, if you show people what can be accomplished by working together, you destroy the messenger and strengthen our bonds of humanity.

The point is, guys, kneeling ain’t gonna do any of us any good. However, by partnering with all sorts of constituencies, by designing good positive programs, and by persevering, you can change society. Accept the fact that you will not change society by kneeling; it’s a losing battle. Accept that harsh reality, and find new and proactive coping methods to deal with the hatred you face. You will feel empowered, satisfied, and productive, and you may be surprised to discover just how many folks are on your side.

 

 

There are also coping lessons at an individual level that I hope are clear from what is said above. You must accept certain realities, and that includes those emotions you don’t want to face. Denial and avoidance will not work, nor will trying to control everything. You must determine what things are within your sphere of control, and apply your strengths and resources within the boundaries of that sphere. Coping techniques outside those boundaries will fail.

 

 

 

 

 

COPING REQUIRES ACCEPTANCE OF EMOTIONS – PART II

Accepting negative thoughts and feelings as a natural part of life will help you be less self-critical and upset with your life, especially if you believe you don’t match up with your own and society’s ideals. You’re not weird or abnormal just because you experience troubling thoughts or feelings, and you’re not here to live up to others’ expectations.

There are times you must accept your pain without giving into tendencies to engage in some form of escape or avoidance and run from stress. Drug/alcohol abuse, social withdrawal, gambling, eating disorders and other acts of escape and avoidance are likely to magnify and expand problems while taking you farther from your value systems. If you value your roles as parent, spouse, employee, friend, or lover but, at the same time, let yourself become less effective in these roles, how can you expect to feel better about yourself?  If you value work, family, and friends, you must act accordingly, and with a sincere commitment and dedication.

Do you regularly ask yourself, “How well am I doing?” or, “Am I happy enough?” If you overdo it you can lose your ability to feel satisfied in the present. For example, chronically depressed and anxious people are likely to focus on whether or not they are feeling better. They search for answers in social situations to see how they are doing: “Does Joe see I’m here?” “Do I look foolish to Sally?” They also monitor their own actions: “Is my heart racing?” “Am I sweating?” “Am I just pretending?” “How well am I relating?” They try to feel “right,” which makes it impossible to be themselves and have a good time.

Do you constantly check on your actions and worry about what others are thinking? Do you try to maintain complete control of what’s going on around you? Such efforts are not a coping solution, but are the problem. In the final analysis it is actions based on fear and anxiety that are the underlying issues most people have to face; fear and anxiety are the motivators for the conflicts that produce most psychological problems and encourage inappropriate actions.

So stop treating your emotions as if they are alien invaders. They are you! We all have them and it’s natural. You are not weird. Accept your emotions but do not be governed by them. Acceptance of their presence and moving along in spite of this presence is one thing; letting them dominate you to the point that you struggle to deny them is quite another.