Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Dealing with deeply unpleasant change

I get a statement from Prof. Eric Barker every Sunday. His blog Barking

Up the Wrong Tree and his recent book of his posts take on a problem that tends to bother people and gives ideas and research results aimed at handling the matter.  This past week, the problem was dealing with tragedy.

Barker starts off listing three main ideas that often cause trouble:

After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P's can stunt recovery: (1) personalization -- the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness -- the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence -- the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever... Hundreds of studies have shown that children and adults recover more quickly when they realize that hardships aren't entirely their fault, don't affect every aspect of their lives, and won't follow them everywhere forever.

Depending on the problem, your personality and your age, it seems likely that some seriously negative event may seem, especially during a period of grieving and regret, that it was your fault.  It may have been.  You might have caused it, contributed to it.  You and others might know for sure that if you had been more alert, more imaginative, more careful, things would have gone better.

But, as Byron Katie says, the thing about the past that she loves is that it is over.  What happened, happened.  You can start working today on practices and actions with a good chance of avoiding a repetition but it is quite likely that something is still going to happen in the future that you won't like and that is, at least partly, your fault.  If you hadn't been born, if you had died years ago, if you had been somewhere else, if, if, if.

It was really the second point that got my attention.  When someone looks back on their life to an event or a choice or a decision that was definitely important, they sometimes emphasize the importance by thinking or saying "That changed me forever".  But I say, yes, it did.  However, every minute changes you forever and every minute changes me forever.  We often can't see anything special about the last minute or yesterday that makes an important change.  Just because we can't spot anything important doesn't mean there wasn't anything significant and important there.  We are changing all the time and so is everything else.  Try to swallow that and accept that and enjoy the changes that you can.

By the way, if X changed you "forever", then along may come a Y that changes you back, for a long, long time, if not forever.

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