I was thinking about people the other day, as I often do, and drifted onto the subject of why we do the things we do. I know this is one of the eternal questions (like “Why do we exist?” “Is there a god?” “Why can you never get good doughnuts at 4am?”) and I’m aware I’m not the first to wonder about it, but I had some thoughts on it, so now I’m going to share them with you.
We’re human, a species so wonderfully complex in our abilities, strengths and failings that our one defining quality, all 7+ billion of us, is that we are all unique. We all see the world differently, respond to the world around us differently and perceive the experiences that define our lives differently. An experience of one person may leave traumatic scars that take years to get over, someone else who experiences something similar may not have any lasting effects. Two people may go through the identical experience, and while for one person it was just another day, in the other a passion or purpose will be awakened. THAT DOESN’T MAKE ONE PERSON BETTER OR TOUGHER THAN THE OTHER. It just shows how different we all are. It shows that the old adage is right, 10% of our lives are what happens, 90% is how we react to it. So much of our life’s experience is how we perceive and internalise the meaning of the events. Significantly less is the actual events.
From the co-worker down the hall not holding the elevator to the neighbour mowing the lawn at a seemingly ungodly hour in the morning or the random stranger not letting you merge in traffic, we all have things happen in our life that can be considered minor annoyances. We also have bigger life events, the betrayal of trust by a friend or loved one, a death in the family or a financial collapse of some kind, that can leave their mark on our outlook on life. Then of course we have the major life events that I truly hope many of you haven’t and won’t have to experience. Sexual or physical abuse, the death of a child, a life-threatening injury or the diagnosis of a potentially terminal illness. All of these things, from the minor to the major, have the potential to affect each and every one of us in different ways, depending on how we choose to perceive them and how we choose to perceive what they say about us. This is heavy stuff so I’m going to break this up into 3 categories and we’ll go through some healthy and some less than constructive ways to deal with these. Ready? We’ll if not too bad because I’m jumping in!
We’re going to start of easy. Minor things like I noted earlier; inconsiderate colleagues, know it all in-laws or the referee calling against your favourite sports team, are all just facts of life. It’s very easy to take offence at these behaviours if we view them as personal attacks, particularly if from our vantage point they seem particularly pointed at you. This leads to a defensive anger to rise in the belly, a delicious feeling of indignation that is so easy hold onto. Riding your proverbial high house can be exhilarating, that sweet poison of self-righteousness so easy to drink.
The thing is, that is exactly what it is; poison. The self-aggrandisement of “how dare you think you can treat me that way” does nothing to solve any situation. It does not change another’s behaviour, it does not change their past actions and it will not soothe you hurt long term. All it will do is alienate others to your point of view, and pick at the wound you need to let heal.
The process of healing on these small-scale inconveniences is simple, let it go. Break into a Disney song if you must, but do not hold onto the anger. That will just infect you and make you more susceptible to taking further injuries. In reality, most of the little infractions of others are not aimed at us, they are merely a reflection on others inability to notice the effects their behaviour has on others. Whether due to an inner battle we don’t get to see, or due to a personality type that disregards the feelings of others, it is irrelevant. If they are an inconsiderate person life will show that to the important people, and you will be the better person, and if they are dealing with other things and thus unaware of the inconvenience they are causing, you are doing them a kindness by not making them feel worse for an oversight. Either way leaving them be, letting the indignation go, and moving forward, will do you many more favours in the long run than allowing yourself to get your back up, and firing back.
Now we come to tougher parts of life. If you have ever been on the receiving end of some of life’s harder trials, or read about people who have, you know that all responses can be broken down to two diametrically opposed view points; often simplified as Victim or Victor mentality. These names are a broad simplification, to be sure, but it does give an insight to the way we approach things. If we take the Victim mindset, the “why has this happened to me?”, “it’s not fair” or the most debilitating “I don’t deserve better”, we are psychologically setting ourselves up to perceive anything else that happens in an equally depressing light. You also shut off the capacity to find a way through the difficulty, not allowing yourself to rebuild from the admittedly difficult situation.
The Victor mindset, on the other hand is typified by thought like “what can I learn from this?”, “How can I prevent this issue arising again?”, “well, here is an opportunity for growth”. That isn’t to say that Victor mindset people don’t feel disappointment, loss, betrayal or other negative emotions, it’s just that they don’t continue to live there. They recognise the hard times, then pick themselves up and keep going. It’s that world view that leads to the ability to rebuild from disaster that defines the Victor, while it’s the living in their own grief rather than moving on that defines the Victim mindset.
Ok, now we get to the really tough stuff. I’m going to straight with you here in that I have never had to deal with any of the potentially life shattering obstacles that I mentioned earlier, so I won’t profess to know how it feels going through it. What I will do is tell you what I have learned from the people in my life who have. Both those who have overcome it and those who are never able to move forward with their lives. Firstly, let’s talk about those who have not. For these people, they become so consumed by the difficulty they have had to deal with, that it becomes the defining event in their lives. This is not to say in any way that whatever they have had to deal with isn’t huge, it’s just that by making it are integral part of their identity, they do not allow themselves any room to get past it. They proceed to live their lives based around this one fact and the negative results of the event. This then creates a mindset not only greatly adverse to risk, reducing the ability to create new happier memories, but also gives an excuse for any proceeding difficulties. This isn’t an impossible situation to solve but like those who can move on with their lives, it requires a separation of one’s identity from the events that caused the trauma. This is best done by a mental health professional.
The other group are the ones who use the aforementioned Victor mentality. They remove themselves from the traumatic event so that it becomes just something that happened to them, not something that defines them. This is not to say that the trauma is any less real, or that the physical and emotional trauma is any less. It is just to say that they don’t allow themselves to become “stuck” in thought patterns that prevent healing. They go and see the health professionals, both mental and physical, for help to move forward. They try and learn anything positive they can from the experience, whether it is the importance of expressing our feelings to our loved ones when we can, or that we are very lucky that specialised support services exist to help in the recovery process after almost any trauma.
That’s it for today folks, I hope this helps and if any of what I’ve covered today resonates, please let me know, see a health care professional, and keep moving forward.
Get Up, Get Out There, and Get Awesome,
And be kind to yourself and to others, you don’t know what the world looks like to them.