How do you cope with stress?
How about loss?
In my work, I group things like stress, loss, worry, fear, trauma, and other strong emotional states into the more general term ‘pain’.
People often ask how to ‘get over’ things.
Sometimes they word it differently, as in:
“Doc, tell me how to get past this…”, or, “How can I put this behind me….”
In our culture we are inundated with phrases like “man up”, or, “deal with it”, as well as, “bottom line”, and the perennial classic, “suck it up”.
Even our large corporations have joined in on the mantras, with Nike popularizing the phrase, “Just Do It”, and Toyota, “Moving Forward.”
Nowadays it seems that if we find ourselves feeling the least bit uncomfortable or conflicted about something difficult in our lives, we immediately look for the ‘fix’ for it or the ‘cure’.
We doctors are deep into it too! I always tell my patients, “PLEASE don’t cry in your primary care doc’s office on a Friday; otherwise they’ll immediately put you on a pill to make THEMSELVES feel better for the weekend, and you and I will be stuck trying to get you off it next week!” (God bless the overworked PCPs by the way; they do their best with what they know and the time they –don’t- have these days.)
But there is no ‘cure’ for life.
The other day I learned that some of the children at a local grammar school were learning a new way to do math.
Though I won’t share with you the exact name that the technique was given, as I don’t want to give away any identifying details of the particular school involved, let’s just say it was the “make a good guess” technique.
“Make a good guess?”
At seven years old? I don’t know about you, but when I was seven years old there was no such thing as a particularly good guess with what little bit of information and experience my little brain had going for it at the time. (Unless you count guessing cookies versus brownies for dessert based on kitchen smell!)
Now most of us would agree that, later in life, we’re often in the position of having to ‘solve’ something with less than optimal data, so we have to eventually get good at making an educated ‘guestimate’.
But, in my opinion, these children are too soon learning (in math of all places!?), that the fastest way is the best way, and that’s just simply NOT always the case.
Especially at first, I’d much rather have my own kids learn it the ‘long’ way, before all the shortcuts, because there is an innate and modular value in the challenge of truly learning something, whether in school or in the school of hard knocks (i.e. life).
The problem is not so much that we as a society want to become ever more efficient and effective in our lives; the problem comes when being efficient and effective BECOMES our lives.
And when it comes to experiencing life, especially the hard parts, we really cannot and should not try to rush ‘past’ it.
In fact, rushing ‘past’ is often the best way of ultimately staying stuck.
When we try to rush our minds, bodies, and spirits ahead too quickly, the issue or issues at hand will haunt us forever because we’ve never allowed ourselves to actually ‘dwell’ long enough to sufficiently feel and experience the depths of our situation.
Suck it up.
Deal with it.
The most upsetting thing is watching a parent short-circuit the emotional experiences of his or her child, as in:
“You’re okay so stop crying…”, or
“Big boys don’t cry…”, or
“What are you so upset about! You’re fine! Stop right this instant!”
We parents teach our children how to handle difficult feelings by how we handle them when they are experiencing strong emotions.
If our tolerance is low, so it will eventually be with them and with their kids.
If, on the other hand, we lead by example with the LVACTM model (LVAC=Listen, Validate, Ask, and Comment last), we allow the child to truly experience whatever it is they are feeling or thinking instead of rushing them along.
When we force kids to ‘move along’ too quickly, it creates what I call ‘sticky points’, or hang-ups for them later in life, where they perpetually get stuck when they have certain feelings or conflicts in their lives.
And the same goes for ourselves.
The next time you are faced with a difficult or conflictual situation, maybe one that is laden with guilt, shame, fear, or anger, try sharing your feelings with someone or with yourself by writing about them.
Try to ‘dwell’ for a few moments, or longer if necessary. Don’t give yourself short shrift.
You can never get ‘past’ what you haven’t been ‘through’; it will always come back to haunt you if you try.
So remember, take care of yourself in a Deliberate, adult manner. Face your ‘pain’ and work your way through it using all the resources you can pull together. (BTW, apropos to this post, the “D” in my REALADULTS acronym stands for “Deliberate”, and the second “L” is for “Living with pain and failure”—the first “L” is for LVAC. See my post, REALADULTS, for more.)
For true adults, there’s a difference between going ‘through’ things, and trying to get ‘past’ them.
All my tender best,
Anthony Ferraioli, M.D.