When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.
~ Viktor Frankl
In life, some circumstances are beyond the scope of our control. Maybe it’s a debilitating illness, a tumultuous storm, an unstable job market, or a one-sided end to a relationship. All we can do is choose how we respond. What is the narrative that we are telling ourselves? How can we shift our perspective? Only we can decide how to interpret a situation at hand.
A few months ago, I was told that I should have surgery on my thyroid. And as soon as anyone mentions the word, “surgery,” my antennae perk up, and my insides become a tad squeamish.
With a medical history behind me, I’m not exactly a cool cucumber when it comes to the world of doctor appointments. I don’t do well in environments where I’m poked and prodded with blood pressure readings and vital sign diagnostics by health professionals who may display a poor bedside manner.
However, this was a procedure that was adamantly recommended, and I therefore had to decide which storyline to internalize. I could allow the past to paralyze me, and spend my time before the surgery date in a state of stress and dread, or I could choose another approach. I could trust that everything will be okay when I relinquish a bit of control. I could embody my strongest self to tackle this bump in the road with a proactive mindset, as opposed to being resistant and on the defensive. I could tweak my perspective, and alter how I interpret this circumstance.
My anxiety definitely ran high during the days preceding surgery, but once I was at the hospital, I knew that I had to call upon that determination and strength. And fortunately, everything did turn out to be fine.
“During tough times, our emotions run the gamut: denial, anger, fury, despair, numbness, isolation, desperation,” according to Laura Fenamore’s Tiny Buddha post. “In order to heal, we must feel. But we have a say in what we do with our feelings.”
Michael Michalko’s article on creativitypost.com discusses the notion that we interpret experiences in an immediate and automatic fashion.
“We are each given a set of experiences in life,” he wrote. “The experiences are neutral. They have no meaning. It is how we interpret the experiences that give them meaning. Your interpretations of your experiences shape your beliefs and theories about the world which, in turn, influence the way you live your life.”
When circumstances extend outside of our personal control (or contain elements outside of our control), we can still exert choice in our response. If it’s a pertinent stressor, we can acknowledge our negative emotions, while incorporating a sense of resilience as well. Perhaps it’s an experience that doesn’t necessarily have to be a stressor, though, if we change our perspective accordingly.
Easier said than done, of course, but it’s food for thought, nonetheless.
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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2014
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.
Suval, L. (2014). When Circumstances Are Beyond Your Control. Psych Central. Retrieved on March 22, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2014/02/21/when-circumstances-are-beyond-your-control/