Monday Musings: How to deal with painful situations

Sometimes you're on top of the world, and sometimes you're rolling in shit from a thousand broken toilets. Or worse. There is always worse, and when that happens it's almost impossible to see a way out of that black hole. Is it being too melodramatic? Different things break different people. If you're going through that right now, I am writing this for you.

I was inspired by the speech Sheryl Sandberg (the COO of Facebook) gave to the University of California Berkeley's graduating class last week. She said, "When the challenges come, I hope you remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it. In that process you will figure out who you really are — and you just might become the very best version of yourself." 

That was possibly the most-quoted paragraph when the speech made its rounds on Facebook. It's amazing advice, but I feel there's something Ms. Sandberg also discussed that did not get enough focus on social media. She talked about the inevitability of adversity - losing opportunities, loved ones, our own health - and how to get through it. She discussed the three P's and how understanding them can help us get through difficult times. These three P's are what holds us back, and they are so common that it is easy to slip into them without noticing.

The first P is Personalization. When something bad happens, our first instinct is to blame ourselves. We think maybe there was something we could have done differently. We think our own actions led to the Bad Event. But there was no way we could've foreseen the future, and even if that were so, the impersonal and causal nature of the universe would prevent a different outcome. Yes, things sometimes happen because of us, but they also happen in spite of us. If we could stop taking everything personally, it would lead to less misery.

Pervasiveness is the belief that the Bad Event will decimate everything in our life. It will make waves, true, but they will be still eventually. We may not be able to change what happened but we can contain its adverse effects, keep it from contaminating the things that are actually going well in our lives. 

Finally, the Permanence of the Bad Event is simply not possible. It will not always be there; you can't say you will never get over it. Because you will - in time. The only thing that's permanent is change and if you could allow yourself to believe that, you can believe that even shitty times will shift into better times. 

Keep challenging yourself on these false assumptions and you will heal better, and faster. There will be scars, but less pain in time.