problems

3 Simple Ways to Get a New Perspective on Monstrous Problems

Have you ever looked at an ant under a microscope?

They’re scary.

Alien-like antennae, creepy multi-jointed hairy legs, and huge jagged pincher-jaws fill up your vision and make you want to get away.

Then you look at the ant with your naked eye and find yourself asking, “How was I ever afraid of that? It’s tiny.”

That’s how problems in life can appear, too. Like a huge monster that takes up our entire space and makes us want to run to get away from it.

What we need when this happens is a little perspective.

We have to figure out how to shrink the monster back down to its actual size so we our vision expands and we’re able to deal with the problem.

Here are some ideas how to do just that.

1. Remember past experiences.

Sometimes in our panic at the sight of the monster in front of us, we forget that we’ve faced other monsters in our lives, too. And we’re still here to talk about them.

I remember being profoundly struck by something a therapist friend of mine said when she was trying to process the unexpected death of one of her dearest long-term clients.

As I tried to comfort her and provide words of solace about her grief, she smiled wanly and said, through her tears, “I’m not worried about the grief, Bobbi. I’ve been through it before.”

At the time, I had not experienced the loss of someone close to me and was rather frightened by the prospect of it, so I was surprised that she could so calmly say that her grief was not daunting to her. She did not relish the thought of grief, but she knew she had made it through it in the past and would do so again.

When my turn came and I was engulfed in grief about the death of my partner, this same friend came to me and, taking my hand, gently and lovingly placed something in it. I looked down and saw a silver coin with four words written on it:

This, too, shall pass.

She knew from experience that this was true and now gave me a simple reminder to keep with me always.

And she was right. The monster that was my grief eventually ebbed away to its true size – a small, tender area of my heart that now and again still gets washed with tears if it is touched in a certain way.

Since my grief was much bigger and more difficult than I thought it would be, I now use that as my past experience to compare current adversities to. I know that, since I made it through my time of intense grief, I can really make it through anything.

When you are facing your own monster in your life, don’t forget about the times in your past when you faced a monster and somehow overcame it.

In fact, remember those times on purpose. Use what worked for you then to get through what you are dealing with now.

And remember that, just like that rough time in your past, this current difficulty, too, will pass.

2. Remember that emotions are temporary.

My stepsister, Lori, has a teenage daughter with Asperger’s Syndrome and we often exchange emails. Our online conversation is mostly about the highs and lows of raising her neuro-diverse daughter and she has shared with me many of the gifts that come along with having a special needs child.

Then, one day, this was the message in my inbox:

Today is a day in the trenches! It’s a battle and I’m bawling in my coffee. This journey is joy and pain in every aspect of those words. My knees are bloody on this life path. My guilt over wanting my life (before it was chucked under the special needs bus) back is outweighing my good will today. A special needs child “needs” almost all of the time.

There is also the alienation aspect of this life in the foreground today. It’s very hard for me to relate to neuro-typical people. I hear people gripe and moan about “normal” problems and I want to cause them bodily harm! :) Some days are frustration!

While my heart went out to Lori and her day in the trenches, I was also really impressed with one particular aspect of her resilience (other than her great sense of humor):

Her ability to realize that this is how it feels today.

Today is a day in the trenches . . .

. . . outweighing my good will today . . .

. . . in the foreground today . . .

Some days are frustration . . .

Notice how she didn’t say “Every day is in the trenches,” “I don’t have any good will,” “Always in the foreground,” or “Every day is frustration.”

Lori didn’t like the day she was having. At all.

Yet she was still able to see that it was just this day. Maybe tomorrow would be another day in the trenches, but she didn’t go there.

She knew that this is how she felt today and tomorrow could be the same or it might be different.

Remember that emotions are transient. Your feelings may change tomorrow or within a few minutes.

Don’t let how you feel now grow an ant into a huge monster. Give it some time and gain some perspective.

3. Look at your situation from a different angle.

I once spoke with a woman, Sharon, who was led to believe that she was going to receive a promotion at work, but instead, when she went into her boss’ office, found out that she was being laid off.

When I talked with her a few months after the event, she was doing quite well emotionally. I asked what she did to maintain her good attitude and she responded that, after the initial grieving period,

“I looked at this as an opportunity to expand rather than contract.”

Sharon was able to see her problem from a different viewpoint, one that saw opportunities instead of closed doors.

She ended up taking some classes, learning new skills, and really finding out what she wanted to do and accomplish in life. Sharon sees now that being laid off from her job was truly the proverbial blessing in disguise.

While we can’t all have the exact experience Sharon had, we can still make a practice of looking at the monster of our crisis from different angles.

Is there an opportunity hidden somewhere in its ugly face?

Are we unconsciously using a microscope to look at it so that it seems much bigger than it really is?

Is there some way to use this monster to expand our sense of who we are and what we want to be?

 

I’ll leave you with this quote by the wise and gentle American Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron:

It isn’t the things that happen to us in our lives that cause us to suffer, it’s how we relate to the things that happen to us that causes us to suffer.

 

Psychotherapist Bobbi Emel specializes in helping people face life’s significant challenges and regain their resiliency. Download her free ebook, “Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs.” You can find her blog at http://www.TheBounceBlog.com and follow her on Facebook (www.facebook.com/bobbiemel

  • http://twitter.com/PlayYourDay Play Your Day

    I love the super simple analogy of an ant compared to problem viewed through microscope! I just ended up nodding to every paragraph – great post.

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      Thanks very much!

  • http://www.acalltoaction.net/ Trevor Wilson

    You’ve done a great job pointing out that it really is all about perspective. When people are faced with a problem, especially an urgent in your face problem, it can seem like the greatest challenge  in the world. But when we step back and look at things from a distance, it becomes easier to see our problems with a more realistic eye.

    And it’s good to remember that even the truly great struggles in life are not insurmountable. We are all capable of so much more than we ever give ourselves credit for. In the end, all challenge builds strength.

    Cheers!

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      Thanks for your insightful comment, Trevor! I agree with you that we often sell ourselves short on our own ability to bounce back from things. We are much more resilient than we think.

  • Matt Maresca

    Good points. I like to be proactive in situations that make me uncomfortable. I’m fairly novice at the concept but I like to sit down and write out difficult situations from positive perspectives. I think of things that have happened that were positive and attach them to future situations. It allows my mind to calm down and see there’s no real danger to my survival. This has made a huge impact on my life. Thanks for this post, I’m sure a lot of people will benefit from your advice.

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      Hey Matt, this sounds like a really good process you use! I imagine it helps you get a little distance from the problem which then helps you get perspective. Thanks for sharing!

  • roman

    i think it’s so effective remember past experiences,it’s so comfortable the idea that you will overcame that in some way…i’m new here, and i think this is an interesting blog.. ^^

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      Hi Roman, welcome to Pick the Brain! Yes, we all go through rough times but it’s easy to forget that when we’re in the middle of one currently.

  • http://twitter.com/X4Ev Vance McClenton

    Great article! It’s so important to keep in mind the paradigm (as Stephen Covey put it), that you are in when looking at a situation or a decision! 

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      I agree, Vance. I think one point I could have added was that, just as you need some distance from the microscope to see that the ant is actually tiny, it helps to get some distance from the current problem as well.

  • http://livezestfully.com/ Darren Hodgson

    I particullarly like point 1. Over 90% of all worry never comes to pass, if you can use your own past experience to validate this, great. One that I find really helps is to future pace. Ask yourself “How will I feel about htis in five years time? Will I even remember this in five years time”. Usually this is all I need to change my perspective enough to regain control over my emotions about the situation

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      Great questions to ask, Darren, thanks!

  • luvavell

    Hi Bobbi! I can’ t believe I found you here. I love Pick The Brain and have beend a silent follower for years. Congrats on this post! The ant analogy caught me and I can’t help but read the rest. Thanks :)

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      Thanks, luvavell! Glad you liked the post!

  • Priska

    When I’m in the trenches I do as your step sister Lori did, but not in an email, in a journal. I say it exactly as it is, as I feel it, every inch of it. I don’t wallow, nor spend all day writing, I simply sit and write for however long it takes (usually about 20 minutes) each morning. I then get up and do normal day stuff. I know that one day I’ll wake up and find I no longer feel the urge to release, there’s nothing more left to say, except the normal stuff without the emotional intensity or the fear of losing my mind.

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      That’s a great technique, Priska. Sounds like it works really well for you!

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    It’s interesting.  I’ve dealt with many “monster” problems in my life.  For me, it’s natural to go into a “crisis management” mode.  Your tips are right on.  My weakness is dealing with the continual little problems.  Great post.  Thanks.

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      I think that’s a really good point, Dan. Sometimes it is the little ones that can get us down. But it still helps to get a little perspective!

  • http://www.RebootAuthentic.com/ Gary Korisko

    Great insights – as we have all come to expect from a Bobbi Emel post. So true that today’s monstrous problems erode in size an intensity over time.  Thanks, Bobbi.

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      Thanks for your kind words, Gary!

  • http://www.simplelifecorp.com/simplelifeblog/ Patti

    That was a really meaningful insight on your perspective that your sister consistently recognized that she was having trouble coping “today” and not “everyday.”  I’ve just made a mental note to do the same thing myself – to keep the perspective that some of the issues I’m experiencing are “today” “just this day” and not “always”.  It already feels better. Thank you!

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      Oh good, Patti, I’m so glad this was helpful for you. And I know Lori will be pleased as well!

  • Dave Rowley

    Hi Bobbi,

    I really liked the idea of responding to grief as an opportunity to expand rather than contract. 

    And I was struck with the tenderness of your friend’s act of handing you the coin with ‘This, too, shall pass’ on it. The physicality of the coin, and the act of someone else putting it in your hand, makes the offering of that (beautiful) sentiment seem more touching to me.

    Great post, Thank You.

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      Thanks, Dave. 

      Yes, my friend was very wise to give me a physical manifestation of a healing concept. There have been many times since then that I have taken that coin out and turned it over in my hands as if to remind me of its never-ending wisdom.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jim.bessey Jim Bessey

    Outstanding advice, Bobbi,

    Your columns always brighten my day and help me remember how truly lucky I am, regardless of whatever crap landed on my head that day.

    Thank you!   ~Jim

    • http://www.thebounceblog.com/ Bobbi Emel

      Thanks, Jim, that is such a nice compliment!

  • Saiga sukumar

    great message for new year.lets make problems light
    saiga

  • http://happierhuman.com/ Amit Amin

    Simple – yes. Powerful – yes. Difficult – yes.

  • Jane Robinson

    Those ants turned into monsters usually show up in the middle of the night.  I tell myself that this “monster” can dealt with in the morning when I am rested.  This is another great post Bobbi.  You have a way of examing life in a perspective unique to real life experience. And you share it so personally and well written.  Thank you.

  • Ddd

    Testing new comment 

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