Have you ever looked at an ant under a microscope?
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