Coping with the Pressure, Problems, and Peeves of Life 

We experience life through our senses (sensations) and feelings (emotions).For example, through our sense of hearing, we may hear the performance of a magnificent symphony or the raucous fighting of our next door neighbor; the meal we are about to eat may be succulent or putrid; the aroma that surrounds us may be fragrant or rancid, the object we’re holding may be soft or abrasive, and the scene before us may be too dimly lit or blindingly bright to discern, or it may be bright and clear.  In a word, our experiences are either pleasant or unpleasant. That’s where our emotions come in because pleasure makes us feel good and pain makes us suffer.

So, regardless how positive we may be, there will always be a certain amount of pressure, problems, and peeves that we will have to deal with. But more important than the problems we have is how we cope with them. For we can deal with them effectively or ineffectively. Through skillful handling, we can reduce mountains to molehills and sweep them away. Or through inept coping, we can make the situation far worse. For example, a man with a broken heart turns to drink to numb his pain and what was a temporary problem (loss of a girlfriend) becomes a permanent one (he becomes an alcoholic). When we are faced with a problem, our natural inclination is to avoid it. After all, we are programmed to avoid anything unpleasant. So, to avoid becoming like the man in my example and making our problem worse, we have to face it, analyze it with our rational mind, and decide on the best course of action. But before we can begin, we need to do two things:

1. Become aware of how we deceive ourselves when faced with problems. Once we are aware of our own self-deception, we can then turn to our rational mind for guidance.

2. Become aware of the five components of rational thought, for if any part is missing, any decision we make will not be completely sound.

I. Eleven Ways We Lie to Ourselves

Why is it that we hesitate to deceive others, but think nothing of lying to ourselves? I’m afraid we all practice self-deceit and sometimes with grave consequences. The most common ploy we use is rationalization. That’s just a fancy way of saying we make excuses and blame our lack of success on circumstances beyond our control. We don’t like to admit we are the cause of our problems, so we invent reasons for our failures. Let me give you some examples of the lies we tell ourselves.

Did you ever notice in your discussions with others that they are wrong and you are right? Isn’t it odd that you are ALWAYS right and NEVER wrong? How can that be? This lie prevents us from learning from others. Why do we feel threatened by different opinions and find it painful to admit we may be wrong?

Well, we often get stuck in “either-or” thinking. That is, EITHER Tom is right OR I am right. Either Mary is clever or I am. But it is never that way. Actually, SOME of what Tom says is right and SOME isn’t. Tom is SOMETIMES right, but SOMETIMES wrong. Just because Mary knows more about SOME things than I do doesn’t mean she knows more about EVERYTHING than I do. Once we understand this, we will feel less threatened by different ideas and more willing to listen and learn.

The lies they tell themselves allow some people to destroy their health with cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, and overeating. Others go penniless because they justified their wild spending habits by saying “I work hard, so I deserve these luxuries” or “Perhaps I can’t afford it now, but I’ll be able to pay for it later, so I’ll put it on my credit card.” Lies. Lies. They’re all lies.

A favorite lie of many is, “I couldn’t do it because I didn’t have the time.” If you didn’t have the time to do the important stuff, how come you had time to do the unimportant stuff? Yet another all too popular lie is “I have more than enough time to do it LATER.” These procrastinators while their lives away, LATER wondering where all their time went and why they failed to reach their goals.

Those who are too frightened to step out of their comfort zone and make something of themselves proclaim, “I’m not afraid, I’m just being cautious.” “Those who year after year fail to make any progress announce, “I cannot help it. That’s just the way I am. It is my nature; I was born this way.” Lies. Lies. Lies. They don’t get us anywhere.

Unless we end the self-deception, face our fears, admit our faults, accept responsibility, roll up our sleeves and get to work, things will remain the same. Is that what we want? Is that what you want? Assuming that it isn’t and that you are committed to stop lying to yourself, let’s look at some of the methods we use to deceive ourselves, for once we are aware of them, they will be easier to uproot.

1. Rationalization. I already mentioned this method, but the important thing to understand is that NO RESULTS + A GREAT EXCUSE = NO RESULTS. This formula clearly shows that no excuse, regardless how good it is, can advance our cause. In a word, there’s no point in making excuses. It’s just a waste of time. Far better to use that time to take steps, no matter how small, to bring us closer to our goal.

2. Justification. When we justify our actions, we twist the facts, pretending to ourselves that our wrongful acts are perfectly reasonable. For example, an office worker who pilfers office supplies tells himself, “My boss is exploiting me, so I have a right to take some supplies for myself.” Not only is he a liar, but a thief!

3. Selective Attention. When faced with an opinion that we disagree with, rather than consider we may be wrong, we dismiss, discount, and downplay its importance. We always remain on the lookout for information that supports our beliefs, and automatically reject anything that conflicts with our preconceived notions.

4. Denial. Rather than face the painful truth, we choose to ignore it. Denial is a ruse frequently used by addicts. For example, an alcoholic may say, “I don’t have a problem; I’m just a social drinker.” or “I’m not drunk. I can still drive safely.”

5. Wishful Thinking. This is the opposite of denial. Deniers pretend that what is true, is not, and wishful thinkers pretend that what is not true, is. Wishful thinkers delude themselves into believing something is true simply because they want it to be so. The world abounds in wishful thinkers, so it’s not surprising that roughly 2,350 years ago Demosthenes taught, “Nothing is so easy as to deceive oneself; for what we wish, we readily believe.”

6. Projection. This is a form of denial, but neither the problem nor its severity is denied. Instead, all responsibility is denied. “Yes, it’s true I have many problems,” Tom says, “but so would you, if you were raised by my mother.” In this tactic, we shift the blame for our problems on another or claim life circumstances are responsible.

7. Introjection. This method is the opposite of projection. Rather than deny our responsibility, we assume the responsibility of another. In other words, instead of blaming the perpetrator, we pretend it is our fault. For instance, a woman is in love and finds it too painful to acknowledge her boyfriend is a bad person. Rather than admit the truth and end the relationship, she believes he abuses her because there is something wrong with her.

8. Regression. Rather than coping with a problem in a mature way, a person under stress or frustration may revert to earlier, childish methods. That is, the troubled person may sulk, whine, or cry, and feeling helpless expect others to rush to his or her aid.

9. Repression. Child victims of sexual abuse and incest may find the pain and confusion too much to bear. So, the subconscious represses the memories. That is, it buries the memories below the level of awareness. Although repression alleviates the pain and allows the child to function, the memories remain intact. And until they are faced and dealt with, the victim may not be able to form healthy relationships.

10. Suppression. After a traumatic event, victims may find the memories too painful to bear and deliberately push them out of their mind. In repression the memories are subconsciously hidden, but in suppression they are consciously hidden.

11. Displacement. In this method of coping we take out our frustration and anger on innocent people. Suppose your boss gave you a hard time today and you are angry. But you feel you cannot express your anger to your boss without putting your job in jeopardy. So, what do you do? You pick on someone who will not strike back, such as your spouse or children.

As you can see, lying to ourselves is a coping mechanism. We do it to avoid pain. But here’s the rub; the pain of not facing and handling the truth is greater than facing it. You probably already understand that. So, why do we continue to lie to ourselves? You see, it is one thing to UNDERSTAND it is better to face our problems and quite another thing to FEEL the pain, doubt, and worry that accompanies facing them. When it is a battle between the intellect and our emotions, our emotions almost always win. That’s because we usually operate on autopilot, allowing our emotions to run the show. However, with practice, we can interrupt our feelings and ask ourselves “Is the action that I now FEEL like taking in my best interest?” If it isn’t, we can choose to act differently. When we stop and question our feelings often enough, it will become a new habit, so that we will always be acting in our best interest, even when our actions are usually automatic.

I don’t wish to get morbid, but if your doctor told you that you had a terminal illness, wouldn’t you do things differently? Wouldn’t you see to it that you spend your remaining time doing what works for you, rather than sabotage your own success and happiness? Well, guess what? You do have a terminal illness. It is called life. So, if you don’t start acting in your own best interest today, when will you begin?

So, the next time problems erupt, face them. Analyze them and tear them apart. Ask yourself, “What are the best steps for me to take now?” Then do what you believe is best. Study your results, and make further refinements if needed. Force yourself to look at your life in order to make it better. Don’t just talk about it; take action!

II. The Five Components of Rational Thought

Instead of emotionally reacting to problems and peeves, we need to stop and rationally analyze the situation, look at our options, and choose to take the best course of action. You have often heard it said that it is important to stop and think before we act. That is partially true, but it is not thinking, but rational thinking that is critical. After all, all the people who engage in the eleven forms of self-deception are thinking, but their thinking is a form of self-sabotage and not helpful at all. So, how do we distinguish rational thoughts from irrational ones? Rational thoughts have five components. Any thought with one of the components missing is not sound and should not be acted on. Study the components and use them to test the validity of your own thoughts.

1. Openness. By openness I mean the opposite of narrow, black-and-white, either-or thinking. Examples of black-and-white (either-or) thinking include: “You are either for or against me,” “He is either evil or innocent,” and “She is either stupid or malicious.” Black-and-white thinking cannot help us solve our problems because it is based on a false understanding of the world. The world is complex and we need to be open to all of the possible causes of our problems and all of the possible solutions.

Imagine an angry citizen saying, “Sixteen-year-old Tommy is evil, throw him in jail.” This is an example of simple black-and-white thinking. By calling Tommy evil, we ignore all of the causes of crime, which include: poverty, lack of education, genetic deficiencies, the desire for attention and recognition, a society that stresses consumerism and materialism, lack of values, sense of entitlement, lack of empathy and conscience, negative role models, availability of drugs and handguns, childhood neglect and abuse, unemployment, thrill-seeking to numb the pain caused by hopelessness, alienation, single parent home, neurochemical imbalances, physical and head injuries, toxic environment (pesticides in food, heavy metals and bacteria in water), food allergies and intolerances, birth trauma, mental illness, low I.Q., hormonal problems, peer pressure, victim of bullying, mineral and vitamin deficiencies, maternal smoking and drinking, alcohol and drug abuse, paranoia, premature birth, memory and behavior problems, learning disabilities, attention deficits, poor language skills, compulsions, and speech and vision problems.

2. Objectivity. We need to step back, disentangle ourselves from the problem, and look at the big picture. Instead of focusing on me, we need to focus on the entire situation. We need to stop saying, “Why is this happening to me?” and start saying, “How have I contributed to the problem? What am I doing wrong and what can I do differently? How would I feel if I were in the other person’s shoes?” Objectivity leads to problem solving and it is solutions we are looking for.

3. Evaluation. With this component or facet of rational thought we examine the pros and cons and the costs and benefits of the options we have. For example, should I punish my 16-year-old son for his first fender-bender? Will the punishment make our relationship stronger or weaker? Was the accident caused by reckless disregard for the rights of others or was it due to inexperience. Is my son taking responsibility and trying to do the right thing. In this simple example you can already see how I need to be open, objective, and evaluative to arrive at a sound solution. But there are two more steps we need to take…

4. Detachment. Problems make us feel bad. We may feel angry, frustrated, hopeless, fearful, spiteful, discouraged, confused, jealous, stressed, or revolted, just to name a few possibilities. But it should be clear that negative emotions cloud our thought process and prevent us from making sound decisions. Yet, one of the first premises of effectively coping with problems is to disengage from emotional thinking, to stop and rationally think before we act. So, we cannot engage in rational thought unless we first detach ourselves from any negative emotions that we feel because of the situation.

5. Logic.How can we successfully cope with our problems? We do this by looking at them openly and objectively, evaluating our options, detaching ourselves from negative emotions that obscure our thinking, and finally, we act logically. The first four steps can lead us to a solution, but unless we act upon the solution, the problem remains. Summarizing, in the final step, by applying logic, we choose the best way rather than the easy way.

Useful Resources

THE SOLUTION: Conquer Your Fear, Control Your Futureby Lucinda Bassett

THE TOOLS: Transform Your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels

CREATIVE COPING: A Guide to Positive Living by Julius Fast