Take it easy but be tough

In my work as a clinical psychologist I often see things go wrong.  People lose their jobs, relationships break up and people often feel overwhelming anxiety or sadness.

Serious things go haywire for everyone and frequently we can’t change that.  What matters hugely is how we respond.   

When people have come from difficult backgrounds (such as critical parents or chronic instability), they often learn to feel ‘incompetent’ as children, because they (understandably) struggle to control outcomes in their difficult lives. 

This childhood ‘training’ inadvertently causes people over time to adopt the deep-seated assumption that they ‘cannot trust themselves’ to cope and that they are too ‘incompetent’ to deal with situations that are distressing.

This means people can then easily let themselves mentally ‘collapse’ and give themselves permission to lose all control.  This is often when people become passive and seek medication, or they allow anxiety to overwhelm or take them over.

This response works against their own best interests and can lead people towards further collateral damage, like hospitalisation, drug, medication or alcohol addiction,  ‘to cope’.  

Yet the assumptions about ‘not trusting yourself’ or ‘incompetence’ could usually not be further from the truth.  Most people who have come from difficult backgrounds have had to overcome enormous challenges and those who have not ended up dead are usually highly motivated and highly competent.

Instead trust yourself to cope.  In fact, insist on it.  It is crucial when stressful life events occur to never give yourself permission to lose control or mentally collapse.  Sit tight and make your way through the problems and solve them one by one.  Be tough with yourself.  Be disciplined.  Never allow any loss of control, no catastrophising or rumination. 

At the same time, be kind to yourself, take it a bit easier than usual, understand that you are just temporarily going through a rough period, but fill up your day with many enjoyable, constructive, problem-solving activities instead of harbouring ruminations.