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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

To cope or not to cope, that is the question

Simplebitsdan, Flickr

Coping... this might be one of the most difficult, yet one of the most important, life skills to acquire.

Once you know how to cope, life could pretty much throw anything at you. You will be able to handle it (albeit not necessarily with pleasure). We've all heard of incredible resilience stories, of people who have seen the dreadfulest of dreadful, and who came out of it rather unharmed. How do they do it? 

Here's my little two cents on it.

Fact no 1: Life is full of difficulties. Better accept it or you'll waste your precious time fighting "unfairness" and "absurdity".

You might know the opening paragraph of Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled:

“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

I read that book in my early teens, appreciated it greatly, but did not understand it fully. I re-read it many years later, after experiencing a couple difficulties of my own, and this time I was able to grasp the truth behind those lines. Life is difficult, yet we expect it to be easy, and that might be the root cause of our unhappiness. We refuse the fact that we all have a burden - or many burdens - to carry.

Fanz, Flickr

Fact no 2: Once you've accepted that life is full of difficulties, you have the choice of learning to cope... or you can always become a victim.

(Disclaimer: there IS such a thing as being a victim. If you are a victim of something, you are absolutely entitled to consider yourself as such, without guilt, and you are also entitled help. However, there is a point when you will have to decide whether to wallow in your own misery... or take action and move on.)

Nowadays, since I expect difficulty to occur in life, I am not surprised nor fazed by it. I do allow myself a "reactive emotion", of course. I am no Stoic, and denial leads nowhere. Sometimes, I even take the time to stop and ask myself "How are you really feeling about this, and why?" If tears have to come out, they do. But soon enough after the blow, I get into "pragmatic mode": "What can I do about it?" And more importantly: "Will I let this make me unhappy?" The answer is invariably no. So I pick myself up.

Capt madd matt, Flickr

Helping others cope

This morning, a young girl I know had an emotional and rather explosive reaction to what I considered a minor annoyance. As much as I respect (and validate) her feelings, and although I understand this might have been a manifestation of the "preteen years" phenomenon, her reaction upset me. What she said especially, to rationalize the situation, did not go down well with me.

There were 2 problems with her analysis. Here is what she said:

1) "This has been going on for too long, and it happens EVERY DAY."

Instead of focusing on each problem individually, she was opting to blend them all together. Looking at it from that point of view, no wonder she was feeling overwhelmed. Inspired by the recent weather, this is what I said to her:

"Each of your problems is like a little snowball. Everyday brings one or a few such snowballs, and if you take them as such, they are manageable. But when you focus on the fact that it happens every day, you might as well be putting all your little snow balls together; it becomes a huge snow ball, like the one you were making yesterday to build a snowman. Tell me, when a snow ball is that big, can you pick it up and carry it?" (She said no.) "And how about each individual smaller snow ball? Can you pick up an carry those ones?" (She said yes.) I added "This is how you need to deal with your problems: one at a time, while it's still of a reasonable size."

2) "THEY are ruining my life". 

She was speaking of the other kids. I knew how she felt. But because of some recent events, and because I have read Richard Bach's Illusions ( “If your happiness depends on what somebody else does, I guess you do have a problem.”), I really was adamant that she does NOT attribute her unhappiness to other people (or external circumstances, for that matter). This is what I said to her (in slightly different terms): 

"It will happen. People will hurt you. Most of them for a lack of interpersonal skills. A few out of bad intentions (but I think those are a minority). In any case, what happens next is what YOU decide to do with it. If people do something annoying, or even painful, that belongs to them. But your reaction to it belongs to you. You, and only you, have control over your life. When you say things like "They are ruining my life", you are relinquishing your control, you are letting them have control of your life. Is that what you want?"

I left her with that. A couple hours later, when I saw her again, she was in a radiant mood.

Lend a hand

Someone else in my life is unhappy these days. Someone I love with deep, unconditional love, even though I don't get to see him very often. When I heard about his struggles, I was worried, then sad, then more worried, then more sad. To relieve him of some of the suffering - and myself from those feelings - I longed to do something. But what? There are situations, unfortunately, where very little can be done. I thought about it for a little bit. What to say? What if it didn't sound like what I was trying to convey? How would it be interpreted? I really did not want to make the situation worse from a lack of an appropriate approach.

In the end, this is what I came up with. I called him, and I offered him... my ear:

"My ear, I said, is yours. I might not understand what you are going through, and I certainly don't know what to say that will be useful, but if there's one thing I know, it's that finding someone who will listen, really listen, is not easy. So if you need to talk... I'm here."

We ended up talking for more than an hour. It was an early Christmas gift... for both of us.


  1. Some people are lucky to have you in their life ..... And thank you for these good ideas, I will put them in my lifeskills toolbox.

    1. I love the image of the life skills toolbox! Thanks!

  2. Love this! Just another way you are my long-lost, Vizsla-loving Canadian sister! I too find it best to take my punches and move on. Yes, life can be hard, but life is also to short to wallow in misery & self-pity. Life is also amazingly, unbelievably good. I choose to focus on the good.

  3. I had to change my perspective to get happier. Less coping in life, and more embracing of the quirky and frustrating moments of life. I joke more about stupid/frustrating things that happen to me. I also find disagreeable people to be interesting in the annoying ways they live life.

    Even Dickens knew, a life story would be no good without a variety of annoying odd balls and villains trying to thwart you in random chapters of your life. And you don't get to be the hero without acting heroic during some of these times.

    1. Love the part about Dickens! It's the contrast that makes us appreciate.

      And I am totally for joking about frustrating things; it makes is so much easier to swallow.

  4. I've read ever book Richard Bach has written! The first time I read Illusions I thought it was silly. The second time it centered my life.

    Amazing how much wiser the book got in a few years, lol!

    1. I felt the same about Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Little Prince, and all those great books you CAN read as a child, but MUST read as a grown-up. :-)

  5. Another great post!!! I try really hard to pick up each snowball and roll with it. I've known people who let themselves be victims and actually seem to enjoy that role.
    I love the way you helped both the girl and your dear friend - thank you for sharing both stories.

    1. About those who seem to enjoy being a victim, I sometimes wonder if they use it to make their life interesting. I used to find it cool to be sick, so that I could describe my symptoms to everyone. Seriously?!?!

  6. I used to be terrible at coping to the point that I would cry! I am so glad that I have matured since then. Being able to cope definitely comes with age!

    1. Crying is fine, as long as you pick yourself up after! Thanks Gigi! :-)