When I explain to someone that stress for children doesn’t come from monsters in the closet—it comes from their thoughts about monsters in the closet—they typically agree.
When I explain that stress doesn’t come from traffic jams—it comes from your thoughts about traffic jams—they typically agree.
When I explain that stress doesn’t come from moving, or getting divorced—it comes from your thoughts about moving, or getting divorced—they typically agree.
Stress doesn’t just happen. You don’t find yourself walking along, having a great time, and then spontaneously and for no reason at all, you get angry or upset. Your emotions happen because of something you are thinking about.
And yet it’s often the case that, upon hearing how emotions work, someone will say, “But what about ___________,” and then they insert their extreme circumstance of choice: sexual abuse, death of a loved one, cancer, genocide, warfare. Doesn’t THAT come directly from the experience itself? Isn’t THAT a completely different category of stress?
You tell me. In all of human experience, has there ever been someone who faced those circumstances and didn’t forever carry it as a heavy burden? Has there ever been a child with terminal cancer who remained happy, even if he or she was still dying? Has there ever been a prisoner of war who didn’t find the experience permanently traumatizing? Is it possible to survive genocide and, without condoning it, see it as an opportunity to find deeper meaning as a human being?
We don’t want to answer this question honestly because it exposes the myth that we believe in, and that exposure can lead to more accountability than some of us are ready for. It seems so much easier (and far more popular) to continue as a victim. But is it really easier?
People may always ask me “But what about…?” I think it’s a question worth really asking, and answering.