Sometimes we have trouble not taking on someone else’s reaction. Many of my clients feel this way. Just recently I was talking with one about a stressful work experience they were having and as my client was listening to her colleague relay a story, my client was feeling the same stressed out feelings as her colleague was, despite having been fine just moments before. That same day, a colleague came into the office and was busy organising and working. My client noticed that her two attempts at connecting with her colleague weren’t picked up. In recent times, those interactions would likely have coloured my client's views on the world. She would have started seeing life through a more stressful lens, and she might have taken her colleagues busy-ness for a snub. To counteract these feelings, we have been working on a reliable way to help my client see what her part in this interaction is, and what belongs to someone else.
To keep grounded this festive season, follow this model as a way to make sense of triggering situations.
This is an effective psychological framework that is really simple. Promise.
- Ask yourself, is the behaviour of the person in question a ‘normal’ response. The two examples I have given above are grey enough that you could answer yes or no. But I would say that it isn’t normal. This is because their responses have affected my clients state. If people are handling themselves and their stresses well, they don’t need to share negative stories, and it is normal to greet people and take up their offer of connection. We usually only share negative stories if they aren’t resolved in ourselves, and we don’t usually deviate from social norms, unless we have something bigger on our minds. This is important, as it shows us that the ‘usual or normal’ isn’t playing out here. This means that one of the following are at play. There is a Neurosis, or a Psychosis.
- So now we ask ourselves, is this person in a mental imbalance that is causing them distress? If so, this is a neurosis – neuroses don’t impair daily functioning, but they do show up as symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Most people suffer from one or more neuroses. In the examples above, this is exactly what is happening.
- If it’s not normal and it’s not neuroses, - and let me be clear here, this is unlikely to be the case - the last layer is psychosis. Now we are knee deep in psychology – don’t worry we won’t stay here long. This is any mental state that impairs thought, perception and judgement. It refers to a loss of contact to reality, where the individual lives in their own constructed world. Usually there are two psychiatric disorders that produce these symptoms; schizophrenia and mood disorders, such as bipolar disorder. Most likely, you won’t ever get this far in your thinking, but the model rolls of the tongue well, so I’m leaving it in here!
Generally we don't see psychosis playing out in day to day life, unless you have a family or friend who experiences this condition. However, this model is a very useful one to understand neuroses. Specifically neuroses that don't belong to you. So by identifying your reaction to someone else’s neuroses you can skip the whole cycle. Sounds like a plan for this festive season!
How do you manage yourself?