Caroline was not a happy woman. S he saw herself as a victim of circumstances. She blamed her unhappiness on a long list of external factors (other people, the economy, the weather, the government, her employer…), never dreaming that her own perceptions were primarily behind her miserable feelings.
The widespread tendency to attribute unhappiness to external sources is one of the most serious psychological mistakes. People say: “His remark upset me!” “Her comments hurt me!” “It made me unhappy when he snubbed me!”
In reality, it is not remarks, comments and statements that cause hurt or upset. People upset themselves over these statements or incidents. The age-old saying (like most age-old sayings) remains profoundly true: “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me!”
Though we utter these ideas as children, we do not take them seriously as adults. If we did, we would then say, correctly, “I upset myself over his remark,” in place of the psychologically inaccurate version, “His remark upset me!” We would say: “I hurt myself over her comments,” “I made myself unhappy when he snubbed me.”
• As long as we incorrectly blame outside sources for our miseries, we cannot do much about them. However, if we realize that we upset ourselves over the things that happen to us, we can work at changing.
For example, a young man was extremely distressed because his girlfriend refused to stop dating other men. “Her behavior really upsets me,” he said. “No,” we replied, “you are upsetting yourself over her behavior.” And then we asked: “How are you managing to upset yourself so deeply?”
It didn’t take long to piece together the fact that he was upsetting himself by engaging in a whole series of faulty ideas, or irrational self-talk. We were then able to show him how to stop making himself so unhappy over his girlfriend’s lack of ardor.
• By recognizing that the way you think about events determines how you feel, you’ll be able to take control instead of being controlled.If you make yourself unhappy when your in-laws visit you, or when someone puts you down, first discover how you go about inducing this unhappiness. What are you telling yourself? Then you can decide to do something about it. You can disarm faulty reasoning and find yourself indifferent instead of making yourself miserable.
Dr. Clifford N. Lazarus is a licensed psychologist, Co-founder and Clinical Director of The Lazarus Institute. In addition to his general psychotherapy practice, Dr. Clifford Lazarus specializes in health and neuropsychology.
Dr. Clifford Lazarus received his B.A., M.S., and Ph.D. in psychology from Rutgers University where he was a Henry Rutgers Research Scholar. Seen here are excerpts from one of his books, The 60-Second Shrink – 101 Strategies For Staying Sane In a Crazy World, a book, he co-authored with his father “One of the ten most influential psychotherapists in America” Arnold A. Lazarus, Ph.D. For more details on Dr. Clifford Lazarus visit this link to The Lazarus Institute. Or visit his page here on friendlysuggestions.com.
Direct links to two highly recommended books by Dr. Clifford Lazarus & Dr. Arnold A. Lazarus: