Have you ever felt unable to change your circumstances?
Ever felt like life was happening to you… not with you?
What about when you feel powerless with people or with decisions being made around you?
Well you’re not alone. Many of us do feel, or have felt like this at times or way too often. I have this conversation with people every week.
Sigmund Freud told us that we are creatures of misery, conflict and struggle. Thanks Freud. That’s super hopeful. Not. He wasn’t alone in his thinking. Psychologists, in the past, have focused on helping people work through their negative mental states when dealing with issues like depression and anxiety. That is, once they are in a hopeless place. But there wasn’t enough focus on how we future proof ourselves from getting there in the first place. Thank goodness we now have many others who provide alternatives to this one way of dealing with life in the modern day.
Enter Martin Seligman, known as the Founder of Positive Psychology, who I had the pleasure of hearing for a second time last week in Melbourne. Seligman reminds us that our attitude affects our mental health. And how’s this for some data? Seligman says that if you believe bad events are going to keep happening to you, that can be the equivalent, to your health, as smoking two packets of cigarettes a day. Whoa! Now that’s quite confronting.
Helplessness comes when we believe that we cannot influence our situation for the better. It comes from our default reaction to bad news and events in our lives or the lives of others. This can lead to depression, anxiety and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness. At its worst we become a victim of life. Not an active participant.
There is a tract in the pre-frontal cortex of our brains that when it is fed with hope it can actually switch off your sense of hopelessness. So when we believe we can control things, which can be as simple as our emotional reaction to circumstances, we have the ability to turn our sense of helplessness into hope. Hope then leads to a positive state of being.
When I work with people on how we communicate, it’s so important to understand that our perspective can dramatically distort our opinions. And our opinions will heavily weigh how we approach relationships and conversations with others.
I say it all the time but here it is once more. You may not be able to control what happens to you but you can control how you react to it. When we believe we have no control in our lives we get trapped in ‘victim’ mode and that’s a really unhappy place. If Victor Frankl believed he was a victim, he would not have survived the Nazi death camps nor affirmed that it’s not what happens to you but how you deal with it that counts.
Believing you have no control over your life is handing the reigns over to anyone or anything. Don’t let life control you. You can reframe… should you chose to.
So what would that look like for you, if you lived with more hope? Would you approach relationships differently? And therefore change how you collaborate and communicate? Food for thought.