Surviving or Thriving: It’s All About Perspective
I am writing this in the middle of the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic and I am reminded almost daily that crisis brings out both the best and the worst in society. Panic and fear can cause people to do things that are out of character, extreme, even dangerous or harmful. On the other hand, shared trials can lead to deeper feelings of connection, even on a global level. Do you ever wonder what makes the difference in how each person will respond? Self-preservation or jumping in to help? Conflict or connection? A panicked reaction or a considered response?
Research tells us that there are many factors involved, including our early life and past experiences, our sociocultural context, and our values and beliefs to name a few! And as the initial shock of this crisis wears off, and the future of an altered reality stretches out before us, we have a moment to consider some of these things; to consider how we are going to respond. Truly, we have a choice: To live in survival mode or to choose to thrive and grow in the face of difficulty. Let’s consider one of the major factors that will determine your own personal response under such circumstances. What might that be, you ask? Perspective. It’s all about perspective!
Every thing we experience in our lives changes us in some way. How it changes us is deeply dependent upon how we perceive the experience. According to Dr. Barbash, in Psychology Today, “perspective is the main factor in determining how an event resonates with you, how you feel about a situation, and how you will remember what happened.” Not only that, your perspective will determine what actions you take in response. There are many benefits to reflecting upon your perspective in any given of situation!
One of the things that can happen when we feel threatened is that our survival brain can kick in and we can get tunnel vision. This could stem from something relationally, such as a critical comment from a boss or family member, or from a threat to our physical safety, such as…let’s say… a global pandemic. Our perspective narrows and our brain zeros in on the threat or the negative aspects of the situation. When we experience overwhelming circumstances or trauma we also tend to come away from the experience with extreme, all-or-nothing beliefs. Therefore, a key part in shifting from surviving to thriving, is to slow down, step back and get curious about our perspective and how it’s impacting us.
Consider your inner thoughts, values and beliefs about the situation, which are the building blocks of your perspective. Ask yourself: When I bring this situation to mind what are my immediate thoughts? How am I talking about this to others? What is my “version of the story?” What are the main parts of this situation I’m focused on? These questions can help you begin to expand your understanding of your current perspective. Once you have a deeper understanding of your perspective, you can evaluate it more closely and perhaps begin to shift towards one that is more helpful, realistic and adaptive. One that will help you thrive.
Do your thoughts and beliefs contain words like “always,” “never,” or “forever?” These kinds of trigger words are flags for extreme, often unhelpful, beliefs such as, “this always happens to me,” “I can never get through this,” or “this will go on forever.” Try replacing these words with language that is more realistic, such as “this feels really hard right now, but is only temporary,”
Is there another “side of the story” you might not be considering? Most situations in life, such as major life changes, crisis, and our relationships, have at least two sides to the story. There is often some “bright side” and some “down side,” something gained and something lost, a mix of emotions, or more than one valid understanding of what is happening. One of the most helpful things you can do in widening your perspective is to consider the “other side” of the story you may have initially overlooked. It’s possible that a healthy, more helpful and balanced perspective can be gained by seeing both sides. Instead of just focusing on the negative side of a situation, search for anything positive that might also be true. For example, having to stay home in social isolation may be less fun, social etc., but may be allowing for some additional financial savings and time to pursue a new hobby. Losing a job may be terribly uncertain and fear-inducing, but perhaps allows time for reflecting on the career change you’ve been considering.
With some practice, we can adjust our beliefs to be more realistic, balanced, and healthy, and therefore, helpful in creating a more adaptive perspective to carry us through difficult situations. It can be helpful to talk these things through with a trusted friend or a counsellor. I often challenge my clients to get curious about their current situation, as we explore questions like: What is this situation revealing to me about myself? What core strength is evident here? And in what ways can I use this as an opportunity for growth? I hope some of these thoughts can help you do the same!
We at Harbour Counselling are dedicated to improving the quality of life for individuals and families through assisting in healing the hurts of the past, improving mental wellness and resilience in the present, and building hope for the future. With the shift in practice brought on by COVID-19, we are now excited to offer online counselling services that allow us to provide this support both within and beyond our geographical region.
Let us know if we can help. We’d love to hear from you!