Welcome to stren # 51. Would you like a collection of practical assumptions people commonly arrive at through experience and reflection? A senior teacher of therapists, Lewis Wolberg1 , has identified eight common ideas people learn after wrestling with life’s conflicts. Years of therapy have been distilled into the common insights offered here for your benefit. These same conclusions are found in “rules of living” laid down by poets and philosophers from the earliest times. They are bits and pieces of mental “strengths,’ the wisdoms which, when harmoniously joined, permit a manner of living more in keeping with reality. Ponder on each to understand its meaning. Can you relate these assumptions to those to which you adhere?
As expressed by patients [bold from Lewis Wolberg, comments by Donald Pet M.D.]:
- All people have problems and I know now that mine are no worse than anybody else’s.
Most people, when asked if they would trade their problems with someone else’s, prefer to keep their own. We are naturally prone to see the empty part of the glass when looking at our self, but see the full part when they compare with someone else. We all experience many hardships through our lifetime, including the inescapable fact that we are mortal, but we can point to multiple examples of individuals with the most severe problems who nevertheless learn to create a joyous, meaningful life. Know that there is a way and that way is available to you.
- I realize I considered my symptoms a sign of weakness. I realize they aren’t. I don't pay attention to them and they pass. They aren’t such a big deal now.
In our youth, we are prone to be extremely self-conscious. We think others are scrutinizing our flaws, but the likelihood is that they don’t really care because they are preoccupied with their own perceived shortcomings. We emphasize what we “should” be, instead of appreciating what we are and asking what will make things better.
- One of the big problems I had was considering myself the center of the universe. It now isn’t so important for me to feel so important.
Indeed, in our childhood, we learn we are the center of the universe. Someone must nurture us because we can’t do it for ourselves. It appears that the world is made for us because things just sort of magically happen. Remember, our ancestors thought we were the center of the universe and everything revolved around us until Galileo proved otherwise. We didn’t want to accept it; Galileo was punished just for questioning what everyone thought. Once we accept that the world is often unfair and learn to deal with it, life is easier to manage.
- I was so full of guilt I felt I would bust. When I talked things out, I realized my standards were a lot stricter than those of other people. As a matter of fact, I would purposely do things to prove I was bad; now I don’t have to.
Guilt is unique to humankind because it is a favorite way for our nurturers to “educate” us to do as they say. Some are taught to overdose on guilt, resulting in perfectionism or scrupulosity. Such individuals are among the most unhappy even though they often excel in what they do. A bit of corruption properly applied is an effective antidote. Guilt, which I label the blaming-in mental action pathway, is rarely productive. Recognizing the shortcoming and asking what action will correct it is far more preferable and constructive.
- The price I would pay for my indulgences was just too high. So I don’t burn the world up! So I don’t get as much of a bang out of doing ridiculous things! The quietness I feel more than compensates for the high life I was leading.
Short-term gain often results in long-term pain. Self-endorsement is our most potent acquired skill for wisely managing the innate cravings of instinct that would rule our life if left unchecked. Methods that maintain calmness such as progressive relaxation, yoga, meditation, etc. are valuable to include in everyone’s collection of skills.
- Why knock yourself out climbing on top of the heap? You’re nowhere when you get there. You kill yourself trying. I was so ambitious and perfectionistic that I had no time for living. Now I try to find pleasure in little things, and it works.
Freud told us “lieben and arbeiten,” love and work, are the most satisfying of life’s endeavors. Why not learn to love your work? Too often we make money the end game, while making meaning of the everyday things that are abundantly available to us are far more important to creating a fulfilled life. We must teach ourselves to become our own best friend.
- I don’t have to blame my parents anymore for my troubles; whatever happened happened. Why should I let the past poison my present life? I feel I can live now for what life has to offer me right now.
During our “magic” years when we are taken care of by our nurturers, we each reasonably come to expect that this is the way it should be. How frustrating when we are confronted with the reality that the “free lunch” was temporary. Frustration innately mobilizes the desire to blame whoever or whatever is no longer doing that they “should” do. Blaming-out is a natural response that becomes non-productive. We do far better to teach ourselves the problem-solving skills with which we take responsibility for our own well-being.
- I used to torture myself about the future. Worry about it so much I couldn’t enjoy anything. I knew I was silly, but I couldn’t stop. Now I just don’t care. I do the best I can now and I know the future will happen as it will happen no matter how much I worry about it. I take things as they come.
Worry is excessive preoccupation with life’s challenges. Substitute concern for worry. Concern uses the smallest amount of energy required to appropriately manage an issue. Endorsing ourselves is far more productive than worrying. Strens #23-24, which put forth an input measure of self-worth rather than an outcome measure, explain the means by which we consistently maintain a positive attitude even when things don’t turn out as we’d like.
There is no limit to the number of wisdoms that contribute to a wonderful life. Use these eight Mental Wealth wisdoms; take what you can use from the Educational Community collection and keep on going.
 From The Technique of Psychotherapy, Lewis R. Wolberg, M.D., 1977