A long time ago in a faraway land a mentor of mine gave me an example of how the human brain personalizes things. I’ve turned that example into a short story which I share with you now.
It was a rainy day. A boy was walking down the street. A truck drove by and splashed mud all over him. He looked down and saw he was drenched. He felt uncomfortable and angry and the whole event really started to bother him.
“Why did this have to happen to me? If I hadn’t decided to walk home today this wouldn’t have happened! Didn’t that driver even see me?” he thought to himself.
The longer he walked the more consuming it became. He realized that he couldn’t even see the original color of his clothes or his skin.
The negative thoughts turned into labeling himself and beating himself up even more. “Ugh. I’m so dirty. This always happens to me. Nothing ever works out for me! This is just my luck!”
It’s amazing to me how quickly we has humans can go from having a bad day or experience to doubting ourselves and our worth.
We all go through hard times or difficult situations. Unfortunately, many of us experience a traumatic event. Life will eventually throw us a curve ball. It’s in these moments that our perspective on life and what is happening to us is key. How we think about something will either give that person or event more or less power. Believe it or not, we are in control of how much power we give to that person or situation!
We will either let what happened consume us to the point where it defines us OR not. The challenge is to not let what happens to you define you. Put another way, you are not what happens to you and I’m going to add, you are not your mistakes.
The bottom line continues to be this- You are bigger than the divorce or the affair. Your worth as a human being exceeds not passing that test, not getting that promotion, or being let go. Really, what I’m saying is, whatever you perceive to be a failure does not actually mean YOU ARE a failure. It just means you’re human and you can’t control everything. Both things happen: we make mistakes and sometimes things happen to us that are out of our control. However, things that fall into either of these categories do not define our worth, unless we let them.
Let me be clear, self- reflection is good. Thinking about where you could have done better or how you could have done things differently is also good. It’s called taking responsibility for your part. Relationships take two, and sometimes yes, we could have studied harder or done something differently. But there is a fine line between acknowledging your role or what parts were out of your control and labeling yourself unworthy or a failure.
Once we learn this and practice this concept we are beginning to learn how to manage not just our thoughts but our emotions. I’m in no way saying this is easy. That’s why counseling can be helpful in getting us there.
Sometimes things that our out of are control happen to us (like a truck splashing mud on us) or a traumatic event. Sometimes people hurt us because they are hurting or they are unhealthy for us. And sometimes in our humanness we fall down on our own. When something like this happens we are at a cross roads. We have a choice to make. What will we tell ourselves?
Laura Martin provides individual, couples and family therapy in Hershey, PA. She enjoys helping others gain insight on how to improve their mood and their relationships.