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How is Your Self-Speak?

Madison, Wis. -- How do you explain bad things that happen in your life? What if, out of the blue, your girlfriend or boyfriend dumped you, or your spouse asked you for a divorce this holiday season? What if you lost significant health either suddenly or slowly? How would you process it? How would you explain it to yourself?

I do not claim to be a psychologist but by God's grace have recognized the basic elements of truth when I see them. American psychologist Martin E. P. Seligman wrote a book called "Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life." In it he raises our awareness to three explanatory styles that tend to lead us downward. Borrowing these three, I expand
Seligman's ideas to encourage you to be on the lookout for these false and negative patterns of thought. An awareness of these can really help us get through hard times. All begin with the letter "P":

PERMANENCE: A bad event happens and immediately we think our entire life from here on out is ruined. Chronologically speaking, we project a temporary and passing event to have permanent negative effects on the rest of our entire lives. Consider a few examples.

This false projection of permanence happens even on a small scale. On your drive to work, you get a flat and immediately you say to yourself, "This is going to be a bad day; my whole day is ruined." But stop and think a moment. Is every moment of the entire day truly ruined because you have incurred some small delay, expense and inconvenience at the beginning of it? Isn't it still quite likely you will enjoy much more of this day as it progresses even though it began poorly? You might even laugh about this "pop-flap-a-flap-a" when later describing the experience to your friends.

What about something more major? What if, out of the blue, your spouse asks you for a divorce? Granted, this is high on the horrible list and wrenches the heart, but does divorce truly ruin every day of your life? Is your future totally ruined? The fact you've lost your spouse does not automatically mean you've lost all future satisfaction and enjoyment of your days. For instance, losing your spouse does not automatically mean you have lost a good relationship with your children. You are their Dad or Mom and always will be. Your relationship as parent and child will go on and there are undoubtedly many bright days ahead filled with memories yet to be made. You cannot tell me that all future joy of watching your child's sporting events, graduations and growing up is now lost by your divorce. In most divorces, parents usually are still able to enjoy many days with their child eating together, watching movies and whatever you like to do together. Your children will likely have families of their own some day, so how does a divorce stop you from being a grandparent?

I cannot tell you what your future will bring, but it is likely you will live to love again. Only God knows and you cannot tell. So wait and see.

PERVASIVE: Is the bad event affecting every area of my life? Does it really? Borrow from the illustration of permanence above. Was the divorced person truly prevented from all enjoyment of his/her child? What about friends, football, beer and pizza? Does going through a divorce wipe out all future enjoyment of these? Believing it does projects the ongoing affects of it all pervasively. This is a lie.

PERSONALIZE means internalizing the blame for the bad thing happening. The bad thing happens and immediately we are tempted to believe it is "all my fault." This is seldom true. Choose a major loss such as loss of spouse, loss of health, loss of loved one in death or any lesser thing. Were any of these events within your total control? If not, how can it possibly be all your fault?

Having your radar up to avoid fallacious and harmful patterns of generalization is a protection by truth. If you can avoid projecting onto the bad event a false and catastrophic permanence (time), an overestimate of the pervasive damage (scope), and personalizing the blame for it (cause), you will be miles ahead on the road to brighter days.

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