I made some comments a few weeks ago that I was encouraged with the way most people were cooperating in this time of pandemic. I saw leaders of our country and provinces make incredible efforts to work on doing what was needed to “flatten the curve”. I saw a softening of partisanship. It felt like a global effort to keep people safe and alive.
Overtime I sense a shift in attitudes. Perhaps it has been too stressful a time in isolation. Maybe many of us are frightened to the point of panic. Or maybe we have become immune to what could happen and now want our freedom back. A few weeks ago this all felt surreal. But now that we have been immersed in this for an extended period of time it is feeling more real and that leaves us with a feeling of discomfort, a big unknown.
So it appears that many of us, including government leaders, are looking to place blame. Blame for the virus, blame for the deaths of thousands, blame for financial struggles and blame for the inconvenience of life among others.
To what end? Why is it that as humans we seem to have this innate desire to place blame? Add increased stress and anxiety to the mix and you have the potential for a volatile situation. My expectations for others increase proportionately to my anxiety levels. When I feel my depression rearing its ugly head it’s like no one around me can do anything right. When my mood changes, my outlook on life changes.
David Burns, in his book Feeling Good, talks about ten cognitive distortions that people with mental illness may experience. He talks about “catastrophizing”, how we have the tendency to “exaggerate the importance of things” particularly as it concerns our own shortcomings or someone else’s imperfections. We get to the point where we assume our negative emotions truly reflect reality because that is how we are feeling. And as that happens, tensions increase and conflict ensues.
I have had to learn to be proactive when this happens. I use what I call the third person approach. When I first began using this technique I would, after the fact, review the tensions or conflict from a third person perspective. I found it much easier to characterize my attitude, communication style, and conflict management style through the lens of a third person. It was easier to recognize who I was and how my emotional state contributed to the issue.
So as we continue to experience the fears and anxieties of our current reality, in addition to our normal stressors, it is important to recognize when our increased anxieties or fears might be causing cognitive distortions, when our own inner turmoil creates tension with the most important people around us.
Next time you feel irritation and frustration with the people around you, remove yourself and view the situation from the third person perspective. You may be surprised to find that it is your own personal stress in life that is creating these feelings of frustration, anger and the desire to lay blame. With awareness and practice you will find that incorporating the third person approach into your coping skills, will help you gain a new perspective and a deeper appreciation of your relationships. Try it. You may like it. Make it a good one.
“. . . research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would”. Douglas LaBier