In this blog we often argue that people have difficulty coping with stress because they make their problems all about them. Sounds contradictory, doesn’t it? If you’re all tied up in knots because of some obstacle life has thrown in your way, isn’t your problem all about you? After all, you’re the one feeling the stress.
Lexi is at work and gets a call from her supervisor. “Lexi, I’ve made a decision on assigning primary responsibility for that project you’ve started working on. I’ve decided to go with Carl. He has more experience in this area and I think he’s the one who should carry the ball.”
Lexi was hoping she would get the nod, not Carl. She’s devasted, angry, anxious – a whole array of emotions flood her. “Dammit! Why Carl? Why not me? Am I on the way out? Don’t they value me around here? This depresses the hell out of me. I’ve been good to this company. What a lousy thing to do to me. God, this is just awful.”
Me, me, me. I, I, I. Lexi forms her pity parade because she has been wronged. She talks and thinks her way into becoming an emotional cripple. To say she is not coping well would be quite the understatement.
What’s missing here? What does Lexi need to help her deal better with the stress of the rejection? A little dose of humility certainly wouldn’t hurt.
Why would humility be an important part of coping effectively with stress? The answer is simple: Psychologically, humility involves much more than simply admitting your mistakes and weaknesses; much more than not allowing yourself to be an egotistical braggart when you do well. Yes, such actions are a helpful part of coping, but they serve you best when you allow the humility coping circle to play to completion.
What exactly is the humility coping circle? Imagine five actions placed around a circle. At the top, the first position, “Humility,” encourages you to admit that you should not be the primary ingredient in your life recipe; life is not all about you; there are always others involved. Moving around the circle, the second position is “Freedom.” Humility releases you from your pity parade and gives you a sense of freedom – an optimistic spirit – that is uplifting. Continuing around the circle, the third position is “Sharing.” Strengthened with your new-found positivity, you will be more likely to share yourself with others who are also fighting stress in their lives. You move to the fourth position, “Communication.” Sharing your struggles with others not only requires you to talk to them, but also to listen to and learn from them. Doing so plants the seeds of empathy in your mind.
That brings us to the fifth and final position, and actions that close the circle: Talking to, listening to, and learning from others will inevitably show you the essence of effective human interaction: “Optimistic Empathy.”
The circle is now complete. You begin with reducing a focus on yourself as the center of it all, and end with an empathetic understanding of others who are wrestling with life challenges just as you are. But now, released from the prison of self-absorbed ego, you are able reach out to help others because you understand their plight. Purged of considering yourself special and deserving of pity, you cope with your stressors by helping others with their difficulties. And you also enjoy the benefits because you are participating in the fullness of the human experience.
The true human beauty of empathy is that both the giver (you) and the taker (the other) reap the psychological benefits. There is no more effective therapy than empathetic service to others. Whatever your plight, you are not alone in your difficulties. As you travel the road to finding personal satisfaction, the best way to have coping strength emerge is to make sure you leave no one behind.