Be a Survivor, Not a Victim

Stop being a pessimist: examine the way you explain events in your life

We learn to explain the things that happen to us in this world primarily by listening to and observing how others explain the world. Our “explanatory style,” as Seligman has labeled it, can determine whether our perspective is one of being an optimist or a pessimist.

If we assume that both good and bad events are permanent, we are more likely to react with dejection and depression, especially when the good things go south. On the other hand, if we assume that both good and bad events are temporary, that all things will pass, we are more likely to feel optimistic and positive about our world. If we assume that one good event or bad event can make everything good or bad, we again are more likely to feel dejected and depressed, especially when the one good event, e.g., getting the promotion or the new job, doesn’t make everything in your life better. On the other hand, if we keep a healthy perspective, we assume that both good and bad events have a specific impact on our lives but do not change everything, we are more likely to be optimistic regarding the present and the future.

And last of all, if we assume when bad things happen that somebody must be blamed, that “somebody” may be ourselves. At the least, we may spend a good deal of time and attention trying to determine who caused the problem. This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be accountable for what we do or that we shouldn’t hold other people accountable for their actions. Blaming is account-ability, but with a huge dose of negative emotion attached to it. Negative emotion is seldom helpful in managing or dealing with difficult situations.

Permanence, pervasiveness and personal blame are three thinking patterns that in general do not work well, especially in difficult situations. A couple of other patterns of faulty thinking are “conformation bias, accepting only information and data that support your current beliefs.” “Don’t bother me with the facts.” And dichotomous thinking, e.g., all or none thinking in which events are either black or white. In general, these are faulty thinking patterns that we can change. They are thinking traps that undermine our resilience.