I was talking to one of my clients who was struggling today. Life can be overwhelming, and some days can be worse than others. This particular woman, I’ll call her April, was battling some real and distressing issues such as serious marital concerns, mental and physical problems as well as a severe financial crisis. She certainly wasn’t whining about a hangnail.
There are some great skills we can use when life gets us down. The DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy) technique of Comparisons is very helpful when real life circumstances seem overpowering. Yes, I can certainly focus on my finances, relationship problems (or lack thereof), medical challenges, and all of the strife and chaos in the world. And there are certainly times I need to address these issues, problem solve, and make some much-needed changes.
But simply dwelling on the problems, feeling overwhelmed by things we cannot change, and focusing on the negative is usually not productive. The comparison skill instructs us to focus on people who are less fortunate than we are.
In speaking with my client, I began to talk about the boys in the cave in Thailand. “Can you imagine what it was like to be in a cave for ten days? They were in the complete dark, with the only sound being the rising water and the squeaking of bats overhead. They had no food, no clean water, no family and absolutely no belief that help was coming. No hope. In the dark. For ten days. Their belief had to be that they would be waiting in the pitch-black until one by one they perished–alone. I wonder if it would be better to be the first of the boys to die or the last.”
“Wow,” my client said, “my life doesn’t sound so bad.”
Yep, that is the power of the comparison skill. We can focus on the negative–we all have trials and difficulties every day. Trust me, there is always something negative to focus on. Even if you have a good relationship, no money problems and good health, I hear people complain every day. Their home remodel is stressful and taking too long, the process of new car buying seems unduly difficult, wedding plans are aggravating. Everything is relative, and these stresses can be just as anxiety provoking as April’s.
We don’t have control over many of the stressors in our life. We do have control over what we think about. I’ve written in other posts about focusing on gratitude, paying attention to what is good in your life and being thankful for it. Here is yet another skill–compare yourself to those less fortunate.