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Coping with the Challenges of Daily Stresses

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

In case you think that life is without stress you will think again after you read some of these vignettes as told to me by ordinary people trying to lead ordinary lives.

Vignettes:

1. My wife is involved in a voluntary (unpaid) program at the public library summer program called "Paws to Read." Certified dog owners and certified and approved dogs, such as my wife has, lie on the library floor while small children from ages 3 to 8 years old, lie on the floor and read to the dog. The dogs love children, listen attentively and even use their paws to hold the page of the book in place.

One mother comes in and insists that her child read to one particular dog. However, the dog and its owner are not present. My wife, who runs the program, points this out to the woman. The woman, know for having a bad temper, becomes verbally abusive and loud with my wife.

2. A good friend of mine was out shopping one hot day when she noticed a woman had locked her dog in her car. The problem was that this was one of the hottest days of the summer thus far. Being a dog lover and a very conscientious person, she pointed out to the woman, who was returning to the car, that it was dangerous to the health and life of the dog to leave it locked inside the auto because it could quicly dehydrate and die. For her efforts, my friend was not only told to "mind her own business," but, in addition, was told in no uncertain terms that she was a "fatso."

3. A person consults me for psychotherapy. She is an IT specialist with a good career working per diem, moving from company to company as needed. She has worked in several companies on a long term basis (one to two years) but prefers to keep her employment per diem. She is consulting me because she believes that people do not like her. In reality, she is an attractive and friendly middle aged woman who has a warm and pleasant personality. She believes she is disliked because she finds it difficult to find herself easily accepted by other empoyees when she begins in a new company. The only exception is when there is someone present in a new company who she already knows.

What do all of these situations have in common?

All three situations have a couple of things in common:  The things in common are the fact that:

1. My wife, friend and client felt personally attacked and rejected,

2. The "aggressive or rejecting people were complete strangers,

3. All three situations were part of the "foibles of every day life."

4. There was nothing personal in the attacks or rejections because all three individuals are very pleasant people and the attackers (rejecters) knew nothing of them.

I recieve a certain number of E. Mails from people who feel wounded as a result of being in somewhat similar situations. These wounded types of people are often left with a feeling of depression and anxiety and do not know how to cope with the emotions they are experiencing.

Learning to cope with the "slings and arrows of misguided fortunes:"

Psychotherapy cannot alter the way people are. As a matter of fact, I am reminded of a comment made by Charlie Brown’s dog friend, Snoopy, in one of Charles Schulz’ brilliant Peanuts comic strip segments when "Snoopy" says plaintively: "I love humankind…It’s people I can’t stand."

From time to time it is just human nature that any of us can be difficult. Perhaps we are having a bad day, are in a bad mood, have a headache, had a quarrel at home, etc. The net result that something happens, as described in each of the three vignettes, and we behave badly.

What does all of this mean?

It means that just because a person is acting badly towards you it does not mean it is your fault. In fact, another person acting badly is not your or my fault. These occurrences do not reflect, in any way, on your character. What we all tend to do is to be brought back to some childhood misfortune that befell us and feel again those awful feeling. I am reminded of a situation that happened to me several years ago:

Personal vignette:

My office was in upper Manhattan in New York City. I often parked in an indoor parking structure that was part of a luxury apartment building on the upper east side. However, I was not a "long term parker." In other words, my ability to get a space depended on the availability of space. Most spaces were taken by people who live in the building and the rest was on a "first come first serve basis." After several years of a good working relationship between myself and the proprietor of the garage I was told he had no room. I was in a big hurry and asked if he could just park me on the side because I was pressed for time. He became furious with me and asked me to never come back again??!!

Confused, upset and angry, I took the situation very personally and never returned to that garage. When I started business with a new garage, I explained the situation and the new proprietor shrugged his shoulders and said, "who knows what was wrong with him that day."

Well, wouldn’t you know that the proprietor of one garage rejected me and hurt my feeling while the one in a neighboring place gave me good "psychotherapy." In other words, it was not personal. Life in Manhattan is frustrating and who knows what was wrong with that guy.

It is important to borrow from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and, when upsed, do a quick reality check and remind ourselves that it is not personal.

Your comments are welcome.

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