What meanings do you create for what's happening around you?
The concept of empowering meanings in psychology can be very helpful. External events can be interpreted by us in different ways, and the way we interpret the event will determine how we feel, and based on that what actions we take, consciously or sub-consciously.
The usual example everybody knows is whether we see an event we temporarily don't like as a problem or an opportunity? Is the fact that you just lost your job a problem that will surely bankrupt you, or is it an opportunity to find a job or calling that is much better for your well-being, everyone around you, and eventually your bank balance?
Assigning the meaning is no guarantee for the outcome you seek, but it is the first step because if you think you'll surely go bankrupt, you'll act that way - sit at home, do nothing, and get drunk every day to manage the pain, while if you think this is an opportunity, you'll figure out what to do next, and how to get in it, or even buy a program from someone who has done it before a few times, that allows you to do so easier, safer, and faster than if you figure it out on your own, you sit down and make a plan, study what you need to know, and put your plan into action. Is the latter course of action a guarantee for success? No. But you'll have a much better chance than when sitting on your couch and panicking, and even if you don't get to the goal you picked, you may figure out another opportunity on the way.
So our mindset is critical for our success, because it is the filter for everything that happens next.
The same goes for health challenges, challenges in your relationship, and challenges in all other areas of life - if we want to have a chance, we need to look up, not down, focus on the solution, not the problem, and stop catastrophizing. Even the worst challenges imaginable were handled by someone at some point, but you can be pretty sure that they focused on a positive solution. In medicine, there are even the concepts of Placebo effect and Nocebo effect, where it has been proven that the physical body responds to our beliefs - on the one hand, people have gotten better from real, proven illnesses, although all they got was a sugar pill instead of the real medicine (Placebo effect), people who had been diagnosed as terminal from cancer and all kinds of other diseases have survived, while on the other hand, people have died from diseases they didn't even have just because they believed they were gravely I'll (Nocebo effect).
We are not even just talking about the actions people took based on their beliefs - did they eat healthily, exercised, and keep a positive outlook, or did they hide inside, sit on their couch and only eat canned junk food, while thinking we are all going to die, which alone can stress the immune system so much that they may die from the flu or cold virus they already have. We are talking people dying from heart conditions right after they were given the diagnosis when it turned out later that they didn't have that heart condition, and the diagnosis was given in error.
So assigning a positive meaning works and will oftentimes be the difference between growth and victory on the one hand, and disaster on the other.
However, as with everything, there are exceptions. You can have too much of a good thing.
Sometimes, people get so good at assigning positive meanings, they don't bother to get out of pain, or bad situations anymore, they just assign an empowering meaning.
How can this happen? When does an empowering meaning turn into a delusion? When does assigning an empowering meaning just reinforce the behavior of learned helplessness or Stockholm syndrome?
It can happen when people are stuck in a bad situation for a long time that is completely out of their control, and the only thing they CAN do to get through the situation, is assigning an empowering meaning. Sometimes, a delusion is created by the mind as a temporary survival mechanism. Unjust incarceration for a long time would be one example, an extremely painful breakup of a relationship may be another - people create empowering meanings to survive that turn into delusions.
Unlike what you may think, not all people who do this are crazy or mentally ill. Some may even be aware of the delusionary nature of their belief but hold on to it anyway, exactly because it allows them to survive at that moment, or because it allows them to temporarily put this problem out of their minds while they deal with another pressing problem that needs to be addressed. Trying to force them out of that delusion will just hurt them, because it may be the only thing that keeps them going, and they will likely react accordingly when you are trying to destroy their lifeboat. As long as the delusion is harmless, temporary, and doesn't hurt anyone else, you may not want to mess with it.
But after a while, it uses its usefulness and just becomes a habit - people won't get out of their mental or physical cage anymore, even when the door is opened, they just imagine they are on a tropical island and all is well.
It's the real-life equivalent of the Matrix, with the Matrix used as a metaphor. And unfortunately, our brains may well reinforce this behavior at some point, because the RAS, the reticular activating system, which filters what we perceive from the millions of sensual and mental stimuli we get each day, may not allow us to even see that the door is open.
A less extreme example is people getting stuck in a life or job that is really bad for them, but instead of getting out when they have the chance, and moving forward, they stay put, because the delusion that their life is really OK (say in a gas-lighting situation at work) seems safer than taking the risk of action.
How do you get out of that trap, or even avoid falling into it?
Obviously, in extreme cases like paranoid delusions or real mental illness, you'd want to see a therapist, but for everyday delusions, the ones everybody has at times, you can regularly do a reality check and challenge your own beliefs, but again, the RAS in your own brain and the additional tunnel vision that fear induces may not allow you to see everything you could see. Getting into a positive state by doing something physical (exercise, a cold plunge) may help, but it may not be enough.
Oftentimes what we really need is an outside perspective. That's where a coach or mentor can be really helpful. Family and friends are great, but oftentimes they have their own reasons to want us to stay where we are if only because they don't want to lose us, and some may be stuck in the same perspective we are stuck in, or worse, would feel bad about themselves if we suddenly succeeded in what they failed at.
A good coach, on the other hand, likely has that outside perspective, and a coach also has no interest in keeping you where you are - in fact, if you grow through your challenges, she or he will have succeeded in their job and may even be able to use it as a testimonial, if you agree, so they have a personal, professional, and maybe even financial interest in your success.
But whether you choose to invest in a coach or not, you may still want to schedule sessions where you regularly challenge your assumptions about what is possible in life, because it will be the only thing that will keep you from playing small, either by being too pessimistic or by getting stuck in a positive delusion that keeps you from acting.
Wishing you health, joy, and prosperity,
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