Thursday, September 29, 2011

How do you handle bad news?

There are lots of places to look for information on how to deal with the bad things that happen to you.  And there are many more to deal with the bad news you have to deal out to other people.  What I am wondering about is how you handle explaining to other people that something bad has happened to you.

Bad news is often made worse by the feeling that we have done something to deserve it.  We have a stake in taking responsibility for the bad things that happen to us because it creates the illusion that next time we can behave differently and so evade the bad things that happen.  Other people would prefer to believe that we caused our own problems because otherwise they have to admit that they are also vulnerable to bad stuff happening. So whether we are internally or externally motivated, we are motivated to take control of grief or suffering by accepting some degree of blame for it.

So admitting that something bad has happened is almost like admitting we have done something to allow bad stuff to happen, admitting that we have somehow caused our own pain.  That sort of hurts less than living in a world where pain just happens. It becomes hard to talk about what has happened without playing a game of true confessions.

From an NLP perspective, this creates a choice point, a situation in which none of the obvious choices is satisfying.  And what we do with choice points is to alter perception until there is room for movement within the choice point or room for different feelings around the choice point.

Think very briefly of something bad that has happened to you, something that still hurts. Allow that voice in your head to say its piece "you know that was your own fault" or "you know you should have gotten over that by now" or "you know that you can't allow yourself to get down about that." Let the voice in your head say its piece, and then tell yourself this instead:  "I can see myself sitting in the chair across the room, feeling sad and hurt."

Once you can see yourself (or even pretend that you can see yourself), you can move your head away.  Distract yourself.  Laugh, move, breathe.  Do some work (write a blog entry).  Begin to feel better.  And step out of that, too.  Tell yourself "now I can see me feeling better. But not really better, because I can still see the version of me in the chair across the room, feeling rotten."

As you consider the two people who are both you, ask yourself: which one of these do I believe caused this pain? If the answer is one or the other, edit that feeling. Then edit the original state.  (Edit means gather better feelings in your dissociated state, then step back into that person you can imagine you are seeing).

If you can't see a "you" that caused your own suffering, then you have a different kind of choice.  Either you can claim support for what you need, or you can accept that you live in a world where bad stuff happens.  Both require a difficult negotiation with your own determination to have control.  The first allows other people to deal with bad stuff through action.  It's probably easier for them to help than it is for them to focus on the facts.

That is probably good advice for you, too. If you live in a world where bad stuff happens, simply acknowledge the bad news then distract yourself by doing something. Action may lead to unpredictable results, but focus on the bad stuff you can't control leads to predictably, reliably bad feelings. When you've done everything you can do, then feel free to do something different.

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