Some things can’t be changed. You just have to endure them. There are “little” endurances such as waiting for a line in the grocery store, a dentist to finish drilling your tooth, for a boring speech to end. Then there are much larger endurances to suffer through like living in unabating poverty or under a dictator.
Some of us are better at enduring things than are others. Ever wonder what their tricks they have?
In a word–some variant of dissociation.
If the unpleasantness is likely to be short we may choose to fantasize about a lovely place we’d rather be. We may focus our senses on some other stimuli (temperature, light, color, smell, etc.) in an effort to “quiet” the urge to run. If the unpleasantness is much longer and if we have little sense that we can bring about a change in our situation, then we may lose connection with our current surroundings and our self. While this adaptive feature allows us to survive unimaginable pain, a habituated dissociation will take on a life of its own and begin to change our sense of self and our sense of the world.
In short, we lose faith. We may even stop trying to change what can be changed.
I find this quote by Richard Grant (“Crazy River: Exploration and Folly in East Africa”) about his experience in an overcrowded bus in Tanzania most instructive of the need to dissociate and the long-term impact,
After ten minutes, my right foot was numb and throbbing, and I wanted desperately to shift its position, just by an inch or two, but an inch or two was impossible in the squeeze of other feet and bags, and there were people sittings on the bags, and others standing hunched over at right angles under the roof….The danger and discomfort endured by the passengers was of absolutely no concern to the driver and the assistant, and the passengers endured it with a calm, patient, well-mannered grace. This was normal, everyday life, and the only kind of bus journey they knew. There was an hour to go. I tried to will myself into a blank, passive, indifferent, fatalistic state of mind, which I had come to understand as a basic survival mechanism for the poorest people in this world, although not necessarily helpful for their future. (p. 45-6, emphasis mine)