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)
3 responses to “The trick to tolerating that which you cannot change?”
Perhaps this is why practicing mindfulness can be so helpful to people who are (often walking around, or easily triggered into*) some level of dissociation? It breaks in and forces an opposite action.
*I don’t know enough about dissociation to know if what I said is a possibility…, that is, being in a chronic state of dissociation. — or is a chronic state of dissociation exactly what is being described in that quote?
The substance abusers I work with frequently hear me say that one needs a purpose to which his life is dedicated, something for which sobriety is absolutely indispensable, that is important enough to them personally to make enduring cravings to use again worth the discomfort,…that will help the rest of the tricks and techniques to take on meaningful usefulness.
As a student of therapy (MSW) this reminds me recent introduction to Victor Frankl’s self-narrative of how he successfully endured and found joy amidst suffering in the concentration camps by thinking and writing to his wife, and how he would find magical meaning in simple tasks, or would deliver speeches to imaginary (and real) audiences. I think mindfulness can be helpful but a sense meaning can go much further -the apostle Paul certainly did when you read his letters from prison. How do we find meaning in our “stuckness” or our “crosses” that we have to bear. I wonder if Frankl’s methods of escaping his reality would be considered dissociation? Unfortunatly, not all people who go through terrible things that they cannot change have meaning already through solid attachment, a belief system, or the like, and I think it would be much harder to construct after you find yourself in such a situation than after something like this occurs.