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When Life Veers Off Track: Accepting and Tolerating the Unexpected

Christy Matta, M.A.

Stressful situations happen to everyone. It's impossible to go through life without experiencing a loss or death, being rejected, failing, having an accident, being physically harmed or feeling threatened. We hope that these stressful situations don't happen often, but the reality is that they happen to all of us. They appear in different forms in each of our lives, but whether we are Oprah Winfrey or an average Joe, we cannot eliminate stressful events from our lives.

hand holding a stop signSome things happen suddenly. We're heading in a direction and we find ourselves unexpectedly out of a job, injured in a car accident or having lost someone important. Abruptly we are off track, sometimes irrevocably.

What we do when these circumstances arise makes a significant difference in how long we experience the stress and anxiety they trigger. The reality is that no one wants to experience rejection or pain. We all want to remain healthy and have our lives move forward towards our goals. Because of that, we will go to great lengths to avoid these unavoidable circumstances.

I know a woman who has a child with behavioral issues. At first he seemed to simply be a difficult child. He didn't sleep through the night, threw tantrums at meal times and when it was time to leave the house and was unable to focus and play quietly on his own. He is a first child and his mother, who is a successful business woman, could see only his willfulness and defiance. As he's grown older, his problems have grown. He became aggressive around other children, he's required to be in special classes at school because he's unable to follow class routines and on one occasion stood on a classroom table and yelled obscenities at the rest of the class. His behavior is so out-of-control at home that his mother has tried putting locks on his door to keep him in a time-out and constantly has to intervene to stop aggression towards his younger brothers. She is under constant stress and describes his behavior as "ruining the family." She continues to view her son as demanding and refuses any suggestion that he may have mental health issues. She avoids books about the topic and rejects suggestion that she seek out help. She desperately wants her son to be "normal," so she refuses to see his behavior as a result of anything other than disobedience.

This woman is going to great lengths to avoid having a son with mental health problems. She has increased the stress and anxiety the entire family experiences by ignoring and refusing to face some likely causes of her son's behavior problems. When he was born, she had a dream of him growing up and becoming an accomplished and productive adult. Hanging onto her belief that he is "disobedient" allows her to hope that he will simply grow out of his problems. Choosing to open to the possibility of some type of mental disability would, in her mind, be giving up on her hopes for him.

It is extremely painful to give up on some of our long held hopes and dreams. Many people avoid facing and tolerating circumstances that send us off the course of how we wanted our lives to turn out. We believe that if we simply will it hard enough and refuse continue to trudge towards our vision of how we want things to be, despite all obstacles and evidence to the contrary, that life will somehow bend to our hopes and expectations.

Having a will of steel and staying the course despite obstacles can be a great asset in achieving goals. Many people find success through persistence and hard work. But, willing reality to change and persisting despite our true circumstances merely creates pain and suffering and keeps us spinning our wheels in place.

In order to move forward, we must learn to first acknowledge and tolerate that life has handed us an unexpected and unwelcome circumstance. By accepting the situation in which we find ourselves we are able to move forward. Continually struggling to avoid what has already happened takes time and tremendous energy. That time and energy could be better spent on dealing with things as they are now and creating a life that incorporates this new reality.