See here for overview.
Can You Face Life Squarely?
“Don’t pay any attention to Sally, she always sulks when she doesn’t get her own way.”
“Tom surely has a temper. You never can tell when he’s going to fly off the handle over some little thing.”
“Oh, that’s just one of May’s excuses. She’s good at thinking up reasons to get out of doing things.”
“Jill turns on the tears like water out of a tap. I don’t think she feels so bad; she just seems to cry for effect so we’ll sympathize with her.”
Did you ever hear remarks such as these? They aren’t very flattering and they aren’t very kind, but they indicate how easily we fall into habits of behavior and how our friends soon learn what to expect of us. They also show us the importance of learning to meet little difficulties ina grown-up way.
Habits Dominate Much of Your Behavior
Every day you live you are confronted by dozens of situations which require you to do something to meet your needs or solve your problems. Through the years you have developed habits for taking care of most of these until you act almost automatically a great deal of the time. It is only when you meet some new situation that you become very much aware of the process by which you solve your problems.
Several times a day a mildly uncomfortable tension develops in your system which you recognize as hunger. You have probably never been acutely hungry and so although your need for food is so important that your very life depends on your getting it, you scarcely think of it as a problem at all. The day’s routine has been built around three meals a day and if that isn’t enough, you can usually manage an in-between snack. For your mother, who must plan the menus and prepare the food, or for your father, who must pay the food bills or produce part of your supply, food for the family may be quite a problem. But for you, the need is quite well taken care of by your habit of eating at regular intervals.
So, too, you have developed habits with regard to sleeping, dressing, and brushing your teeth and to take care of most of your physical needs.
When you were still a tiny baby, you learned that doing some things brought you pleasure; doing other things brought unpleasant results, so you have repeated whatever seemed to work best until by now you have developed habits that operate in your relationships with other people. In the last chapter we saw how ways of managing emotions soon become habits. You also have habitual ways of getting your work done, of studying and attacking and solving your personal problems.
By now many of your habits are so well established they are hard to change, but as you grow up and your goals and motives change somewhat, you need to look frequently and carefully at the habits that have served you in the past to see whether they are good ones or whether now they are getting in your way.
Then, too, s you grow up and your experiences broaden, you are always meeting new situations which your habits do not automatically take care of. You have to decide what to do about these, and whenever you are conscious of the need for a choice or decision, the ideals and patterns you have set up for your own behavior have a chance to guide you.
One indication of being a mentally healthy person is the ability to think straight about a problem so you can see the real issues involved and the satisfactions between which you must choose. It isn’t quite so difficult to decide what you should do in cases where there are only two clear-cut choices, one right and one wrong or one good and one bad. It may not be so easy, however, to make yourself do the good but perhaps more difficult thing. but frequently it’s hard to be able to foresee the consequences and decide which would be the best of several choices, when all seem about equally good; or which is the best way out when all the choices look difficult or bad.
Now let’s see how this works out in some typical situations:
Suppose that a month ago your English teacher assigned each of you to read a different book to report in class. Yesterday she told you to be prepared to give your report today. You had read your book, so you used the time you regularly set aside for your English preparation to plan an outline. Last evening you were able to go to a ball game with no worries on your mind. Today you gave an interesting report. Your classmates enjoyed it; your teacher beamed; so the whole thing ended in satisfaction. Because of your effective study habits you made a direct attack on the problem without being conscious of making decisions or choices.
But now let’s imagine it was an important assignment in chemistry, which is a difficult subject for you, and you couldn’t get at it and get it out of the way because you weren’t listening when the teacher was explaining what to do. So you frittered away your study hour with nothing accomplished. This time you’re very much aware of having a problem, and it keeps bobbing up to spoil your peace of mind. A tension develops in your system which you recognize this time as worry and this will drive you until you do something about the matter.
Now, let’s consider some of the choices you might have:
1. You might go to the teacher before you leave school and admit that you weren’t listening and ask for additional help.
2. You might let it go and be unprepared tomorrow.
3. You might try to get a classmate to help you, if you can find one who is able and can take the time.
4. You might stay home from Mutual tonight and get some help on it.
The more complicating factors there are, the more of a major problem it will become. So let’s look now at some of the conflicts in your own needs and desires which will influence your decision.
1. Your father, trying to encourage you to improve your work in chemistry, has offered to give you a record album you very much want if you can raise your grade this term.
2. Bill, a boy you would like to impress, is in the class, and this is his favorite subject. Sharon likes Bill, too, and she’s a shining light at chemistry. You hate to be a dud.
3. Your teacher has already spoken to you once or twice about being inattentive in class. If you are unprepared again, you might be embarrassed before the group.
4. You have a perfect attendance record at Mutual. You like your leader and enjoy the class. Tonight the class is to elect committees to work on the Rose Prom. You want to be there.
5. You are tired and would like to feel free from pressure and able to enjoy life again.
You can see how your social needs for recognition, achievement, approval of both adults and your friends and your physical needs for rest and release from tension are all mixed up in this. So what are you going to do?
Some Common But Undesirable Solutions to Problems
As we have already said, whenever we are aware of a need or are confronted by a problem, we are bound to do something. If what we do satisfies the need and solves the problem without conflicting with some other need or creating some other problems, life will run quite smoothly for us.
We are familiar with the old saying, “Out of the frying pan into the fire.” Some situations are like that. the really difficult problems are those where any solution we can think of leads to other problems. Did you ever get yourself involved in a whole train of difficulties starting with one little white lie or a poor excuse or a neglected assignment?
None of us likes to fail or be defeated or appear at a disadvantage before others. If we don’t learn to make a direct attack on our problems and solve them with a minimum of conflict and anxiety, we are apt to try to escape or run away from them or use some face-saving tricks that keep us feeling comfortable but do little to help the situation.
Now let’s see what are some of the techniques people use at times to ease situations that are difficult or painful rather than face up to them squarely.
a. Escape and Evasion Techniques.
[footnote: The following list of techniques for evading problems is adapted from the following sources: Understanding Ourselves and Others (Schaeter-McKnight and McNight), Bloomington, Ill., 1945. When You Marry, Chapter I, (Duvall and Hill), D.c. Heath &U Co., 1945.]
We might try in some way to escape or get away from the thing that is worrying us.
1. We can do this by actually running away.
In the case of the chemistry assignment described before, we might find some reason to stay away from school the next day, or at least form that class.
After the first assignment, Julie was discouraged about her ability to do as well as her classmates in dramatic art and so she dropped the class.
2. We can escape by getting someone else to do the job or “passing the buck.”
Joan had been asked to take charge of the games for a Mia Maid party, but as the date approached, she decided she might not be able to do it well and coaxed ruth to do this for her.
3. Illness might be an escape.
Sue really wanted to try out for a part in a play, but she was afraid she might not win out. She learned her part and told the leader she was going to try, but a severe headache prevented her from going on the day the tryouts were scheduled.
Sometimes illness is such a convenient and acceptable excuse that we are tempted to exaggerate very mild discomfort or even pretend a headache, but great anxiety can cause illness that is very real and painful even though there seems to be no organic cause.
4. We may escape into a world of fantasy by daydreaming and imagining ourselves doing very successful and outstanding things that are far beyond our power of accomplishment in the world of reality.
Emma is very shy and timid about assuming leadership responsibilities or performing in public, but she spends a great deal of time day-dreaming about becoming a famous writer and lecturer when she grows up.
5. We may escape by withdrawing into ourselves and keeping apart socially.
Ila’s crowd seems to be going in for sports. She is afraid of the water and hasn’t learned to swim at all, so the water games the other girls enjoy terrify her. She isn’t very good at tennis or roller skating either, so she is dropping out of the group and is beginning to go around alone. Some of her classmates at school think she is conceited.
We might fall back on baby ways of meeting difficulties. this is called regression.
demanding that people give us what we want, crying, coaxing, and teasing for things or sulking and pouting may have worked well for us when we were children and so have become habits, but if so, it’s time to start breaking them.
We may try to rationalize ourselves out of the difficulty. Some people have called this the corkscrew method of thinking, because we go “round and around”: the issue but never come directly to the point. We can do this in several ways.
1. We can protect our own feelings by blaming someone else.
The assignment wasn’t fair. the teacher didn’t explain it clearly.
“Mother gave me too much to do around the house. It wasn’t my fault I didn’t have time to practice my music.”
“I could have won the prize at the party, but my partner made so many silly mistakes.”
2. We can use the ”sour grapes” attitude.
“I didn’t want to go anyway. That kind of party bores me.”
“Who wants to be a bookworm and grind away all his youth for a few marks on a report card?”
3. Sometimes we make excuses that are really good ones, but not the real ones.
Alice had been asked to prepare a talk for Mutual and left the preparation until the Monday evening before. Just as she was ready to work on it, some of her friends dropped in, and she didn’t get it done. She worried about it all the next day but didn’t have time to work on it. She hated to seem undependable or admit that she hadn’t made any preparation. Her mother didn’t feel well on Tuesday, so Alice called the Mutual president and asked to be excused because her mother needed her very badly at home to take care of the younger children. her mother didn’t know she was staying home to escape a duty and appreciated her thoughtfulness, which made Alice feel good, and she felt sure no one at Mutual would criticize her for staying home to be kind to her mother.
D. Aggressive Action.
Sometimes when we aren’t satisfied with our accomplishments we try to bolster up our own egos by aggressive action, such as bragging, showing off, being rebellious and pretending not care, or by being domineering andbossy The bully is usually a person suffering from some feeling of inadequacy as suggested in Chapter II.
Still another technique is to substitute something else as
compensation for a failure, or problem you can’t work out, or for a thing you want but can’t get.
Nell decided not to try to keep up in algebra, but put extra time on her English, in which she always did well.
Dorothy is a good student and easily wins recognition in her classes, but she doesn’t feel comfortable in mixed groups where there are boys as well as girls, so she devotes extra time to her lessons as an excuse to avoid social activities.
It is important to remember that some of these things we do are perfectly all right in and of themselves. The danger is that they keep us from doing something else we ought to do; for example, there is nothing wrong with daydreaming if our dreams can become the inspiration for achievement. it’s only when we imagine fantastic situations where we can play heroic and glamorous roles as a substitute for doing what we ought to be doing now and do nothing to make our dreams work out, that they get in our way.
Compensation can also be a very wholesome thing. None of us can do everything well. We have to decide on which things will be our specialties and be willing to let some other things go by. But we do need to be sure we aren’t letting our lives get out of balance and, by getting too much satisfaction out of some one thing, neglect some aspects of our personalities that need development.
Be Cautious About Criticizing
Knowing some of the reasons why people behave as they do should make us more understanding, but less critical. It would be a serious mistake for any of us to assume that we are able to explain the behavior of our friends. we can’t possibly know enough about the whole situation to do that accurately and fairly. We will be more tolerant, however, if we realize that there is always a reason for behavior. No one wants to be mean or selfish or unkind to others, and if she seems to be, it is probably because some of her personality needs are not being adequately met. If so, she needs friendship and understanding and sometimes help but never blame.
It is not even possible for us always to understand or be aware of our own reasons for acting as we do, as we do many of the things we have been talking about quite unconsciously. Devices intended to fool someone else and protect us from criticism might be more apparent to others than to ourselves. We often fool ourselves more completely than anyone else.
So, it’s a good idea to turn our spy glasses only on ourselves and be very reluctant to pass glib judgment on others.
Face it – you may be creating your own problems.
Desirable Techniques for Solving Problems
As we have pointed out, you have a problem whenever there is something you want or need which some obstacle is preventing you from getting. The interference might be some circumstances, some other person, or it might be merely not knowing what to do. If you want a new dress for a special party and you have the money to buy the material and the time and ability to make just what you want, you have a job on your hands, but not much of a problem. But if you don’t have the money, or can’t sew, or can’t find a dress you like or one that fits you, it may be quite a problem.
Remember, everyone has problems, but some people are able to dispose of them as they come along, while for others they pile up. Here are four steps that will help you in solving yours.
1. Try to decide accurately what the important issues are. What is it you really want and why? What is in the way?
2. Think of all the possible solutions you can. Get all the facts you can that have any bearing on the problem. Look at it from different angles. Try to see the point of view of any other people involved in it.
3. Try to imagine what would be the consequences of each of these solutions. what would happen if you did this or that or the other? If you must compromise, which values do you want to keep at all costs? What can you most willingly give up?
4. Decide which looks like the best solution and act on it.
Some Other Suggestions
Here are some other suggestions to help you face up to life as it comes to you.
1. Look for the values in experiences that come to you. Lots of things will happen to you that won’t be pleasant or that you wouldn’t choose. Accidents, illness, disappointments, thoughtlessness of other people and many other things can hurt you deeply, but strength comes out of meeting challenges and adversities successfully. the song says, “Look for the silver lining.” Most clouds do have one. If you are made of soft clay, the “millstones” of life can grind you to dust; but if you are a diamond, these pressures will merely give you a beautiful polish. One wise person said, “Life is partly what you make it, and largely how you take it.”
2. Ask yourself every now and then if you are doing what you can now to make your daydreams come true.
3. Be willing to admit it if you are wrong. Apologize graciously when apologies are due. When inclined to blame someone else, ask yourself first what part of the fault or responsibility was your own.
4. When you have important problems, be willing to seek help, but be sure to discuss them with people who are really able to help and who will respect your confidence and don’t broadcast your worries to everyone who will listen.
5. Be willing to accept some failure in yourself. It is good to strive for perfection but don’t expect to have achieved it yet. Everyone makes mistakes. Every outstanding invention or discovery has meant final success after innumerable failures. The important thing is to learn from our mistakes and try again. We need a balance between success and failure to keep us growing, and it’s just as damaging to our personalities to get too discouraged over our mistakes a to get too conceited over our achievements.
6. Try to develop a sense of humor about yourself and your “embarrassing moments.” If you can mention them out loud even to yourself, they won’t seem nearly so bad. When you are able to relate them to others and laugh at them, they will cease to plague you. No one is born already grown up. The folks who have acquired poise and self-assurance are those who have made their blunders but have been willing to try again.
7. Be interested in new experiences, in meeting new people and doing new, wholesome things. out at the world.Your eyes are on the outside designed to help you look out and forward so you can go to meet life confidently and unafraid.
Suggest at least two different things that might be done under each of the following circumstances. Which do you think would be the best solutions? Why?
Della was quite sure she would be chosen to sing the leading role in the school opera. In fact, she had mentioned to several of her friends that she was counting on it and would be very much disappointed if she couldn’t do it. When the tryouts were held, another girl was offered the leading part, and Della was offered a comedy part. She felt quite hurt and although the songs were just as difficult, the character didn’t appeal to her, and she wondered whether to accept it.
It was Evelyn’s first experience staying at a large hotel. With tow other girls from her school, she went as a representative to a special conference. When the three girls, who had shared a room, packed their bags and prepared to leave, Evelyn decided not to trust her small overnight bag to the bellboy, as it was old and shabby and the clasp was not secure. She was carrying it herself to the desk on her way to check out when someone brushed against her and she dropped it. The bag fell open, and her personal things rolled out on the lobby floor. She was greatly embarrassed and was afraid some of her friends at home would hear about it and tease her.
Louise had practiced her piano selection until she felt very sure of it, but soon after she started playing she glanced down at the audience and suddenly felt very much frightened and panicky. She made a mistake and, in trying to recover, lost her place. She started that part over, but still couldn’t make her fingers behave right. She kept hitting the wrong notes and missing keys. She decided to skip over the hard middle part, and when she finished, she felt she had done so badly she never wanted to play in public again.