Problem With New Situations

For the most part what you have learned in life is sufficient to handle just about any situation you may find yourself in.  Where you tend to get into trouble, i.e. find yourself experiencing extreme stress or duress leading to depression, is when you are faced with a situation you have no experience with.  Not all new situations cause you problems, and it is usually those that seem severe in nature and that you are unable to cope with that cause you problems.  But, so that you will understand more clearly the problems you can experience in new situations it might be helpful to discuss what you do when you are presented with situations that are similar to those in your history.

Under normal conditions when you are presented with a particular situation it is your tendency to search your past and find a similar situation that you have experienced.  This is done at some unconscious level and falls under the category of “automatic thought processes.”  If the historical experience is similar enough you usually choose to act in a similar manner as you did back in your past.  Most of the time this is not problematic.  For almost all situations you find ourselves in you can do this search of your history and draw from the experiences you have stored away to lead or guide your behavior in your current situation.  This process takes place for virtually all seemingly new situations you find yourself in, and most of the time is sufficient for controlling your current behavior in a healthy manner.

Where you get into trouble is when you are faced with a situation that you cannot find anything in your history that is similar to guide our actions.  The severity of the current situation dictates how far back in your history you search.  If the current situation is really new to you, and you feel compelled to act, you usually search throughout your history for even the thinnest link between the current situation and one in the past.  Typically, this thin thread of a link is to a situation far back in your history and there usually is only a minute comparison between the historical situation and the current one.  Having found a similar situation, regardless of how weak the link is, you tend to behave now as you did back then. 

The problem is this; the past situation usually is very far removed in similarity to the present, new situation, and is usually one when you were quite young.  Acting in a similar manner now, as you did when you were a child just simply does not work in an adult world.  However, feeling compelled to act, and having no other historical pattern to follow, you will act as a child.  You recognize that the behavior from the past simply does not work in an adult world and you feel quite helpless to act any other way.  You have no other pattern to follow and this causes you great stress and frustration.

So, what can you do to remedy this problem?  The answer is actually quite simple, and I have mentioned similar thoughts elsewhere.  In most of life’s situations you have the convenience of not having to respond immediately.  You have time to think about what is going on around you and can take some time to decide on a course of action, if indeed one is required of you.  The difficulty is that you are not aware of this fact.  Because you are now faced with what you perceive to be a severe or dire situation, you feel we must act immediately and decisively.

If you were to be brutally honest with yourself you would simply admit that you do not know how to act in the current situation.  But, something inside of you tells you that not knowing how to act is a sign of immaturity, or of failure.  The truth is that it is ok to not know how to act given the new situation you are in.  You have the right to not act immediately, and to take time to devise a course of action. 

It is in these seemingly dire situations that some rational thinking will be most beneficial.  If you are able to view the situation you are in without attaching your emotions to it, you can now face the reality of what is before you with a clear, rational mind.  It will take some practice to be able to recognize these situations and then decide rationally how to deal with them.  Your emotions are fragile and you are easily hurt or stressed out in new, seemingly dire situations.  I say seemingly dire situations because when viewed by an outsider these situations may not always appear so dire.  You might argue that this is to be expected because they are not directly involved in your predicament and this would be a true statement.  However, it is your own ability to view situations as though you are the outsider looking in that enables you to look at the situation you are in without attaching emotions to it.