PERSPECTIVE EFFECTS EVERYTHING*
by Keith Eble, PhD
Most people believe that events around us cause our troublesome feelings--like anxiety, depression, or fear. On the other hand, many professionals believe that our "perspective" is actually what causes such feelings. The way we look at things around us, our interpretation, or the meaning we give those events is actually why we react the way we do. This is why two different people can see the same event and have quite different responses. For example, if two people see the rain begin, one may get angry, thinking this will "totally ruin" the picnic they had planned for tonight; the other person might feel happy, thinking we need the rain because it has
been so dry. You see, because the two people "think" differently, they then "feel" differently. It is not really the rain that caused their feelings, but how they thought about--or the perspective they had-about rain which caused their emotional reaction.
In some everyday situations, this does not really make a big difference to us. However, in many situations, our negative feelings become huge and begin to affect our daily life in big ways. When we become very anxious, depressed, fearful, hurt, hopeless, or angry, our perspective-or interpretation--of events is having a harmful effect on life. A powerful way to think about this idea is "events have no meaning of their own, until we assign a meaning to them." For example, that driver in front of me who is driving weirdly could be a "stupid, selfish jerk" and I would likely be quite angry; but, that driver could also be a pregnant woman in labor driving herself to the hospital, and I would simply wish her well! My emotional reaction depends of my perspective!
One complication with this idea is that society often helps us choose an unhealthy "perspective." According to our society, we have every right to be upset with "dumb" drivers, or "slow'' cashiers, or "blabbermouths," or others' mistakes! "That's just wrong!" "Those things should never be allowed to happen!" In essence, we have been taught that it is ok to tell ourselves negative ideas, and then be upset. This might be called "righteous indignation." I have a right to be upset with ridiculous stuff. Also, because we have been taught-for many years-that making ourselves upset is ok, these ideas are deeply seated and often happen automatically. I upset myself without even thinking!
Another specific way that perspective affects us is through "expectations". Most of us have learned to expect many impossible things-and to believe this is absolutely ok. But, doing this is a clear set-up for hurt and disappointment (or worse). As noted above, we often expect rain to fall only when it is convenient, certainly not when we have a picnic planned--ie, it should not rain then! If we look at this realistically, we may choose to expect the rain to stay away for our picnic, but we do not have any control over this. So, demanding that the rain stay away is an impossible expectation.
So, what does this awareness of "perspective" have to offer? This is a way to let go of difficult, painful feelings by letting go of unrealistic interpretations and expectations. We can all make our lives better by attaching more reasonable meanings to situations around us and by allowing only realistic expectations of ourselves, others, and the weather! "He is acting just like … himself allows us to stop demanding that he act differently (than himself) for our sake. The result of doing this is more peace and calm and satisfaction in our lives.
*From my book, Perspective Affects Everything, 2017.
Keith W. Eble, PhD
Brief Bio for Keith W. Eble, PhD
Currently: Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Vera Beach, FL for last 20 years.
Focus: primarily adults, couples, geriatrics, nursing home consults
Education: West Virginia University, BS, 1969, Zoology
West Virginia University, PhD, 1983, Psychology
Work History: Internship, Norfolk Regional Center, Norfolk, NE, 1975-1976
Burrell Mental Health Center, Springfield, MO, 1976-1980
Child Guidance Center, Bartlesville, OK, 1980-1986
Private Practice, Joplin, MO, 1986-1999
Residency, Fort Pierce, FL, 1999-2000
Private Practice, Vera Beach, FL, 2000-present
Primary treatment orientations: CBT and Hypnotherapy