Part of the difficulty that comes with dealing with emotional pain is the stigma associated with it. A common perception is that if a person is depressed or anxious, he or she must have something wrong that needs to be fixed. From this viewpoint, our healthy functioning then would be a life completely free of anxiety and depression. I don't know about you, but I don't know anyone who isn't anxious or depressed at times. Anxiety and depression are two of the feelings that make us human. One benefit of this realization is that we embrace those feelings to some degree. After all, if it's part of being human, then being distressed every time we feel anxious or depressed sets us up for pain on top of the anxiety or depression we already feel.
This added negative emotion is called a secondary disturbance in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT). We are upset (secondary) about how we feel (primary). For example, we're depressed about how anxious we might get, or we're anxious about not feeling totally confident. Not only do we have one struggle, the primary one, but we have exacerbated our problems by bringing a secondary disturbance into the picture.
I had an interesting discussion the other day involving cell phones in the lives of adolescents. The conversation centered around the ubiquity of cell phones as well as the negatives and positives. I, for one, don't see the prevalence of digital technology decreasing (really going out on a limb there). Rather, it will become more and more entwined with our daily lives. So, what are we to do? What should we be concerned about when it comes to technology and adolescents? How much freedom should we give them with cell phones and the internet?
Deciding to do therapy is an important step in the process of meeting with a therapist, but a couple steps remain after doing so. Most importantly, one has to figure out a therapist to work with. But, finding a good therapist is a bit trickier than finding other service providers. You can't hop on Facebook and ask for recommendations for a good therapist, but doing so for a plumber or HVAC person would be perfectly acceptable. Another reason is the lack of good information about therapists. Services like Yelp or Angie's List provide us with all sorts of reviews on different businesses, but similar information is uncommon for therapists.
Will Ferrell's speech at USC graduation went viral a couple weeks ago. Besides being funny, he stresses the importance of making mistakes and not giving up. I also came across an article in the New York Times about Smith College and a class it started offering, Failure 101. At Smith they are actively encouraging students to fail well. In some ways, it sounds a bit trite. "Yes, the way we learn is from failing. The only bad mistake is one you don't learn from." But I'm not sure most of us deep down believe that maxim. We probably subscribe to something more along the lines of: "I'm going to do everything I can to avoid failure including not aiming too high for fear that I'll be setting myself up for failure. I'll reach a bit but only if it's something I have a good chance of achieving. Also, if I'm not doing as well as I would like, I'll lower my goal to something more achievable." I know I'm guilty of such thinking at times.
To actually embrace failure takes more than simply repeating the maxim. It's almost as though we have to seek significant challenge that almost promises some failure. A couple things could happen. One, we fall short of our overall goal but still accomplish some worthwhile ones in the process. Two, because of having pushed ourselves, we pick up new skills along the way. Three, our worst fears are realized, and we suffer a significant setback. This last result even brings positives since, in the vast majority of cases, we'll come back from the setback knowing we can survive even the worst of outcomes.