My psychiatrist is a big fan of Epcitetus. A couple of years ago, my doctor gave me something to read that was based on the philosophy of Epictetus. I remember reading it but I honestly can’t remember what it said. Must not have had a lasting impact. But, this morning, when he mentioned Epictetus again, I figured I should find out more about the guy. Epictetus was a Greek-speaking Stoic philosopher born in what is now Turkey in 55 A.D. According to Wikipedia, “To Epictetus, all external events are beyond our control; we should accept whatever happens calmly and dispassionately. However, individuals are responsible for their own actions, which they can examine and control through rigorous self-discipline.”
In my session this morning, I told my psychiatrist about my mood and how I am coming out of a valley. I was feeling down for a while even though events around me were generally good and happy. What helped me start to come out of my valley was a clear understanding about how a certain event affected me. Something had happened which resulted in me getting feedback which I perceived as negative. This led me to feel guilty and bad about myself which, in turn, led me to believe that the person giving me the feedback did not like me anymore. I suppose I come by this train of thought honestly. My parents spoke Hungarian all the time at home and, although I didn’t learn to speak it, I could understand it. One of the words that I still remember from my childhood is a word that means to become offended or hurt. So, I guess I was around people who often felt like they had been offended. I digress but, the point is I felt bad and no longer liked. Over the next couple of weeks, the feedback I was receiving was more positive and I slowly started to feel like I was liked again.
At this point, allow me to bring in Epictetus and his wisdom.
“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.”
I find this to be applicable to not only my situation, but many others which I have dealt with as a Certified Peer Specialist. Our brains have preconceived ideas about the world around us. These ideas come from what we learn in our environment. As events unfold, we have these amazing filters that only let certain things in and these things are usually consistent with our beliefs. My brain tells me that if I do things well, people will like me. If I don’t do things well, people will not like me. My brain took feedback consistent with my beliefs and I was not liked so I felt bad. Do you see how our view of the world, based on our beliefs, controls the messages which we let inside?
But you can change this by fighting against the preconceived ideas. For example, I realized that I am the same person I am whether I make mistakes or not. My friends and family don’t like me or dislike me because I make mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. We’re all imperfect human beings. Why do I think I am so special that I can’t make mistakes? Change your programming! Change your view of things! As Epictetus said, it is the view we take which is disturbing. The world would be a better place if we could eliminate our preconceived notions of each other.