In 1838 an American clergyman said, “No power in society, no hardship in your condition can depress you, keep you down, in knowledge, power, virtue, influence but by your own consent”. (Yale Book of Quotations, 2006 Edition, page 143)
The same idea is found in words attributed to First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt, “Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent”.
I say “attributed” because no one can find those words in her writings. What she did say was, “A snub is the effort of a person who feels superior to make someone else feel inferior. To do so, he has to find someone who can be made to feel inferior!”
The idea is all the same. The feeling of inferiority is a choice. It cannot be forced upon you. I’ve long thought and taught that the same applies to stress. Stress is a reaction. It is a choosing to respond to something or someone or more generically to some change in an agitated, angry manner. If you check out the archive of this series you will see an emerging picture of stress as an angry, personal, reaction to change.
The feeling of “being stressed” emerges from thoughts, decisions, actions and beliefs which find their home in your feelings.
Because your feelings are as a result of your reactions, you’ll find it difficult to change your feelings direct. You’ll need to go up the ladder to find those thoughts, beliefs, decisions which are open to changing and making different choices. As you make those different choices, change your reactions, your stressful feelings will in-turn change.
This is one of the key components of the popular cognitive behavioural therapy. The phrase starts with thoughts (beliefs and choices as well) and makes its way to decisions (behaviour) and results in the feelings.
So, the theory is that stress can be managed at the higher level and the stressful feeling can be reformed to be less painful.
Paul, writing to Christians in Philippi urges them to have the same “mind” as Christ. In English the word mind focuses on thoughts but the word that Paul wrote meant “think, do, feel”. He is saying to them have the same think-do-feel as Christ. There it is again. Feelings follow from actions (or reactions) which follow from thoughts.
So, if you want to mange stressful feelings you will need to look at managing thoughts and actions.
So, I have come to believe that it is true to say that, “No one can make you stressed without your consent or your cooperation”.
There is, however, a paradox here. It is also true to say that you can be stressed against your will, without your consent or cooperation. There is a very simple reason for this. You are human; you have limits.
Jesus of Nazareth illustrated one of his points with a military example. Consider a king or commander who has an army of 10,000. Surely, he would be wise, if he is faced with an army of 20,000, to figure out if he can cope with what’s coming.
Most of us can cope with one small challenge or maybe even a few small challenges. Some challenges are big and require strong responses. But an army of challenges all at once contains the capacity to overwhelm.
Here is the heart of the stress paradox. While it is true to say you have a huge capacity to choose, react and manage for stress reduction there are also times when you can get overwhelmed.
To put it another way. Anyone can cope with one problem but when a thousand problems come at you at the same time, that’s a different matter.
Like a city under siege there can come a time when the walls are breached, and the enemies come swarming in.
In another Jesus story, four men take their paralyzed friend to him because he is overwhelmed with paralysis. If you’re are feeling overwhelmed right now, you may need to lie down and let some others help.
It is also true to say that like a king facing a larger army there may be things you can do pre-emptively to “sue for peace” before it comes to all out war.
Here is the good news. If you feel your walls are being breached or you are paralyzed there are Christian brothers and sisters, there is the Spirit of God, there is the Word of God, there is the love of God. Reinforcements will arrive.
God always hears the cries of his stressed children.
Work well today,
© Geoff Shattock June 2019
31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.
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