Daniel J. Potterton, FEI Chief Operating Officer

“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of them.”

World-renowned psychologist Albert Ellis cited the above quote from the Greek philosopher Epictetus as the underpinning to his treatment of individuals with psychological, emotional and relationship problems. He explained in his writings that “things” are life events and conditions we may have been born into. “Views” are formed through our internal thinking process as well as the beliefs and philosophies we hold about ourselves, others, the world and life events.

For example, thinking that others should not behave the way they do will result in feelings of anger and resentment. There are many negative long-term effects that result from this thinking. Factually, Ellis asserted, people are always going to behave the way they do – even though it may be displeasing or cause harm. Demanding that people and life events be any different than what they are in the moment is an impossible task and inevitably leads to emotional disturbances and prolonged misery.

The goal of Ellis’s treatment was to rid patients of irrational views of life events and replace them with more reasonable, rational views. His work helped patients change their unhappiness and despair into more fulfilling and productive, resilient lives.  

Bad events do happen in people’s lives and are, without a doubt, a source of pain and suffering. Profound sadness and deep negative emotional reactions are natural and normal. As we say in the business, our reactions are “normal responses to abnormal events.” The recent horrific shooting of innocent congregants at the Tree of Life Pittsburgh synagogue is just one reminder of such an abnormal event. I marveled at the outward appearance of resilience in the Pittsburg Jewish community and wondered, “If this happened to me, what would I do? Do I have that kind of resilience?” A true sign of the temple worshipers’ resilience was in their return to the scene one week later to continue their tradition of prayer on the Sabbath.

A remarkable recounting of resilience was told by Viktor Frankl in his 1946 book Man’s Search for Meaning, published just one year after the end of World War II and his liberation from a Nazi concentration camp. Frankl recounts the stories of the Holocaust survivors who, despite tremendous odds, continued to hold out hope for their reunion with loved ones after the war. They resisted the temptation of defeat. Hope was their collective inspiration that was formed by their thinking.

To strengthen our capacity for resilience in the face of adversity, examine how we think about adversity and how we evaluate events. As Ellis liked to say, resilience is strengthened by challenging our propensity for “crooked thinking” that leads to despair and replace it with reasonable thoughts that lead to hope, purpose and wellness.

How do you see hardship? Is your glass half full or half empty?

FEI’s crisis management and employee assistance programs are designed to meet the needs and recovery efforts of individuals, community groups and families following any kind of crisis event. We have responded to natural disasters, man-made terrorist acts and mass casualty accidents affecting anywhere from one individual to scores of people.

Consult with an FEI account representative today to learn more about planning, preparation, response and recovery for traumatic incidents.