Tag Archives: stages of denial

Turning poison into medicine: Psychology and Buddhism

What’s the worst problem you have right now?

Many people are struggling with where to work, live, be; loss of home, job, business, and livelihood. Dreams. They may have watched savings diminish, prospects wither, doors close. They may be forced to address serious health problems and illness, of self and beloved others. Even without the sociopolitical landscape, it has been rightly described as an exhausting, daunting, and never ending year for most.

From the Buddhist perspective, all people are endowed with the innate ability to create value out of any situation, no matter how awful or tragic. Unlike the naive adage or idea that every cloud has a silver lining—that something positive can always be found in everything negative—the principle of changing poison into medicine explains that we can transform even the most unsettling tragedy into something that leaves us with more resources and tools. It acknowledges, integrates, and requires a face down with pain and grief.

What is your poison?
We tend to label any event “bad” that makes us suffer, feel lingering loss, and seems unsolvable. It feels like it leaves a demarcation or brand on our soul skin. It hurts.

Two concepts:
The significance of any event changes depending on the circumstances surrounding it.
The significance of any event changes depending on what we decide to do next.
The process of changing poison into medicine begins when we approach difficult experiences as an opportunity to reflect on ourselves and to strengthen and develop our courage and compassion. This does not at all invalidate or minimize the deep pain that we have experienced.

Instead, it’s an impetus for change.

How to make poison into medicine
Stages of Grieving
The five stages of grief aren’t restricted to the loss of loved ones. These stages, in general, are ones we ALL go through when attempting to process something deeply painful.

The stages are:
Shock/denial
When something bad first happens, we may be unable to process what is going on, and it can feel unreal or impossible to believe. You need time to unpack it. And there is no statute of limitations on that time.

Pain/anger
The pain of being in your situation and sense of injustice/unfairness may take over.

Bargaining
You might get lost in “what if” and “if only” statements.

Depression
You start to realize that there’s no easy way out of this, which may make you feel sad, heartbroken, and hopeless.

Acceptance
You begin to understand the situation, and accept that it’s happened/happening to you.

Other ways to transform poison into medicine
You learn to forgive
Bad situations can be eye-openers when it comes to forgiveness. You realize: You forgive other people for what they’ve done. Moreover, you understand that they are complex individuals and that there are two sides to every story. You forgive yourself for “allowing” this to happen. Plus, you either realize it isn’t your fault, or you find the parts that are your fault and learn from them.

You become your own best friend. 
In some cases, the worst situation means feeling totally on your own. It’s a terrible feeling, but it can still teach you new things and change your life.

When you only have yourself to rely on, you have two choices. You can continue to be cruel to yourself, thus removing your only form of support. Or you can be kind to yourself, bolstering your support, so you thrive. Becoming your own best friend, and treating yourself the way you’d treat someone you care about, is a hugely positive step forward in personal development. It means that, even when you’re totally alone, you’ll be fine, because you still have yourself. [Also see: The Power of the Self Hug].

With this clarity, you can better see:
The support of your friends or family
The evidence of your strength
The fact that you can learn from this bad situation

You find out what you cannot control. And what you can.

There are many things in life you cannot control, and these may be the things that led to these “worst” situations. But what about the things that you can control?

The concept of taking control over certain life events and circumstances is known as self-efficacy, and it can prevent things from spiraling out of your grasp altogether.
So take control of the small things.

You can start by:
Rearranging the furniture in your home
Personalizing your work and leisure space
Taking up a new hobby
Changing your usual routine
Reaching out to friends. And making new ones.
Trying a new style: Fashion, social, work mode, aesthetic.

You realize that you can overcome stuff
If there’s one thing a bad situation can do, it’s to show you your inner strength. Think about all the terrible circumstances you’ve gotten through and how you’ve managed to emerge unscathed.
I have patients make a list of everything accomplished, not just the ubiquitous to do list. They are often astounded at what they’ve managed to do.

You learn to ask for help
You can’t do everything on your own. Or, if you can, it may not be the healthiest or most positive way to go about it. It’s okay to need help, and it’s okay to ask for help. Other people can provide you with different perspectives that you may not be able to see.

Here are some ways you can ask for help:
Reach out to a friend, mentor, or family member
Seek help from a therapist or counselor
Find support groups, whether online or in-person
Talk to someone you trust for advice
Ask for a deadline extension from a teacher, boss, or client, if needed
Learning to ask for help can dramatically change your life. This doesn’t mean you stop being self-reliant. It means you become secure enough in yourself that you’re comfortable seeking assistance when you need it. You learn to practice positive coping mechanisms, in the face of difficult events.

A few examples of positive coping mechanisms are:
Meditation
Exercise (even simple, gentle kinds)
Expressions through art, like writing, painting, dance, or singing
Watching movies or shows
Reading books
Pampering yourself with a self-care day
Cooking
Sleeping
Time spent in nature
We are natural alchemists, and life is our Laboratory.
Taking the poison and making it into medicine = gold.

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