Are life’s difficulties the result of overwhelming external circumstances? Or are unpleasant situations self-created?
A viewpoint that is popular in some spiritual and New Age communities is that we are responsible for whatever happens to us. When something goes awry, we’re invited to ask, “How did I create that?”
Perhaps unfortunately, we are not as powerful as we might think.
Five billion years from now, the sun will explode in a supernova, frying all life on earth. No one will be around to debate whether we created that. And forgive me for reminding you, but before that fateful day we will perish… of something. A harsh extreme is to look fervently toward ourselves for every foul thing that happens to us.
If our lifestyle habits have been less than stellar, such as smoking cigarettes or not exercising, then we might argue that we could have made better choices. But even that might be a harsh judgment. If we probe into the secret history of those who adopt destructive behavior, we might extend a more compassionate, less judgmental understanding. A history of poor early attachment or trauma, which can lead to long-term dysregulation in the nervous system, may have led to addictive habits to distract ourselves from unbearable suffering.
This is not to encourage us to cling to the identity of being a victim, where we blame others and believe that no positive change is possible, but rather to argue for the hope of gradual change as we uncover the roots of our discontent, cultivate loving-kindness toward ourselves, and direct gentleness toward feelings that have been threatening to face. Psychotherapy can be one good way to gradually deepen our understanding and self-care, while empowering us to befriend neglected feelings and make positive changes.
Stuff happens. We exist in an interconnected universe. One version of narcissism is to believe that life is firmly under our control. Those who lay claim to a special spiritual knowledge might be sobered to recognize that at the heart of all the great spiritual traditions is the humble recognition that forces exist in the Universe that are much more powerful than ourselves.
Philosophers and psychotherapists have pointed out that while we have little control over what happens to us, we have the power to respond to what befalls us. We can meet what happens to us with a growing sense of grace, wisdom, and patience. We can make room