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Interpretation of Events and Understanding of Reality

Epictetus, a very influential Stoic Philosopher said, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things”.

Epictetus, a very influential Stoic Philosopher said, “Men are disturbed not by things, but by the views which they take of things”.

The idea that we are disturbed by our interpretation of events and our understanding of reality, greatly influenced the works of Albert Ellis founder of Rational Emotive Behaviour therapy (REBT), and Arron Beck founder of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT).

In fact, research shows us very clearly that our interpretation of an event is a crucial factor in the development of low mood and anxiety, and pivotal when we are considering how we feel and react to certain things or situations. Most of the time we notice or are disturbed by the negative feelings and reactions - the positive ones ‘just are’ and we tend to enjoy them and don’t really pay too much attention to them. It’s the negative ones that challenge us

Worry is a good example - worrying thoughts can lead to negative emotions or feelings within us; which can leave us feeling anxious, nervous, scared, sad or even all of those things at once. We might then begin to behave differently too, maybe avoiding situations that make us anxious, maybe avoiding people, crying, feeling sick or wanting to withdraw from social activities.

It’s quite a natural thing to worry about things from time to time, or ‘now and then’ everyone does that. When little ‘now and then’ worries or negative thoughts become ‘everyday’ habits then we can start to feel like we are not in control anymore, then we can start to worry even more.

Most of the time worrying achieves nothing and only wastes our time and gets in the way of more productive activities. So, if we spend a lot of time worrying then it will be useful to develop strategies to help us break this habit

Worry consists of a situation and then the thoughts we have about that, then come the feelings and emotions, followed by our reactions or behaviours.

There are certain ways we can work through worry to understand it more easily; most of the time it takes a bit of time to work through these thoroughly. But if I were to give you a snippet of advice and a quick fix strategy it would be this:

Firstly, noticing what we are saying to ourselves about the situation or thing we are worrying about.

Write it down – What are my automatic thoughts, or what am I saying to myself about this situation or thing?

  • What are my emotions or feelings?
  • What evidence do I have to support that this is true?
  • What evidence do I have to support that this is not true – at least most of the time?
  • Can I come up with an alternative thought? Is there another way I can think about this?
  • What are my emotions or feelings in relation to this alternative perspective?

Working through worries and distress isn’t always as easy as this; however, these are very reliable principles for you to start with. If you find that your worry is too big to explore in this way, then maybe the next step is to talk to someone and see if they can help you to work it out.