Stress Management: Managing Perceptions
The process of perception is the way in which information from the world around us is selected, organised and given meaning. Perception gives rise to responses, depending on how we interpret the stimuli. We can change our interpretation at will by a simple change of perception and thus change our response. Perception is the essential mechanism by which we detect dangers in the environment and is therefore the first step in triggering, or defusing, the stress response.
1. Survival Strategies
As children we don't start to apply our thinking brains to the outside world until we are about three years old. Until this age, we see the world as essentially protective. From this age onwards, however, we begin to interpret the world as either safe or hostile.
In order to survive in potentially hostile environments, we develop one of three main strategies:
• the power response: we learn to attack what we think is threatening us
• the sensation response: we learn to manipulate the threat from others so that they won't harm us
• the security response: we weigh up the situation and find the safest way out of it.
These three strategies are carried with us throughout the rest of our lives.
2. Self-Protective Strategies
We have each learned to respond to perceived threats from one of the 3 self-protective centres: Power, Sensation and Security. Each of these centres has its own strategies:
i. Power strategies are beliefs that you are superior:
(a) I am stronger than they are.
(b) I am right; they are wrong.
(c) I don't have to face this situation so I won't.
ii. Sensation strategies believe you can change others:
(a) I'll be OK if I get them to want me.
(b) I'll be OK if I get them to like me.
(c) I'll be OK if I get them to treat me special.
iii. Security strategies believe you can outsmart others:
(a) I'll be safe if I do what they want.
(b) I'll be safe if I work out what's going on.
(c) I'll be safe if I move quickly enough.
3. Self-Protective Emotions
When we perceive the world as hostile, we use a strategy for survival based on one of the three centres - Power, Sensation, and Security. Each of these centres produces emotions to help us survive but, because they recognise the threat as a threat, they often only serve to reinforce our stress.
• emotions from the Power centre are: anger, annoyance, irritation, impatience, frustration, exasperation, hate, rage, fury, disdain, indignation, hostility. All these emotions help us feel that we are in the right.
• emotions from the Sensation centre are: frustration, disappointment, disgust, grief, jealousy, boredom.
• emotions from the Security centre are: fear, worry, dread, anxiety, panic, terror, despair, hurt, sadness, helplessness, loneliness, shame, guilt, embarrassment. These emotions help us take avoiding action.
The pay-offs are the reasons we give ourselves for holding on to self-protective strategies in face of a potentially hostile world. Some of the reasonings are:
• I feel alive when I'm angry.
• I win and feel superior.
• I get to prove how strong I am.
• I get to play martyr (or victim).
• I get attention, sympathy, pity, approval, comfort.
• I get to share these feelings with others who feel the same.
• I get to enjoy this fantasy of winning.
• It feels safe to keep a distance from others.
• I don't have to really experience what I'm feeling
When we operate from a hostile view of the world, there is always a penalty to pay. There are 12 types of "rip-offs" resulting from a view of the world based on winning-and-losing. These are:
1. physical exhaustion
2. separating emotions, such as fear and hate
3. feelings of low self-esteem from not being loved
4. inability to feel close to others
5. wasted energy on unnecessary conflict
6. missing the beauty around us
7. lack of spontaneity
8. lack of humour
9. ego conflicts
10. addictive "tunnel vision"
11. lack of growth
12. instead of enjoying life, pre-occupied with protecting it.
6. Changing Perception
Unlike animals which respond to outside stimuli using their instinctive and emotional brains, man has the capacity to respond to outside stimuli by using his thinking brains: we can actually decide whether to interpret a situation as threatening or not.
• we can simply refuse to interpret a situation as a threat
• we can look at our own reactions to situations rationally and ask ourselves what the real threat, if any, is
• we can put things into perspective; very few situations in life today are genuinely as threatening as we believe they are
• we can re-programme our thinking brains with new strategies based not on a win-lose view of the world but on a win-win one, not on self-protective separating, but on open and trusting connectedness. In this way, we can avoid false, addictive and stress-producing reactions.
7. Long-Term Change
As well as choosing stress-free short-term responses to situations, we can also learn long-term re-programming techniques.
These are based on three steps:
• awareness of stressful responses
• acceptance of ownership of our perceptions
• willingness to change.
When we abandon the need to respond to situations from the separating centres of Power, Sensation and Security, we are able to move towards the unifying centres of Love, Abundance, Non-judgmental relationships and Connectedness. Instead of the negative emotions of fear, worry, hate and so on, the unifying centres create the stress-free emotions of love, calm, peace, harmony, joy, wonder, and unity with everything else in the world.