When I’m not writing, I work in the arena of Mental Health. I work with individuals struggling with a diverse range of problems. Yesterday I spoke with a client who told me with great certainty that he was “bad luck.”I asked him if we could take his phrase “bad luck” and ask if it wouldn’t mind taking the stand in a mock court of law so we could interrogate the phrase and test the validity of his belief. My client explained that he had a wife who had run up all sorts of debts in his name and who not so long afterward had disappeared with another man. Later in life he met a lovely young woman whom he felt sure would make a great partner for him and they embarked on a tentative friendship. Sadly, six months down the road, the young woman, who by now, he had fallen madly in love with, was killed tragically in a road accident. He proceeded to tell me about a friend of his who had fallen on hard times. A friend who had asked, tentatively, if he could move in with my client for a while. My client at that time felt unable to agree
to this, he is a quiet man by nature and finds extensive company hard.
He refused his friend’s request and a month later he heard that his friend had committed suicide. He told me all of this through tears. He blamed himself for everything that had gone wrong in life. I am “bad luck,” he said. He felt profound and enduring guilt. Human beings are pattern spotting creatures by nature. Humans try to spot patterns in their environment all the time. It is part of how human beings learn and make decisions.
A part of our brains called The hippocampus plays an active role in pattern spotting. Trying to spot patterns is about trying to predict how things will turn out, our brains are trying to work out rules for the right action to take. Apparently, great pattern spotters score highly on intelligence tests. My client had decided there was a pattern in all that had happened to him. He believed that as he was present in all of his negative life experiences, he was the common denominator. I asked him if he was the common denominator in all of his good life experiences. He said, “I guess not – sometimes it was just chance or good fortune.” He laughed as he said this. Then he said ” I guess I made a sweeping statement earlier. I’ve just encountered a lot of sadness in my life, but there has been good stuff too.”We all have a tendency towards cognitive distortion at times – negative or faulty reasoning based on difficult life circumstances. But being aware of our tendency to do this can help I think. It can help us take a step back and interrogate our thinking. In life, there is the story that
happens to us but there is also the story we tell ourselves and the two stories don’t always match up.
Written by Victoria Clarke
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