Without fail when in a frustrating or emotionally difficult situation, patients, friends, family, and coworkers have exclaimed to me, “I’m at the end of my rope,” “I can’t take it anymore,” or “there is only so much a person can take.” When hearing these statements I often ask myself, to which rope are you referring? Is there really an end to a metaphorical rope or frustration? What will happen to you if you do in fact take this distress some more- will you explode or lose your mind entirely? Is there in fact a specific quantity of frustration a person is capable of taking and if they do in fact “take” a little bit more will something terrible happen? These common statements reflect how the English language has numerous expressions to falsely provide limits and boundaries on the quantity of frustration human beings are capable of managing, experiencing, and tolerating. However, empirical evidence, logic, and basic rational thinking emphatically tell us this is not the case. If anything, human history has taught us that in the face of unspeakable horrors, tragedies, and catastrophes, we are capable of surviving most experiences, without limit or boundary to the amount of sorrow/frustration one can experience, survive, and move forward from. Of course when a friend uses these common statements to express their emotional experience, immediately exclaiming that their experiences are surmountable and they are using incorrect thinking is not likely to validate your friends. These statements are entrenched in our language, in our communication, and it seems fairly futile to try to change the English language single handedly. But are these statements helpful? Will they give us the strength to move forward? Do these linguistic patterns allow us to express ourselves to the detriment of our ability to cope?
REBT and clinical experience has allowed me to answer this with a definitive no. While the occasional use of these expressions is typical and likely not dangerous, it is important to recognize the significant impact language has on our thinking. REBT discusses the importance of language on creating healthy thoughts. By imposing arbitrary limits on our ability to move forward and tolerate distress, we are creating limits on our personal happiness. By creating more rational language to use in these situations, such as, “this situation is difficult, but I have survived worse.” Or “though it seems I am as frustrated as I can possibly be, thinking this way is not helpful to moving forward and getting through this tough time.” By creating more rational statements that reflect the limitless capacity of humans to tolerate distress, one is more likely to accept reality as it is, stop demanding it should be different, and when life hands you lemons, make the proverbial lemonade and work though your personal challenges. Unless you truly want to be at the end of your rope, I suggest you take hold of a new metaphorical rope, one without an end in sight, to reflect a more accurate view of human resilience.
Next up: James Strickland, Ph.D. on on Awareness and the Need for Psychotherapy