Wednesday, February 19, 2020 | ePaper

How To Deal With Bad News

3 Simple Cognitive Strategies to Handle the Climax

  • Print


Neel Burton, M.D :
Your partner cheated or walked out on you. You've been fired. Your house has been burgled. You've been diagnosed with a life-changing condition. Bad news can leave us in a state of dread and despair. It seems like our whole world is falling apart, almost as if we're being driven into the ground. We fear the very worst and cannot get it out of our mind, or gut. Often, there are other emotions mangled in, like anger, guilt, despair, betrayal, and love. Bad news, we've all had it, and we're all going to get it.
So, how to cope? Here are three cognitive strategies that can help us to deal with bad news, and that can also help us to test the concept of wisdom as perspective.
1.    Contextualization. Try to frame the bad news, to put it into its proper context. However bad it may feel, it is probably not the be-all and end-all of your life on this earth. Think about all the good things in your life, including those that have been and those that are yet to come. And think about all the strengths and resources-the friends, facilities, faculties-that you can still draw upon in your time of need. Try to imagine how things could much worse-and how they actually are for some people. Your house may have been burgled. Yes, you lost some valuables, and it's all such a huge hassle. But you still have your health, your job, your partner... Bad things are bound to hit us now and then, and it can only be a matter of time before they hit us again. In many cases, they are just the flipside of the good things that we enjoy. You got burgled, because you had a house and valuables. You lost a great relationship, because you had one in the first place. In that much, many a bad thing is no more than the removal of a good one.
2.    Negative visualization. Now focus on the bad news itself. What's the worst that could happen, and is that really all that bad? Now that you've dealt with the worst, what's the best possible outcome? And what's the most likely outcome? Imagine that someone is threatening to sue you. The worst possible outcome is that you lose the case and suffer all the entailing cost, stress, and emotional and reputational hurt. Though it's unlikely, you might even do time in prison (it has happened to some, and a few did rather well out of it). But the most likely outcome is that you reach some sort of out-of-court settlement. And the best possible outcome is that you win the case, or better still, it gets dropped.
3.    Transformation. Finally, try to transform your bad news into something positive, or at least into something that has positive aspects. Your bad news may represent a learning or strengthening experience, or act as a wake-up call, or force you to reassess your priorities. At the very least, it offers a window into the human condition and an opportunity to exercise dignity and self-control. Maybe you lost your job: time for a holiday and a promotion, or a career change, or the freedom and fulfilment of self-employment. Maybe your partner cheated on you. Even so, you feel sure that he or she still loves you, that there is still something there. Perhaps you can even bring yourself to understand his or her motives. Yes, of course it's painful, but it may also be an opportunity to forgive, to build a closer intimacy, to re-launch your relationship-or to find an easier or more fulfilling one. You've been diagnosed with a serious medical condition. Though it's very bad news, it's also the chance to get the treatment and support that you need, to take control, to fight back, to look at life and your relationships from another, richer perspective.
In the words of John Milton: 'The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.'
(Neel Burton, M.D., is a psychiatrist, philosopher, and writer who lives and teaches in Oxford, England).

More News For this Category

Do we all have a duty to warn?

Do we all have a duty to warn?

Joe Navarro :Do you and I have a "duty to warn"? Clinicians, nurses, school administrators, and other professionals are often confronted with this issue or are required by law

Facts about iMRI aided surgeries for brain tumour

Facts about iMRI aided surgeries for brain tumour

Dr. Ravi Suman Reddy :Neurological diseases affect a person's ability to do deal with school, work and personal tasks independently. Immediate rectification of anomalies in brain such as tumors,

Do your friends expect too much?

Do your friends expect too much?

Suzanne Degges-White, Ph.D :It's pretty normal that we let a friend know that we're in need of advice or need to share about something significant in their lives .

Working Fathers Need to Exercise

Russell Clayton, Ph.D :As a working father, like many of you, I pride myself on being available and spending time with my children when I'm not at work. And why

Diabetes Complications and control measures

Md Billal Hossen :Diabetes is one of the most prevalent and serious non-communicable diseases all over the world. It is the leading cause of death, disability, and economic loss, and

Can we all get along?

Anatasia Kim :On March 3, 1991, Rodney G. King was horribly beaten by the LAPD. Viewed all over the world, the infamous footage became a visceral symbol of police brutality

Power of smells

Roni Beth Tower :I boarded the express train, settled into the window position of the three-seater on the side of the car that follows the Hudson River, and prepared to

The making of a scientist

The making of a scientist

Marty Nemko :You probably wouldn't have bet on Lauren Reynolds winning a prestigious young-scientist award.Her father was a mechanic, her mother a stay-at-home-mom, and later, a school-cafeteria worker. Lauren

What Matters for Women at Work?

What Matters for Women at Work?

Audrey Nelson, Ph.D :Organizations cannot ask employees to check their emotions and basic human needs at the door. For women and men, work needs to be a place for

How should we react to a betrayal?

How should we react to a betrayal?

Sheila Kohler :I have recently been reading two books about betrayal: Elena Ferrante's "Days of Abandonment" and Domenico Starnone's "Ties." Interestingly these are stories of betrayal by a husband