Speaking of her character in the new Mad Max movies, Charlize Theron was moved to state that “I think of women as very resilient. We can walk through pain and suffering and shake it off, instead of putting it in the avoidance box.” It’s a wonderful thought; I only wish it were more true. In fact, one of the biggest problems with human beings is that we DON’T do this. Rather than shaking off our bad experiences, we tend to dramatize our pain and create all sorts of abstract meaning to encase it in, and women are some of the worst offenders when it comes to this.
“It says a lot about the human condition,” she goes on to state. “No matter how bad it is, if you’re alive, you’ll find a sliver of light. That’s what we hold on to.” 1 Once again: wonderful sentiment, but not the standard approach to adversity we typically take in this country.
Most people, when confronted with hardship, do precisely the opposite. They play the victim role. They wallow in the injustice of what occurred. They fret the fact that life should treat them this way. They act as though they are the only ones who have suffered. They personalize the pain and create all sorts of abstract ideas about how this should impact them or what it means about their personal identity. Since our beliefs dictate reality, people can literally think themselves into a disturbed state, creating trauma through their own thoughts. It’s something I see so routinely in all facets of life that I’ve come to believe this elevation of negative experiences is in fact the primary cause of suffering.
How past experiences hurt us
The past is past. The only way for it to damage us in the present is if…
- Someone’s actions continue to directly affect you; such as if they continue to abuse or imprison you or have left you crippled or dead.
- We bring the pain with us into the future and surround it in stigmatizing ideas.
In many ways, we’ve become psychologically spoiled in the modern world. Once we humans mastered our environmental woes, it’s almost as if we started manufacturing all new ones to fill the void. Since we’re no longer dealing with life or death threats on a daily basis, we now take smaller, much more insignificant events and hold onto them for much longer than we should.
So here’s what I want you to do: When it comes to the pains you’ve experienced, whether it’s those that involve recent wounds or others long gone, ask yourself: What would Mad Max do? Would he have time to sit around and feel sorry for himself? Wallow in the negative? Get caught up in his status as a victim? Inflate the event with all sorts of added meaning or significance? Or would he put it out of his mind just as soon as it was over to focus on more pressing and urgent matters?
If you were living in such a post-apocalyptic madhouse, would you have time or energy to devote to feeling sorry for yourself? Would you spend your time feeling damaged because of a “bad touch” that happened 20 years ago and lasted all of 10 minutes? Would you find it productive to blame your parents for all the ways they failed you? Would you have the luxury of fretting over little dings and dents to your pride or virtue? How about holding onto grudges? In light of all the suffering that would be going on around you and the people struggling just to survive, could you fill your mind with thoughts of how bad the world has treated you? If not, why do you think this is a good use of mental resources in your current situation?
You can also apply this standard of thinking to your everyday life. In a Mad Max world, would you be overly concerned about clothes? Hair and makeup? Having new furniture? Would you find yourself caught in the trap of commercialism? What things would be most important? Figure out what would truly matter if the apocalypse arrived today, and focus on those things.
So do yourself a favor: Be more like mad Max. It may just save you a lot of heartache and suffering.
- Donna Freydkin, “Charlize Theron’s Furiosa Blazes a ‘Mad’ Path,” USA Today, p. ID