Breaking Point: Does Traumatic Change Ever Do Us Good?
Often people can feel like they are being pushed towards their breaking point. When circumstances become too much and they feel like they're unable to cope, they feel that they'll come apart. At these times, we pull back from these difficult circumstances in order to not be broken by them. And yet, other people seem to look back on their lives and say that these difficult circumstances were ultimately a good thing. Should we perhaps be pushing ourselves to breaking point?
Reaching breaking point
Every day, people experience relationship breakup, going bankrupt or laid low by their by their addictions. No matter the circumstance, people can feel that the times of breaking point for them have been instrumental for making them the person that they are. For them, their breaking point has made the difference between a bad life and a good life. If this is true, should we be bringing on breaking points?
I think we are confusing two things here. Breaking point can force us to make changes that we wouldn't have otherwise made. These can be really good choices. However, they can also be catastrophic. We can't rely on this as a method for making changes. It's just too random. Far better that we learn to make considered and healthy changes from a position of knowledge and choice.
The evidence suggest that we make the greatest sustainable change under moderate stress. While we might change a lot under significant stress, that doesn't mean that those changes are sustainable or even survivable. We need to understand that for every success story of person changed by breaking point, there is an unknown number who had their circumstances permanently negatively changed. For these people, these breaking points have resulted in homeless, depression or irretrievable losses.
Our stress levels
Even putting this aside, there is significant evidence to suggest that most people live with unsustainable stress levels. While we can manage this for a while, when we structure our life around significant stress there are bound to be consequences. Part of the problem here is that we believe that just because we have capacity for more stress, we should give ourselves more stress. The trouble with this is that once we have over-committed ourselves we can usually find a little bit extra. And what we do with this extra? We over-commit that as well.
The way forward
Instead of seeking breaking point, we should be seeking to reduce our levels of stress. We need to come back within our levels of competency to the point where we do good, thoughtful work. To stay outside of these boundaries for too long puts us in a position of eventually bringing ourselves undone. It's far better that we learn to recognise and live within our limits. If we do that, then we'll have more freedom to be able to make choices which are better aligned with the person that we want to be. Further, we will also model that to other people around us so they'll we more likely to live within their limits as well. When this happens, we are in a position to be more reliable supports to each other.