Circumstance: Why We React The Way We Do

We are so different from each other in beliefs, principles, values, perspective, attitudes, skills, temperament and habits. As a result, our response to the same circumstance can vary wildly.

If the circumstance seems positive, we are likely to respond in a more or less effective manner. However, if the impact of the circumstance is adverse, our next step may not be nearly as appropriate.

In order to get better at responding to negative situations. we should understand what keeps us from reacting effectively. The more we are forced out of our comfort zone the greater the FUD factor; FUD stands for fear, uncertainty and doubt.


The first fear we encounter is that of the unknown. Once we recognize that we can no longer continue with the status quo, panic starts to kick in. We know we should let go of current habits and adopt a new approach, but what unfamiliar experiences will we have to face?

Instinctively we become anxious. The root of this anxiety is our innate concern for our safety, a fundamental need according to Maslow. “Safety” in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is just a few steps away from “comfort”. Why move out of our comfort zone and jeopardize our current level of safety? Instead, it may appear easier to maintain the status quo and “let nature take its course”.

The second fear is that we will fail. Why do we fear failure? Is it because we are too concerned with what others will think of us? Once again Maslow gets into the act with the need for “esteem“. Our desire for respect from others flares up, warning us to be careful to not expose our potential flaws if we fail.


How lucky we would be if there was a 100% guarantee that only positive results would come from planned changes! Unfortunately there is always the chance that things won’t turn out as we hope. Instead of benefits and gains, we could suffer losses and face unexpected obstacles.


Whether justified or not, we may be skeptical of our skills. Are we confident that our decision-making skills are up to the task of assessing competing alternatives? What is the secret to comparing costs and benefits? Is our planning good enough? What should we do first? How long will it take? Too many ambiguous questions puts pressure on our belief system and may cause stress.


Maslow’s fundamental need for safety may naturally lead to an aversion to taking risks. Why move out of the current comfort zone into an uncertain zone, especially if the chances that things will improve are low? The unknown makes some feel so uncomfortable that they are frightened to leave the current situation even if it is negative. They will avoid taking the risk until forced to by crisis.

Resistance to Change

With all these concerns there is considerable inertia that must be overcome. We may be unwilling to take charge and push as hard as necessary to overcome our inertia.

Our past may be working against us as well!  According to Tarthang Tulku, a lama from Eastern Tibet, resistance is a habit we learn as children:

“When a child encounters something he does not want, he has all kinds of maneuvers to avoid it, such as crying, hiding, or fighting … Unless we are taught to face our problems directly and work through them, the pattern of avoidance will be repeated … it can become a natural, accepted way to act.”

Refusing to Accept the Circumstance

Is it possible to believe so strongly in our expectations of what is supposed to happen that its opposite cannot possibly exist, at least in one’s mind? That’s denial at its peak. How can this happen? Over time, habits and attitudes may become firmly entrenched and virtually unchangeable. We believe so strongly that things should be different that we lose touch with reality. It’s easier to deal with the bad situation by denying that it exists.

Negative or Pessimistic Attitude

Some people appear enthusiastic and positive no matter what happens. Others, by nature, seem to be apathetic and negative even during good times. This pessimism aggravates the unfavourable situation. If we feel powerless our confidence must be low or non-existent. Low self esteem results and leads to low expectations, maybe even indifference. The energy level may be so low that it’s too much to deal with. Let’s just wait it out and see what happens.

So why enter the unknown? You have to if you want to grow. Future blogs will discuss how to overcome the FUD and resistance factors that reduce effectiveness. 

Silenced By Circumstance
by David M. Pitchford
January 29, 2009

This place did not come to me,
nor this life take me victim in vulture talons;

I made choices that led me here
—with one eye open to truth, the other to dream.

Strife, constant companion, held no killer’s knife to my throat
—no threat levied against my health or life or freedom.

Still, asking why seems less absurd
as circumstance and life go on beyond control,
haphazard and riding me like the white waters,
rafting toward Lethe
and wondering whose fell hand steers this rudderless craft

—or is grafting me onto new vines
that I may withstand bitter vintages up to true crafting.

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1 Response to Circumstance: Why We React The Way We Do

  1. Pingback: Are your emotions helping or hurting? | Rules for Effective Living

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