By Alex Chapunoff, LMHC, TIRF
We are not always aware of our postulates. A postulate is a statement you have made to yourself that helps you understand, or deal with, life. It’s a judgment you hold about some aspect of reality. The closer your postulates are to being realistic — the more factual they are — the more in harmony with life, nature, and society you feel.
Any inaccuracies or mistakes — unrealistic postulates — tend to cause trouble. Let’s say I have the postulate, “Everyone should love me or like me.” (It’s not that I necessarily state it so explicitly, but that I am living my life through that assumption.) As long as I run into people who support it, I’m fine. I talk to my mom, she loves me. Check. I play pool with a co-worker, he likes me. Check. The cashier at the checkout line gives me a nice smile, she likes me. Check. So far, so good: my postulate is being upheld by life. I go to a restaurant and the waiter makes a snide remark, he doesn’t like me. Uh-oh. It puts me in a bad mood, and I feel offended. I go to a family reunion and my aunt criticizes me and considers me “disappointing,” she doesn’t like me. Uh-oh. It’s unpleasant and bothers me. I spend a couple sleepless hours in bed that night tossing her comments around in my head.
What happened? In the last two scenarios, reality collided with my postulate. It upset my expectations of what’s right, proper, and true. So the emotional hurt doesn’t come from the events but from the meaning the events have for me, in other words, from my postulate. Another person can have the same experiences, but feel totally secure and at ease over them. He or she doesn’t have a postulate that runs against them.
When you feel upset over some situation, it can be useful to search out the pertinent postulate — the core belief about yourself, life, or people — and make it more in tune with reality. In the example above, the postulate could be changed to, “Some people will love or like me, some will hate or dislike me, and some will not care about me either way (they will be neutral or indifferent).” This is more realistic. As you go through life, you’re bound to come across all three types of response. But because your postulate accounts for them, you’re okay. You expect them to happen, you understand they are natural and normal. They don’t threaten your self-image or worldview.
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