Five Alternatives at the Threshold of Tolerance

No matter how resilient and strong you may be, you can experience stress when faced with a challenge that exceeds your past experience and current capacity to cope. The challenge is to break through when possible and retreat when necessary.

A Closer Look at the Five Alternatives at the Threshold of Tolerance

Life had never been better. Yesterday, Katherine had been bombarded with unexpected good news. She had finally been accepted into a master's program at the Rhode Island School of Design, and the love of her life had declared in Central Park that he wanted to marry her.

But this morning, she didn't feel like moving. Her body ached, she felt an unusual tightness in her chest, and her eyelids felt as if someone was sitting on them. There is nothing physically wrong with Katherine. She is simply stressed.

When individuals like Katherine are faced with new or difficult challenges, the mind faces five basic alternatives:

1. Stress Symptoms:
Katherine might experience escalating stress symptoms such as anxiety, anger, physical symptoms (such as chest pains and inability to sleep), depression and psychosis as challenges she faces go unresolved.

2. Breakthrough :
Katherine might break through the barriers of defense, overcoming the challenges she faces and achieving a higher level of adjustment. Free of distressful symptoms she could successfully resist retreat, alcohol, drugs or suicide/homicide.

3. Retreat : Katherine can withdraw or retreat from the immediate source of stress by cooling things off with her fiance or asking for a deferral from her master's program. She will face the consequences of such retreat and may face the same challenge later.

4. Drug Abuse : Katherine might opt for a stopgap measure or symptomatic relief (such as alcohol or drugs) to calm her nerves or temporarily escape reality.

5. Suicide/Homicide : If Katherine becomes convinced that she can neither retreat nor break through, and she cannot stand the mounting stress anymore, she might choose suicide or homicide in desperation to escape painful symptoms of distress. Given Katherine's example, the decision to take her life may seem absurd. However, stress is not triggered purely by objective external events. It is Katherine's internal subjective response that counts.

To learn more about the choices we have at our threshold of individual stress tolerance, see my eManual Breakthrough Intimacy - Sad to Happy through Closeness.

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