I am going to think out loud for a bit…
Recently, I heard a definition of stress that is new for me: Stress is “when the resources of the individual are not sufficient to cope with the demands and pressures of the situation.” I am troubled by this definition.
To begin, let’s go to an extreme situation. Imagine a concentration camp where people are being murdered every day. Does the definition mean that, if only the prisoners had more internal resources they would not have felt stress in that situation? How about an abusive family? If only the children had more resources they could cope with the situation of abuse. Perhaps through mindfulness practices such as breathing and meditation they could deal with being whipped with a belt. Ommmmmm.
Obviously, that was facetious.
But do you see where I am going with this? It seems that the definition above puts the onus on the individual. It seems that this definition comes from an individualistic perspective, perhaps an individualistic society. If only the individual had more internal resources he or she would not feel the stress. Organizations, systems, structures can do what they want, ask what they want of their people, and if the people cannot cope it is their own fault. The individuals need more mindfulness training. It is a perfect set-up for abuse.
I do believe in mindfulness and the power of positive thinking. Yoga, TM, retreats are positive practices, my positive practices. I also believe that some systems continue demanding more and more and then try to blame the individual who cannot keep up with or does not want to keep up with the new, the changing demands. Does the individual have a choice when the demands change? There is mutual responsibility.
Sometimes the system needs to change. Sometimes the individual. Sometimes both. Whatever causes the stress, we cannot blame the victim alone without looking at the system in which the individual operates. Sometimes less is more. Sometimes individuals need to say, “No, I can’t do any more,” without fear of retribution. Often the systems should not ask.