When Realities Clash, Distress Follows

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Grodnitzky, Ph.D.
July 6, 2023

I recently had an event that was personally challenging and forced me to look at my different realities — only to find that they were misaligned.

At the end of May, I found myself with an inguinal hernia. In the two weeks that followed I:

  1. Went to my primary care physician to confirm I indeed had a hernia.
  2. Researched and identified the hernia-correcting procedure that was right for me.
  3. Visited three surgeons to discuss the procedure.
  4. Identified a surgeon to do the procedure.
  5. Scheduled the procedure.
  6. Had the procedure.
  7. Began my recovery.

Even before Step 1, a voice in my head started screaming, “I don’t have time for THIS!!!” as it raged against its new reality. “I’ve been training to go on safari and hike Kilimanjaro this summer! I have the flights; I have the gear; I’ve been working on the physical conditioning!”   

This is when I began to realize that my realities were out of alignment.

The 4 Kinds of Reality

This is the model of the four types of realities we have been discussing in the blog. A quick review:

  1. Personal reality. This is where your individual experiences that can’t be shared with others reside. This reality also includes your beliefs, values and views of the world.
  2. Social reality. This is where your people or peer group exists. People often gather into a common social reality based on similar personal realities.  
  3. Intersocial reality. This is where your business, organizations and institutions exist. This reality brings different personal and social realities together in order to interact with one another.
  4. Independent reality. This is where things in the natural world exist. They don’t care if we believe in them or not, how we feel about them, or what we think about them. They exist independent of our thoughts, feelings and desires.

We do better — as an individual, as a group, as an organization, and as a society — when all of our realities align. When we feel distress or dis-ease, it’s time to consider whether our realities are misaligned.

Misalignment of Realities

Back to my story: Getting a hernia was not in my plans. And I knew almost immediately that the recovery would likely interfere with my adventure trip for the summer. My independent reality (the hernia) and my personal reality (my desire to not cancel my adventure plans) were misaligned, causing me distress.

I found more misalignment on the intersocial level of reality. Broadly speaking, there are two types of hernia repair surgeries: a mesh procedure (where a mesh is used to cover the opening of the muscles that created the hernia) and a non-mesh procedure (where no mesh is used to make the hernia repair – the muscles are stitched back together). For a variety of reasons having to do with my personal reality around medicine, I preferred the latter.

On an institutional (intersocial) level, my health insurance company would only cover a mesh procedure – the one I was not interested in having. When I inquired why, the response was, “There is a lower risk of recurrence, and it has better outcomes.”  

While that was clearly their intersocial belief that they shared with their members and how they do business, the information they provided did not align with the independent reality of data. The data I looked at indicated that non-mesh procedures have a better outcome when performed by a skilled surgeon who has experience in non-mesh hernia repair. I moved forward with the non-mesh procedure, seeking a highly skilled and experienced hernia specialist to do the procedure. The misalignment between the research data (independent reality) and what I was being told at the intersocial reality level created distress. It was only after I created alignment between the independent and intersocial levels of reality (by finding an experienced hernia specialist) that this distress was resolved.

On a social reality level, a group of friends wanted me to go with them on this trip to Africa and Kilimanjaro. After the surgery, it became pretty clear that I would not be able to make the trip.  I still needed to work on aligning my own personal reality (my desire to go) with the independent reality that it would be a large – and imprudent – risk to do so.  

Some friends were more supportive than others of my decision to withdraw from the trip. This created a divide or misalignment in my social realities: Some friends insisted I could still go on the trip, but others thought it was more prudent not to go. This was one of the most difficult parts of the alignment process for me. I take my commitments seriously – both professionally and personally. My efforts to align these two realities created a pit in my stomach, a sense of disappointment that I could not shake. I could not see how to align these two competing social realities: one pressing me to go, the other pressing me not to go.  

Ultimately, I had to make a decision that would align all four of my realities. I chose to align myself with the latter social reality – the decision that it would be best to not go – as it was more aligned with my personal, intersocial and independent realities.

What have you been distressed about most recently? What part of your reality is misaligned?  What are you willing to do to bring your realities back into alignment?

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this topic further, just drop me a note.

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