One of the greatest struggles of being alive is how we can come to terms with terrible things that happen to us, such as a serious medical diagnosis or the loss of a loved one.  I would highly recommend “The Reality Slap” by Russ Harris, as he explores how we can cope when tragedy or adversity strike.  One concept that he discusses is when we run into a “reality gap.”  This is what happens when the reality we want is different than the reality we have—thus the gap between what we want and what we have.  For Russ Harris, he was confronted with his own reality gap when his son was diagnosed with autism.  He wanted a life for his son that would be different than what his son’s life would probably turn out to be.

Our reality gaps certainly don’t have to be this dramatic—it can happen with day to day stresses, such as missing a layover while we’re traveling.  Clearly there is gap that the reality we want (making our flight on time) and the reality we have (being delayed in getting to our destination).  The struggle isn’t necessarily with the circumstance itself, but rather our resistance to accept things as they are.  This certainly does not mean that we have to be OK with the reality as it is—it simply means we give up a fight and a struggle, so we can forge a new and more helpful path. I think we face reality gaps on a day to day basis, whether it’s in dealing with traffic or caring for a grumpy child who has a cold.  Many times, people come to therapy to ultimately try to find out how to cope with their reality gaps, whether they be minor (traffic) or major (loss of a spouse).

So how do we cope with these reality gaps?  There are many ways, and Russ Harris first suggest acknowledging that the gap is there, and coming to terms with how we can accept our reality as it is, rather than struggling to make it something that it is not.  Easier said than done, of course, and one practice that can be very helpful in doing this is mindfulness.

He also encourages the person struggling with the reality gap to be compassionate with themselves admidst the struggle.  So often, self blame can cloud our ability to fully accept our reality—whether we blame ourselves for not “being there enough” for the person we just lost, our blaming ourselves for our child’s medical diagnosis.  How can we learn to hold ourselves gently in the midst of the reality slap?

And finally, even in the middle of the reality slap, how can we stick to our values?  How can we be the people we want to be, even when life throws an extraordinary challenge?  What kinds of qualities would you like to embody while coping with extremely difficult life challenges?


If you find that you are struggling to cope with one or many reality gaps, please know that therapy can help.


Thanks for reading.