This is a story about Percy, Bert, Eric, Jim and Alec who all bought a red car! It's an analogy about how the meaning of something affects how we feel.
Percy bought a red car. It was exactly what he'd been looking for! He loved his new red car, and when he took it out for drives, he was noticing how many red cars there were! He'd not thought about it before. "All these red cars", thought Percy. "Wow! I'm not the only one who likes red cars!" Percy lived happily ever after with his car, although after a while, he stopped noticing the other red cars.
Bert also bought a red car. There hadn't been much choice, and red wasn't his first choice. He took it out for drives, and noticed how many other red cars there were! He realised he really didn't like red and it started to annoy him. "All those red cars", thought Bert. "I can't stand red! I was forced into buying it and now I hate it!" Bert sold his red car and bought a blue one!
Eric bought a red car too. Eric didn't even want a car, but his wife Mabel had insisted. He didn't like Mabel much either! He took it out for drives when Mabel wanted to go out, and noticed how many other red cars were out there. Each time he noticed another red car, he got cross. The more he got cross, the more he noticed the red cars, and the more he disliked Mabel. She really got on his nerves. "I can't stand this car and I can't stand Mabel", he thought, nearly bursting a blood vessel! Eric got a divorce and never sat behind the wheel of a car again!
Jim bought a red car. It wasn't his first choice, but his wife Sam really wanted it when she saw it. Jim would do anything for his beloved Sam. He went out for drives, knowing how much Sam enjoyed it. He noticed how many other red cars there were out there. Each time he saw a red car, he smiled inside because it made him think of Sam and how happy she was. "I'm really glad I bought this red car", thought Jim. Jim soon stopped noticing the other red cars, but never stopped smiling inside about how happy he was with Sam.
Alec bought a red car. It wasn't the exact model he wanted or even his colour of choice, but his new job meant he needed a car and this was the closest to what he'd been looking for. He went out for drives, and noticed how many cars there were of the model he had wanted. They weren't all red either - some were his favourite racing green colour. Alec felt frustrated he'd not been able to find one. "It's not fair!" thought Alec. "Why couldn't I find what I wanted!" Then he thought "Well, at least I can do the job and I do want that!" Alec found his job really satisfying and before long stopped noticing the other cars, and found he could live with this model and colour of car. It wasn't so bad after all. "What's more important - the type of car or my great new job?" thought Alec to himself. Alec knew the answer and soon got a promotion at work! He'd forgotten all about the car!
There is no mention of Percy, Bert, Eric, Jim or Alec having tinnitus, or if they did, how they might react to it. And there is no way of even guessing how each of them might. It would depend on how each of them interpreted what 'having tinnitus' meant to them.
I can imagine Eric being particularly grumpy about it, and maybe find it hard to cope - but he might surprise us and not be bothered by it at all!
At first thoughts, Jim mightn't be bothered in the least because he sounds such a happy chap in his life... but what if he worried that his beloved wife Sam was worrying about him? What if he started thinking that his near-perfect life was being ruined now by having tinnitus?
Then there's Alec. He seems a level-headed sort of man - he soon realised that his job was more important than the car and brushed off his initial concerns about the model of car. He could do the same thing if he started hearing tinnitus, and brush it off as something that wasn't significant to him. Or, he might start worrying that having tinnitus could impact his job and go down the route of imagining being out of work and all the dark scenarios that conjures up in his mind.
Bert who sold the red car and bought the blue one is pretty decisive by the sound of things... but did we spot a tendency of him feeling he'd been forced in to buying the red car, blaming what was really his own decision at the time anyway on being forced in to it somehow? It was easy for him to just get rid of the red car and replace it with the blue one that he liked. He'd not be able to "get rid" as easily if he "hated" tinnitus as much as he seemed to hate the red car. Again though, he could surprise us and take a completely different attitude towards having tinnitus. It would wholly depend on how he interpreted what having tinnitus meant to him.
And even Percy, bless him! Doesn't he sound lovely! So pleased with his new red car! He too mightn't be any too bothered by having tinnitus because he's just so very happy with his car and life in general. Then again - maybe he has a pal he knows well who's been struggling for a long time with tinnitus. He told Percy on many occasions that nothing can be done and there's no help for it 'because the doctor says so' and that was it! Percy has always worried about his pal, and felt guilty because he couldn't help his friend. What if Percy concluded that he'd be even less able to help his friend if it turned out the same for him... more "what ifs".
So, Percy, Bert, Eric, Jim and Alec each noticed other red cars when they bought their new one. This is very normal. Just as it is normal to notice tinnitus when it starts. The difference in each of the stories is about how they inwardly interpret the red, the car, and other similar cars and go on to synthesise their interpretations in to what they mean to them. When the meaning holds little if any significance to them, they soon stop noticing other red cars. They may notice them now and again, especially if they see something a bit different to the norm.
It's what happens in general when we have a new car - we tend to notice other similar cars on the road. Or maybe, we buy a new outfit only to start noticing other people wearing the same thing! Do we get rid of the new outfit or do we - similar to Percy's reaction over the cars - think other people's taste is as good as our own? And what else is going on in our life that we unwittingly bring in to be a part of our assumed interpretations?
It would be great if we were all Percy types in the car-scenario - do they even exist? Yet when Percy had something in his life that caused him worry, his thinking-mind went off in the direction of worrying he wouldn't be able to help his friend. In fact, he'd felt guilty long before he had tinnitus himself, but now the worry (and unwarranted guilt) was more inflated.
There is no way of predicting how any of us might react to anything - including tinnitus. We will only ever know the real answer being in a given situation - in the case of tinnitus, by having it!
To understand that having a red car means different things to different people creating different scenarios, different thinking, emotions, feelings and behaviours because of who we are and what is going on in our lives, helps explain the different attitudes we experience. Attitudes come from our own inner interpretations and we can change them just like we create them in the first place.
Debbie Featherstone MSc
Hearing Therapist & Psychotherapist
CBT for Tinnitus E-Programme