Sometimes we feel unsettled, or grumpy, or anxious, and don’t know why. Even after we have labelled the emotion we don’t know why we are feeling that way. That’s when we need to look a little deeper. We need to uncover the hidden concerns behind the emotion.
Occasionally I toss and turn in bed, unable to get to sleep. I make a list in my head of each and every one of my concerns: my dog’s health, the vet bill, the kilos I’d like to shed, the odd jobs to be done . . .
Those little concerns are clamouring for my attention, and after I have noted each and every one of them I fall asleep.
It works for me, anyway.
It’s an example of a person ‘going a little deeper’ and asking, ‘What precisely is unsettling me?’
‘Mark, aren’t we already aware of our concerns?’
When I go to bed unsettled I am not consciously aware of the particular concerns hounding me. Only by observing them, by making that list, do I realise that on some level my dog’s health is in my thoughts, as are the bills and other things.
How often have you snapped at someone for something trivial? Or felt uneasy driving, until you finally realised you left the stove on?
I raised my voice at the dog this morning. It was 11.30am and I had done nothing important. My dog requires intermittent attention from me while I am working, and I usually give it to her. But this morning, when she wanted something from me yet again, I flared up and sent her away.
I thought about why I flared. I looked a little deeper. I realised I had been worrying about being unproductive. All morning, thoughts about being unproductive had been clamouring to be heard and I hadn’t listened to them. But the anxiety that resulted from the thought was there, prompting me to flare up.
When I became aware of my concerns about being unproductive I felt a little better. The concerns clamouring for my attention had finally been heard. I relaxed, and gave the dog the attention she needed.
When we listen to our deeper concerns we can relax a little, and there is a good chance the original unwanted emotion will fade away. (Not always. When we are a hundred kilometres from home and figure out that we have left the stove on, we won’t feel better.)
Mind you, we can go even deeper. I could ask myself, ‘Why do I feel anxious about being unproductive? What do I fear?’ My answer might be ‘My self worth depends on me accomplishing the task I have set myself, and when I procrastinate, the further I am from earning my self worth.’
If that answer is correct I could go even deeper.
You get the idea. The important thing is to get used to discovering the thoughts behind a perpexing emotion.
Ancient Greek aphorism.
Q. ‘Tell me again. When we feel unsettled, why is it important to list our concerns?’
Once we observe our concerns and listen to them they might stop nagging us and fade away. Or, once we know what is concerning us, we can address it.
In short, when we are grumpy for no particular reason, or feeling stressed for no particular reason, or feeling any emotion for no particular reason, let’s figure out the reason by looking for the concerns behind those emotions. If, for example, we are feeling annoyed with someone, we can determine precisely the real irritant, and deal with it.
‘When you are feeling negative towards your mate, it’s not a great time to tell him/her. It’s time to pick up the mirror instead of the magnifying glass and get to the truth of why you are upset. By being truthful to yourself, you can get to the heart – and hurt – of the matter. And you can proceed to talk to your mate in a much more loving and responsible voice.’
Susan Jeffers, in her book, Embracing Uncertainty.
Reveal those deeper concerns:
Step 1. When you feel unsettled and can identify the feeling, label it.
‘I feel resentful.’
‘I am grumpy today.’
‘I’m worrying about something.’
‘I feel angry.’
‘I feel intense and earnest.’
Step 2. Search for the concerns behind the emotion, and label them.
‘I feel resentful. What is behind that resentment? What’s on my mind, asking to be heard?’
Your answer might be: ‘Ah, I envy her!’
Can you go a little deeper?
‘Why do I envy her? What do I fear that prompts me to envy her?’
’I am grumpy today. What am I concerned about? What thought is asking me to listen?’
Your answer might be: ‘Ah! I’m angry with Kevin and I’m afraid to tell him so.’
‘I can’t get to sleep. I’m worrying about something. What would it be?’
Your answer might be: ‘Ah! I’m worried about my test result.’
(Even better, identify your other concerns as well.)
’Why did I get angry after Paula criticised me? Do I tend to get upset when I am criticised?
Your answer might be: ‘Yes, I have that tendency. What does it say about me? Do I feel insecure when criticised? Do I crave approval? If so, why?’
You might decide that answer is incorrect. Try again:
‘Ah! I’m frightened of being seen as stupid, because I might be rejected. Being rejected would lead to me feeling abandoned and isolated.’
Can you go even deeper?
‘Why do I fear being isolated? ’
‘Why am I so intense, so earnest? Why do I fight so hard to win an argument? Why do I need to be right? What is the thought, or fear, that drives me to prove that I’m right?’
Your answer might be: ‘Ah, in life I feel unimportant, and I am trying to avoid feeling that way.’
’I feel irritated with my partner for no real reason. What are my deeper concerns? What is the real source of my annoyance?’
Your answer might be: ‘Ah, I resent her because she is more popular than me.’
If that rings true, go a little deeper. Why would it matter if she is more popular than you?
‘I feel unimportant and I’m frightened of being left behind and feeling isolated.’
The deeper we search, the better we understand ourselves, and the more likely we are to become more compassionate of ourselves and of others. Further, we become more accepting of our flaws, and of Life’s vagaries, and as a result, become more resilient.
‘That’s it? That’s a key to core happiness?’
Yep. That’s it. Identify your deeper concerns when you feel unsettled. It’s about awareness.
Keep going deeper. ‘Why do I feel unproductive?’ ‘Why do I feel isolated?’ If you can ask those deeper questions, and answer them, you will benefit even more.
Do it now. List in your mind all the minor and major concerns you have right now. Every one of them.