Label it. And be specific!

I once invited someone to dinner. I prepared the food and by 7pm everything was ready. By 7.30pm she hadn’t arrived, so I rang her.
  ‘Didn’t you get my email?’ she asked me. ‘I sent it this morning.’
  ‘I haven’t looked at my emails’, I told her.
  ‘If you had, you would have known I wasn’t coming tonight.’
  Through gritted teeth I said it was neglectful of her to assume I would look at my emails, and anyway, she should have rung me to give me as much notice as possible, to prevent me buying unnecessary food. The rest of the conversation was brief.
  After the call I felt inside me turmoil. So, I searched for the emotions I was feeling and labelled each one. I said to myself, ‘I feel annoyed. I feel betrayed. I feel belittled. I feel disappointed.’ And a few more. When I understood what I was feeling, I relaxed. I felt better.
  Why?
  Because it’s far easier to cope with a feeling when we know what it is.
  When we don’t know what’s happening inside us, it can be scary. But when we identify each individual emotion we recognise each one. They are all familiar to us. They are the same old friends we have felt in the past.
  So, the turmoil evaporates.
  Furthermore, by being specific we can reduce the intensity of the emotion, like when we realise we aren’t devastated, merely disappointed.
  We can also uncover emotions we didn’t realise we had. As well as feeling miffed, we might also realise we feel frustrated. Then we can begin to address that frustration.

But be specific. Don’t just say to yourself, ‘I’m feeling crap.’ The word ‘crap’ is a blob word. If you use a blob word you still won’t know precisely what you are feeling. Terms like ‘I feel okay’ and ‘I feel fine’ are blob terms too; they don’t convey enough information.
  Another blob word is ‘awesome’. There are so many richer, more accurate words to describe something that pleases you than that word, and the closer you get to describing that feeling accurately, the richer life becomes.
  Bad’ is another blob word. Someone who says they feel ‘bad’ might, for example, be feeling afraid, but not know it. So, they don’t address the fear.
  We might be feeling lonely, but if we simply say ‘I feel lousy’ we might not become aware of that loneliness, and so we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to address it. So, it hangs around.
  Avoid blob words. Be specific. If you are feeling angry, what word would you use to accurately describe that anger? Are you annoyed? Irritated? Peeved? Miffed? Vexed? Find the right word and use it.

In summary, get into the habit of labelling your emotions, and being specific. When you know precisely what you are feeling, life runs more smoothly.
  Plus, there is a bonus: when we make the effort to accurately state how we feel, people appreciate the honesty and tend to take us more seriously.

Q. ‘Sometimes people ask me how I am. They expect me to answer, ‘I’m fine, thanks.’ What answer should I give them if ‘fine’ is a blob word?’
In western culture that question is a standard greeting and a form of acknowledgement, so it’s alright to use ‘I’m fine’, or just nod. However, if the person knows you well, and is genuinely enquiring into your wellbeing, be honest and accurate.

Q. ‘Why would labelling an emotion reduce its intensity?’
(1) If you understand what emotion you are dealing with you will feel less turmoil. (If Bill is angry, but not aware of it, he will experience turmoil and won’t know why. But when he discovers he is experiencing anger, much of the frustration and fear will evaporate because he now knows what he is dealing with.
(2) Labelling an emotion can provide a similar outlet to swearing or other forms of expression.
(3) We may discover that our emotion is less extreme than we realised. We are not furious, merely peeved.

Rolf: ‘My cat died. I feel awful.’
Beatrice: ‘Be specific.’
Rolf: ‘Huh?’
Beatrice: ‘What are you feeling, exactly?’
Rolf: ‘Irritated, that you’re asking me this.’
Beatrice: ‘Good. What else? How do you feel about your cat dying?’
Rolf: ‘Awful. How do you think I feel?’
Beatrice: ‘Be specific.’
Rolf: ‘Wretched – sad – angry – miserable – flat – guilty . . .’
Beatrice: ‘Good stuff.’
 
Rolf says he feels awful, and he’s right. But he doesn’t know precisely what he is feeling, and that can be unsettling. And, did you notice that he said ‘guilty’? He may not have been aware of that guilt before. Now he can examine his guilt and ponder about why he feels it.
  Also, knowing that he feels those emotions and that they have been heard, will ease his discomfort.
  Rolf’s pain is still there, but he also knows he feels wretched, sad, angry, miserable, flat and guilty – and now he has a better chance of dealing with those feelings. He won’t have to suffer the ‘noise in his head’ telling him there’s something wrong, yet not know what it is.
  Mind you, being specific can have its problems:
Rolf: ‘I’m feeling discombobulated.’
Beatrice: ‘Huh?’

Ways to be specific:
(1) Search for the word that most accurately describes what you are feeling, as we have just discussed.

(2)  Don’t exaggerate or catastrophise.
Don’t use the word ‘ecstatic’ when you feel delighted.
Don’t say ‘I’m furious’ when you feel merely annoyed.
Don’t use the word ‘fantastic’ when you just feel pleased.
  When we exaggerate we make a caricature of what we are feeling. That won’t help us know ourselves.

‘. . . if you develop a habit of saying you “hate” things – you “hate” your hair; you “hate” your job; you “hate” having to do something – do you think this raises the intensity of your negative emotional states more than if you were to use a phrase like “I prefer something else”?’
(Anthony Robbins, Awaken the Giant Within)

(3) Ditch hackneyed disabling expressions like these:     ‘It’s all too much.’     ‘I’m freaking out.’
‘I can’t cope.’       ‘Life’s a bitch.’          ‘I am devastated.’      ‘What an absolute, total disaster.’
‘That’s typical.’   ‘That’s Murphy’s law!’         ‘I’m such an idiot.’
  Using these trite and whiny expressions prompt us to feel powerless, frustrated and discouraged.
Further, they make us look powerless, frustrated and discouraged! Try instead:
          ‘This is unpleasant.’  ‘I dislike this.’    ‘I’m disappointed.’
  These expressions will not magnify the drama like the other expressions do; instead, they will reduce the intensity of the unwanted emotion. Plus, you will see the situation in a healthier perspective.

(4) Avoid these two particular words of exaggeration: always and never
‘It always rains on my birthday.’               ‘You never do what I suggest.’
‘You always do that.’                                ‘We never go out.’
‘It always happens at the last moment.’    ‘I never have any luck.’
Avoid other exaggerations too, such as everyone and no one:
‘Everyone is corrupt.’         ‘No one cares.’

Exercise 1
Step 1. Think of a time when you felt angry.
Step 2. Do any of these words accurately describe that anger?
irritated       displeased    dismayed      peeved       exasperated    irked     irate      perturbed     annoyed        miffed        ruffled           If not, does another word come to mind?
Step 3.Did you feel other emotions as well? Hatred? fear? stress? frustration? resentment? humiliation? Do other feelings come to mind?

Exercise 2
Using a thesaurus, find the most accurate word to complete these sentences.
When the team I support wins, I feel …………………….   
When the team I support loses, I feel ……………………….
When the team I support draws, I feel …………………………..
When someone ignores me, I feel  …………………….
When someone cries, I feel ………………..
When someone praises me, I feel …………………
When someone talks about themselves all the time, I feel …………………
When someone gets mad at me, I feel …………………
When someone acts superior to me, I feel …………………
When someone is attracted to me, I feel …………………
When someone breaks a confidence, I feel …………………
When someone is late for an appointment, I feel …………………
When I am in a group of strangers, I feel …………………
When someone gives me the silent treatment, I feel …………………

(These sentences were compiled by Belinda Ballan, Sydney University)

Posted in Label it. And be specific! | Tagged | Leave a comment

Distinguish between your thoughts and feelings.

Years ago, when I was visiting my uncle Geoff at his farm in Korumburra, he casually asked, ’Mark, how do you feel about circus lions being kept in cages?’    
     I answered, ‘It’s cruel, it’s wrong, it shouldn’t be allowed’, to which he replied, ‘Wrong answer’.    
     While I was puzzling at this he asked me, ‘How do you feel about your footy team losing yesterday?’
     I told him we were unlucky; our key forward had a crook knee and we only lost by three points.
     Again he said, ‘Wrong answer.’
     Can you figure out why they were wrong answers?

He pointed out that he had asked me how I felt about circus lions being kept in cages, and I had given him my thoughts on the matter. Big difference. A correct answer might have included words like ‘concerned’, ‘appalled’, ‘irritated’, which describe feelings.
     How did I feel about my footy team losing? Disappointed. Deflated. Flat.
     Uncle Geoff explained that if we want our lives to run smoothly, we need to be in the habit of distinguishing between our thoughts and our feelings.
     ‘Why?’ I asked.
    
He said that some people try to be always rational, and lose touch with what they are feeling; others rely on their feelings and fail to think things through. Both tend to find themselves believing one thing but doing another, and living lives of mild confusion.

‘Your reason and your passion are the rudder and the sails of your seafaring soul. If either your sails or your rudder be broken, you can but toss and drift, or else be held at a standstill in mid-seas. For reason, ruling alone, is a force confining; and passion, unattended, is a flame that burns to its own destruction.’
Khalil Gibran in ‘The Prophet’

‘The trick’, Uncle Geoff continued, ‘is to think things through, yet be fully in touch with our emotions – and the best way to do that is to distinguish between our thoughts and emotions when we speak.’
  
‘We are taught many things in a lifetime, but rarely do we get a chance to learn about emotion and ways of relating to others. We make a great effort to develop the mind, but apparently we are supposed to deal with our emotions instinctively.’
Thomas Moore, from his book, Dark Nights of the Soul.

In short, a good way to be aware of our thoughts and our feelings is to distinguish between them when we speak. When you say: ‘I feel —’ describe a feeling. When you say, ‘I think —’ give your thoughts. And be specific.
  Over time you will become skilled at knowing precisely what you are thinking and what you are feeling, and adept at dealing with what is going on inside you. That will be a big plus towards becoming resilient, and happy.

Q. ‘Why is it bad to confuse our emotions?’
If you don’t know what you are feeling, how can you address it? You can’t. So, it keeps popping up, and niggling at you and misleading you. But if you know precisely what you are feeling you have a much better chance of dealing with it. Result? Less anxiety.

‘I feel we should look for another way.’ (Wrong)
‘I think we should look for another way. ’(Correct.)
‘I feel frustrated. I think we should look for another way.’ (Correct.)

‘I feel I’m unappreciated.’ (Wrong.)
‘I think I’m unappreciated, and feel hurt and disappointed as a result.’ (Correct.)

‘I feel you are not listening to me.’ (Wrong.)
‘I think you are not listening to me, and I feel irritated with that.’    (Correct.)

Jan: ‘I want to break up. How do you feel about that, Bill?’
Bill: ‘I don’t think we should break up.’ (Incorrect. That’s a thought. Before Bill expresses his thoughts on the matter he should address Jan’s question by telling her what he feels. Try again, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I don’t feel anything; I’m in shock.’ (Bill is not in shock. He’s exaggerating, and indicating that he isn’t aware of what is going on inside him. Try again, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I feel awful.’ (That’s a better answer, but Bill needs to be more specific. He needs to find words that describe precisely how he feels.)
Bill: ‘This is terrible.’ (Incorrect. He’s expressing his opinion again, rather than stating how he feels. Have another go, Bill.)
Bill: ‘I feel terrible.’  (That’s a bit better. He is describing a feeling, although he still not being specific.)
Bill: ‘I feel hurt. Frightened. Anxious.’  (Now Bill is getting the hang of it!)
Bill: ‘I feel nauseous.’ (Good. Bill is also recognising what his body is feeling.)
Bill: ‘I feel surprise, hurt, betrayal, anger, humiliation . . .’ (Good. It might sound like a shopping list, but by labelling his emotions Bill is becoming aware of them. He can now start to deal with them, and think things through.)
     When Bill got it right he: – expressed his feelings rather than his thoughts
          – used the word ‘feel’ to describe his feelings
          – allowed himself to feel vulnerable by expressing what he felt
          – labelled his emotion,
          – looked for other emotions he was feeling and labelled them too.
All in all, Bill did well. But Jan still dumped him!

Exercise
Practise distinguishing between thoughts and feelings by naming at least six thoughts you might think, and six emotions you might feel, in each of the following scenarios.

Example:
You find a rabbit with its leg caught in a rabbit trap.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
        I think —                                                I feel —
it’s in pain.                                             concern, anger, flustered, outrage, distressed
this shouldn’t happen.
who would set this trap?                                I feel in my body —
will the rabbit be alright?                      a knot in my stomach, tense, nauseous, goosebumps
how do I cook a rabbit?

Your turn now.
(1) You discover that your best friend has been stealing money.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
I think —                                                               I feel —

(2) A close relative gleefully tells you she is pregnant.
Six thoughts you might have:             Six feelings you might have:
 I think —                                            I feel —

Posted in Distinguish between your thoughts and feelings. | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

What presses your button?

Rolf was a road-rager. One time, when a car in front of him had stopped at the lights, Rolf got out of his car and rapped on the driver’s window, screaming. Fortunately for Rolf the incident did not lead to harm or an arrest.
  ‘Buttons’ are incidents in life that prompt us to react with unwarranted passion. Jan becomes tearful when given a particular insult; Roy feels overly hurt when ignored; Jenny feels outrage when someone refutes the existence of God; Ali feels overwhelmed with exasperation when he sees someone litter.
  We need to become aware of our buttons, for two reasons:
(1) It can help us moderate our behaviour. If Bill realises he gets narky every time Jill leaves the toilet seat up, he can say to himself, ‘Oh, this is one of my buttons. I’ll be careful to moderate my behaviour. I won’t chuck a wobbly about it. In a few minutes all will be forgotten.’
  He’s right. By recognising that button and moderating his behaviour accordingly, an argument has been averted and the violation is soon forgotten.

(2) Being aware of our buttons allows us to search for the deeper concerns behind them. That can make a big difference to how we feel overall.  When Rolf, our road-rage driver, explored the anger he felt when a driver cut him off, he realised he had felt the same way as a child: unimportant; dismissible. He had been well looked after as a child, but when he had tried to express an opinion his opinion didn’t matter. After all, he was ‘only a child’. As Rolf grew older he became sensitive to being ignored and feeling unimportant, and he developed strong ‘shoulds’ in his life: ‘Drivers should respect me. Drivers should think I matter. Drivers have no right to treat me badly.’ And so on. So, as a driver, Rolf’s immediate but subconscious assumption when a driver cut him off was to assume the driver considered him unimportant, and worthy of disrespect. All the emotions Rolf had felt as a child: frustration, exasperation, powerlessness, humiliation . . . rose within him and incited his fury.
  But Rolf came to realise he was making false assumptions about other drivers, and becoming unnecessarily upset. When he understood that those drivers were mere triggers for his own emotions, he focused on not taking it personally.
  He still became irritated when drivers cut him off, but he could cope with his irritation.
  By becoming aware of that button, and dealing with it, he had added to his ability to handle life. Had he had not bothered to identify his ‘button’ and examine it, he might still be road-raging today.

In short, become aware of your buttons. Knowing them will help you deal appropriately with situations when they arise, reduce the intensity of the emotion you are feeling, and it may even help you disable the false underlying beliefs creating those buttons in the first place.

Q. Another example, please?
‘I become irritated when Jim sings in the shower. That’s a button.’
‘I become grumpy when Kim suddenly ignores me when her phone rings. Button!’
  ‘What then? What do we do when we have identified a button?’
  What we do with our buttons is our choice. If we want to get mad, we can. But a better approach might be to ask ourselves, Why do I become upset when Jim sings in the shower? What emotions am I feeling? What beliefs do I have about life that are prodded by Jim’s singing? Why do I get upset about his singing when someone else wouldn’t?
  ‘Even if I do that, won’t I still be irritated when Jim sings in the shower?’
  At least you will know that Jim is not creating your distress; rather, you are. That’s a big step forward to solving your distress.
  ‘How? Why?’
  Because when you realise that you are the cause of your distress, you also realise you are the solution to it. Then you draw upon your resources and deal with the problem.

Posted in What presses your button? | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Don’t talk like a zombie.

I once asked an acquaintance – let’s call him ‘Oscar’ – how he felt about losing custody of his dog. He shrugged and replied, ‘These things happen.’
  I could have pointed out that he had given me an opinion, not a feeling. But I didn’t. Instead, I persisted. ‘Do you miss your dog?’ I asked, ‘Do you feel like you are a victim of injustice?’ He replied, ‘It doesn’t worry me. Mary can look after Bosley better than I can.’
  I knew it did worry him because he had tried hard to keep the dog.
  Talking with Oscar can be like talking to a zombie. It’s not just Oscar: many people lack the ability to express what they are feeling. They use expressions such as ‘I don’t know’ or ‘It doesn’t worry me’, or they provide an opinion instead of a feeling. However, when we regularly fail to articulate our emotions we can deaden ourselves.
  Yes, I understand that sometimes we don’t want to reveal what we are feeling, and we purposely evade the questioner. That’s fine. But some of us simply lack the skills to label what we are actually feeling. And end up talking like zombies.

‘The trouble is, we cannot selectively numb one emotion. We cannot say, here’s the bad stuff, here is shame, disappointment, fear – I don’t want to feel these. You can’t numb them without numbing other emotions, like joy, gratitude, happiness.’
Brené Brown in her TED talk, The Power of Vulnerability.

If we lack the ability to express our feelings we will have trouble fully connecting with others, and from making friends. Worse, if we do start to feel our emotions, we won’t know how to handle them. We might do something we’ll regret.

To ask someone what they are feeling and get the reply,‘Nothing’, suggests not that they have no emotions, but rather, they aren’t good at identifying them. Perhaps they think emotions are frivolous things and more trouble than they’re worth. Or, they might be concerned that if they were to feel emotions they may again experience the pain they used to feel. The trouble is, when we don’t allow ourselves to feel emotions, a big part of us doesn’t get to see the sun. It doesn’t get to blossom.

If you are asked how you feel about something, search for what you really are feeling, and say it. Don’t be a zombie. Don’t say something lame like, ‘I don’t care’ or ‘it doesn’t worry me’ or ‘no problem’.  You are only telling the person what you don’t feel instead of telling them what you do feel.
  If you don’t want to explain how you feel, fine. But make it a choice to refrain, don’t make it your default position. If you don’t want to reveal what you are feeling, try something like, ‘I’d rather not discuss how I feel’ or ‘I’d rather not talk about it.’ Be direct. And, to make sure you’re not being lazy, figure out for yourself what you are feeling.
  The more adept we are at recognising what we are feeling, the more adept we become in dealing with those emotions. Then our confidence in ourselves grows and we feel safer, not because we are protecting ourselves, but because we have lost the need to.

In short, the next time you are tempted to say ‘I don’t feel anything in particular’, or ‘I don’t care’, or ‘I feel nothing’, search yourself for an emotion. Any emotion. Even if it’s just an atom of an emotion. And say it.
  Dear reader, what are you feeling right now? No zombie answers, please. Instead, label what you are feeling, and be specific!

Posted in Don't talk like a zombie | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Charlotte and the Creatures of the Dark Forest

Once upon a time, young Charlotte was in a paddock warming herself in the sun and throwing pine cones at Farmer Brown’s beehives. Alongside the paddock was the spooky Dark Forest.
  Out from the Dark Forest strode Anger. Anger was a ferocious looking creature. It was white with rage, and its huge, warty head had big, sharp teeth like breadknives. It drooled venom as it stormed up to Charlotte. She trembled.
  Anger complained bitterly to her about something and demanded she act immediately. Charlotte told it, ‘Go way! I don’t want you here! Go away!’ But the creature stayed and continued to complain, and drip venom, until eventually it strode away, back into the Dark Forest.
  Charlotte felt dreadful.
  The next day, Charlotte returned to the paddock, and with a stick began setting off Farmer Brown’s rabbit traps. Out from the Dark Forest stepped Prejudice. The creature’s skin was mould, its head looked like a garbage tip, and its rotten teeth looked like black carrots. It insisted on speaking with Charlotte, and this time Charlotte just shrugged, knowing she didn’t have much choice in the matter. The creature rambled on and on with breath that smelled like fresh spew, until finally it wandered away back into the Dark Forest.
  Charlotte felt flat.
  On the third day, while Charlotte was in the paddock shooting bullets into Farmer Brown’s ‘No Shooting’ sign, Sadness emerged from the Dark Forest. Sadness was soggy from crying a thousand tears of lemon juice.
  This time, Charlotte decided to welcome the creature and listen to what it had to say. She even gave it a kind word and wiped a lemon-juice tear from its left eye. After a while, Sadness went quiet. It disappeared without her noticing.
  Charlotte felt okay.
  Then it dawned on her, that although Sadness was no fun to be with – a real drag, truth be known – it had come to assist her. It had come to tell her something was wrong in her life. Charlotte then realised Anger and Prejudice had also come to assist her. Anger had come to fight for her values, and Prejudice had come to address her fears.
  The next day, Anger visited again. This time, instead of trying to shoo the scary creature away, Charlotte welcomed it and listened to its complaints. She then worked out a way to solve its problem. Anger considered her advice and agreed with her solution. It wandered off with a mild grumble.
  Over time, other creatures emerged from the Dark Forest: Grief, Fear, Jealousy, Envy . . . and many others. Most of them visited more than once. All of them could see pain in her life and all had come to assist her. Although Charlotte didn’t want their assistance, she accepted them and dealt with their concerns. After a while she got to know them, and she came to understand their desires, foibles and fears. Although the creatures were hard to get on with, she became adept at dealing with them.
  Charlotte knew that none of the creatures was bad; each was just a troubled soul trying to deal with the world – her world – the best way it could.
  Over time, the creatures grew softer and wiser, until they rarely needed to leave the Dark Forest. And when they did, they didn’t stay long. They would have a quiet chat with Charlotte and return content.
  Charlotte lost her fear of the Dark Forest and ventured into it. She discovered new paths and extended her boundaries. When she met the dark creatures in there she felt safe with them. And she came to realise: they were her friends. They always had been.
  A few years later she met Farmer Brown’s son, Tom. She held his hand and introduced him to the creatures of the Dark Forest. They married and lived happily ever after.

Of course, I have been talking about the Dark Forest within each and every one of us. We can learn from Charlotte. We need to give ourselves permission to feel all our dark emotions.
  The dark emotions such as jealousy, envy, anger, hatred and greed are in our dark forest and they are meant to be there. When they venture out, let’s welcome them and deal with their concerns.
    We may not enjoy their visits, but those dark emotions require our attention. If we pretend they aren’t there they will just keep coming back, and keep nagging us. And, we won’t learn how to deal with them. They will remain ornery, and hard to handle.
   But when we accept them we become skilled in dealing with them. And, like Charlotte, we also come to realise: they are our friends. Always have been.
   When we learn how to deal with our dark emotions they also grow softer, and wiser. Anger, for example, has now become a friend I value highly. It is a wonderful emotion to have and I enjoy its visits. Others have disappeared into the Dark Forest never to be seen again. Hatred. Jealousy. Contempt. But if they ever return, I will welcome them and look for their concerns.

Dark emotions are in our forest and they are meant to be there. It’s what we do with them that counts. If we are hateful, so be it. Instead of pretending hatred is not there, or criticising ourselves because it is there, we can simply accept that it is there, and deal with it. We can look to see what’s behind it. Is it fear? If so, the fear of what?
  Let’s feel it, and observe it like a scientist would. And try to understand precisely what it is we hate, and why. Then we can give thought to our response. We can still act wisely; hatred doesn’t have to influence our behaviour.

When we observe an emotion without criticising it, we get to know it better and its hold on us weakens. After a while we might even stop feeling hateful, or jealous, or whatever, because we understand the fear behind the emotion.

So, let’s avoid criticising ourselves when we have an unwanted emotion. Let’s not say something like, ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this,’ or ‘I’m a bad person for feeling this way’. Let’s instead give that emotion permission to be with us. First identify it, then accept it, and then give thought to how we respond.
  That will build within us a confidence that we can deal with our dark emotions. That’s a big step towards developing the feeling that whatever happens in life, we can handle it.

‘. . . it is important to totally give yourself permission to feel. And then feel it. Strange things happen when we feel our feelings. They themselves morph into another feeling and often we have a feeling of relief for honouring our own feeling.’
Gay McKinley, psychologist

Q. ‘You mentioned jealousy.’
The same. Notice it and label it. ‘I’m feeling jealous.’ Then remind yourself it’s okay to feel jealous and it has your permission to be with you. ‘Hey, I feel jealous and that’s okay. I am allowed to feel jealous.’  Then look for the fear, or the ‘should’, behind the emotion. Figure out how you’re going to deal with it. In his book ‘The Happiness Trap’, Dr Harris suggests we say something like, ‘I don’t like this feeling, but I have room for it.’ And, ’This feeling is unpleasant, but I can accept it.’
   If you’re suffering, tell yourself: ‘I’m feeling this and it feels awful. But it can stay.’  Remind yourself that at some point your suffering will go away. Until then, it can hang around for as long as it likes.

‘For the most part, emotional pain has a cure – and that cure is time.’  . . .
  . . . ‘The pain you are experiencing will build, peak and then ebb. It has its own energy force and its own time schedule. You’re simply its passenger . . .
     ‘Be an observer of the process. Tell yourself, “I’m watching myself be in pain but not wasting time trying to fix it.”

Toby Green, psychologist.

Q. ‘If I am sad, why would I welcome Sadness? Won’t I become even sadder? What if I end up sinking into a sadness I can’t get out of?’
Yes, sadness hurts. All the dark emotions involve pain. Accepting them instead of distracting yourself from them, or pretending you don’t have them,  or using alcohol to hide from them, will make you feel uncomfortable, but the pain will dissipate. It’s like lancing a boil or having an injection: in the short term it hurts, but in the long-run, you will benefit. By acknowledging your pain, and allowing yourself to undergo it, you give yourself the opportunity to heal.
  “If I don’t . . .?’
Then it will keep nagging you, like the creatures that kept nagging Charlotte before she accepted their presence. And, you won’t learn how to deal with that emotion.

‘It won’t go away! And you will feel it in unexpected ways and at unexpected times – in all its glorious messiness. It takes time to heal, but feeling that pain is a crucial step towards healing.’
Gay McKinley again.

Q. ‘I notice Charlotte didn’t meet the positive emotions.’
Charlotte already felt comfortable with her friends Curiosity, Calm and Confidence, to name just three. Our warm emotions also enjoy the ear of a patient listener, but unlike the creatures of the Dark Forest, they don’t need it. We usually embrace them.
  ‘Usually?’
Not always. I once heard someone say that only when they gave themselves permission to be happy did their life change. So yes, we need to welcome all our emotions, dark and light.

Q. ‘What if I were a paedophile or pyromaniac? Should I welcome my desires and invite them to stay with me?’
Just because you welcome an emotion does not mean you have to act upon it. Instead of telling yourself you should not be attracted to children, or should not have the desire to start a fire, acknowledge that you are feeling that way, and explore it. Give yourself permission to feel those things. Tell yourself, ‘I feel compelled to start fires. So be it. I am attracted to children. So be it. Then ask yourself, ‘how can I best deal with these feelings?’
That’s an important question to ask, and you couldn’t ask it if you refused to acknowledge those feelings in the first place.
If you refuse to let yourself have those feelings, or berate yourself for having them, you could foster an inner turmoil that might mean you have less control over your behaviour when it matters. If you find yourself holding a box of matches in a forest and have not yet learned to handle those impulsive feelings, your resistance to the impulse might be low. The first step towards handling those feelings is to accept you have them. Once you do that, you can take steps towards dealing with those emotions, and your behaviour, in times when it matters.

‘Allow yourself to be unhappy. When we’re feeling bad, feeling in pain, all we want is to get away from it. Ignore it, pretend you’re fine, comfort yourself from the pain, shield yourself, lash out in defensiveness, numb it with drugs, distract yourself. This is a very human response. But actually, wanting to get away from the unhappiness doesn’t make it better. It usually just prolongs the pain, makes problems worse. Instead, tell yourself that it’s OK to feel unhappy, it’s OK to feel pain. Pause and allow yourself to feel it, to fully be immersed in that unhappiness. See that it’s OK, and be curious about it, explore it, become intimate with it. It’s not pleasant, but it doesn’t kill you. And in fact, it’s where the healing starts, where growth happens.’
Leo Babauta, Zen Habits

Let’s avoid expressions like: ‘I shouldn’t be envious of her. I’m shallow.’ Try instead: ‘I feel envious of her . That’s fine. Although I’d rather not feel this way, it’s what I am feeling. So be it.’
We might choose to add: ‘What do I fear that prompts me to feel that way? What is my deeper concern?’

Let’s avoid: ‘I shouldn’t get angry. I’m supposed to be serene and mature. Only losers get angry.’ Try instead: ‘I feel angry. So be it. What’s the best way to express this anger to make changes, and not make things worse?’  Or, ‘It’s okay for me to feel angry, but is it worth getting angry about?’

Let’s avoid: ‘I’m afraid, but I shouldn’t be. Other people are have gone through worse.’ Try instead: ‘I feel afraid. I’m allowed to be afraid. I will be afraid!’
We might choose to add: ‘What can I do to solve the problem?’

Let’s avoid: ‘I hate that person. I must be a bad person to be so hateful.’ Try instead: ‘I hate that person. That’s interesting. Why do I hate that person? Is fear prompting me to hate them? Or envy? The fear or envy of what?  If it’s neither fear nor envy, what is prompting me to hate that person?’

When we give ourselves permission to feel what we are feeling, we give ourselves an opportunity to grow.

Do it now. Officially give yourself permission to feel any emotion from now on.

(Say it out loud, and mean it.)    
     ‘I ,              , officially welcome any emotion that arises within me. That includes anger, fear, hatred, self-loathing, envy, doubt, jealousy, contempt, resentment, despair – any dark emotion that might arise within me.
     If I feel any dark emotion, so be it. It can stay for as long as it likes, and while it visits I will listen to it and aim to understand what it is telling me.
     I also give myself permission to feel joy, peace, serenity, humour, happiness – and any other warm emotion that might arise within me.
     All my emotions, dark and warm, will always be welcome.
     Furthermore, I will protect that emotion for as long as it chooses to stay.
     Officially, each and every one of my emotions has my unwavering permission to be. Period.’

It’s official! From now on you are obliged to notice what you are feeling and welcome it. On no account can you criticise yourself for feeling an unwanted emotion. When you feel an unwanted emotion, don’t say to yourself, ‘I shouldn’t be feeling this way’, or ‘Why am I upset over something so trivial?’ No, those statements are now banned. Instead, be like Charlotte and let the emotion be. Welcome it. Observe it. Label it. Listen to its message. Then, if you like, shrug.

          ‘Have the courage to be imperfect.’
          Brené Brown.

Exercise:
Change the following sentences to give yourself permission to feel.

Example: ‘I feel ashamed., but I shouldn’t feel that way. I did nothing wrong.’
Try: ‘I feel ashamed, and that’s okay. Whether I should feel it or not doesn’t matter; I feel shame and so be it.’
You then might ask: ‘What beliefs do I have prompt me to feel this way?’

Your turn:
(1) ’I can’t stop crying. I’m hopeless.’
(2) ‘I can’t stand working with him. I shouldn’t be like that. I should be more patient, more tolerant.’
(3) ‘I feel hurt, but that’s my problem. If I get upset over something trivial like that, it serves me right.’

Posted in Charlotte and the Creatures of the Dark Forest | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Ignore the dills in the peanut gallery.

In the 1800s theatre audiences were noisy. If the entertainment was deemed poor the patrons would express their displeasure by heckling, or by throwing peanuts at the actors. The biggest nuisances were the less sophisticated patrons sitting in the cheap seats in the upper balcony. That section became known as the peanut gallery.
     Today, someone who needs to refrain from presenting ‘unsophisticated’ (stupid) advice might be told, ‘No comments are required from the peanut gallery, thank you!’

People like to give advice, but often the advice is from patrons sitting in the peanut gallery, and it’s not worth much.

‘That’s my advice, but I wouldn’t take it.’
Dyon Balding, nephew.

One of our unceasing jobs in life is to distinguish between the good advice we receive, and the bad. However, we should avoid taking advice about our emotions. A friend sitting in the peanut gallery might tell us: ‘Gosh, you must be livid!’ Or,‘I bet you’re devastated.’
     It’s not our companion’s job to decide what we are feeling, it’s our job. If someone says to you, ‘Oh, you must be feeling angry about that!’ stop and think. Work out what you are feeling and tell them. ‘No, I feel dismayed, and apprehensive.’
     If the person is correct and you are feeling angry, find the right word for that anger. Are you vexed? Miffed? Annoyed? Use the word you provide, not theirs. You can even add accompanying emotions:I’m frustrated too.’
     That way, we get a far clearer picture of what is going on inside us.

As well as telling us what we are feeling, the people sitting in the peanut gallery might also tell us what we should be feeling. Again, don’t allow it. If a well-meaning soul tells you:
‘Come on, it’s not that bad!’    tell them you can decide for yourself how bad it is!
‘This shouldn’t be hurting you so much.’   The fact is, it does hurt. Say so.     
‘You’re making a mountain out of a molehill.’   That’s for you to decide, not them.
‘It’s not like it is a real problem.’    Let the person know that minimising what you feel won’t help, and you don’t need comments from the peanut gallery.

The more accurate our understanding is of what we are feeling, the easier it is to deal with that feeling and the more grounded we will feel. But if we listen to our friends in the peanut gallery it becomes harder to get that accurate understanding.
  Besides, when you decide what you are feeling, and no one else, you become the authority on you. Which is how it should be.

The same goes for us.
Let’s avoid telling someone what feelings they might having, such as:
‘You should be grateful that —’
‘Don’t cry.’
‘I bet you’re feeling really —’
‘You shouldn’t feel that way.’
‘You have to be pleased with that!’

If you’re a parent reading this, assist children to find the right word without telling them what they’re feeling by asking them:
‘Is it possible that you feel frustrated because the dog keeps bowling you over?’
‘Do you feel irritated because you can’t find any Easter eggs?’
The children can decide for themselves whether or not the words apply.

In short, let’s not let ourselves be told what we are feeling. Let’s ignore the peanut gallery and work it out for ourselves.

 

Posted in Ignore the dills in the peanut gallery | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Adventures of Sir Thrustalot.

‘. . . there is a tendency among some men to convert any and all emotional experiences into anger. Feeling anxious, jealous, sad, embarrassed, or ashamed, these men tend to display nothing but anger. You see the justification of this emotional funnel system again and again on television and at the movies. A man’s wife or friend is hurt or killed, but masculine men are not supposed to experience vulnerable emotions like sadness and grief – the natural reactions to psychological losses. Instead, they can only experience anger, and they do not react by merely feeling, they must also react by doing, which usually translates into hunting down and hurting or killing the perpetrator, thus doubling the amount of violence that takes place.’    
Christopher Kilmartin.

Here is an old Scottish fable I made up.
  One day, centuries ago, in the days of knights and damsels, Sir Thrustalot slew two black knights and a dragon before Happy Hour. To celebrate, he and his friends enjoyed a feed of haggis at the local Scottish inn. It was from there they spied through the window a vagabond stealing a saddle from a horse. Sir Thrustalot hoisted his trusty sword into the air and cried, ‘I shall send to purgatory that wretch WITH MY SWORD!’
  He ran outside and skewered the poor thief.
  While dragging the body off the road, Sir Thrustalot’s companions suggested that perhaps death was a penalty too harsh for such a crime. As they re-entered the inn debating the matter they discovered two men walloping each other. Sir Lancelot bellowed, ‘I shall break up this fight WITH MY SWORD!’
  He promptly ran his sword through the chest of the man nearest to him, killing him instantly.    
  ‘Why did you do that?!’ cried the man’s shocked opponent. ‘Why did you kill my brother?!’
  Sir Thrustalot’s companions were also appalled. They heatedly remonstrated with Sir Thrustalot, who patiently pointed out that he had successfully broken up the fight.
  Before the matter was resolved, our hero spied through the window a comely woman walking by. He shoved the protestors aside crying ‘Oh what a fair, sweet damsel! I shall impress her WITH MY SWORD!’    
  He strode out of the inn swinging his sword in an artful way. For extra oomph he sliced a sleeping cat into two neat halves. Sprayed with cat’s blood, the damsel shrieked and ran away.
  I can’t tell you what happened next because I haven’t made it up yet, but you get the idea.
  On the battlefield Sir Thrustalot had found himself to be an excellent swordsman, and his skills had saved his life many times. He had come to believe that his sword could solve all problems. He even shaved with his sword. (There, I made that up too.)

I used to work at the counter for the Department of Housing, in Sydney. Our hardworking staff were there to find emergency accommodation (a hotel room or boarding house) for people who had nowhere to sleep. One day, a young couple jumped the queue and screamed to be assisted. That puzzled me. After all, we were there to assist them. Later, I expressed my bewilderment to a co-worker, and he explained to me: ‘These people have learned that if they yell loudly enough, people will help them. Today they are frightened they will have nowhere to sleep, and they believe that if they ask nicely they will be ignored. They are yelling because they think it will get results.’
  I pointed out that their method was counter-productive and would hinder their efforts, and our efforts, to find them accommodation.
  ‘Nevertheless,’ said my co-worker, ‘yelling is the only way they know to get what they want.’
  In the same way Sir Thrustalot dealt with different situations with the one method, this young couple habitually solved their problems with the one method. It had worked for them in the past so they persisted with it. They chose to not find more appropriate ways to meet their needs. Which is probably why they were in living in a car.

Someone at Speakers’ Corner once asked me for a favour and I refused politely. (It was a favour not in keeping with my values.) He persisted in asking me. He tried to deceive me. He tried to bully me. I admonished him bluntly and he became angry. For a while I couldn’t understand why he was so upset. After all, I had done other favours for him, and I had declined his request respectfully and with every right to do so. He continued to express his anger with me, week after week. Why didn’t that anger dissipate?
  Then it dawned on me: he was feeling other emotions. Hurt, perhaps? Shame? Disappointment? Frustration? Something else? Whatever it was, he was converting it into one emotion: anger. Anger was his default emotion.
  And, by converting everything into that one default emotion, he couldn’t deal with the emotions he was actually feeling. That’s why he continued to be angry, week after week after week. He was ignoring all his other emotions, and if you are not aware of an emotion, it will lead you astray..
    
Anger isn’t the only default emotion a person can have. Someone might experience their isolation as anxiety, their anger as anxiety, resentment as anxiety, confusion as anxiety . . . Result: an anxious person. Some people convert disappointment to despair, fear to despair, powerlessness to despair . . . The result?
  You guessed it.

In short, if you tend to convert your emotions to one habitual emotion, be aware of it. Discover what it is. Then get into the habit of looking beyond that default emotion and searching yourself for what you really are feeling. Then, instead of being led by those emotions, you can begin to deal with them in a constructive, appropriate manner.
  Your life will change for the better.

Do you have a default emotion?
Step 1. Ask yourself: ‘Do I often get angry? Do I often feel despair? Get lonely often? Do I feel some other emotion, often?’

     (If you do, it is not necessarily a default emotion.)
     If necessary, ask a perceptive friend if you seem to have the same emotion often. Or monitor yourself for a few days, using a logbook.
     Label your emotions regularly and you will find your default emotion (if you have one).

Step 2.Make a list of the times when you felt that emotion. For example, if in Step 1 you answered ‘I feel despair often’ make a list of past incidents prompting that emotion:
      I felt despair when I – failed the test.
  – was mocked by the children.
  – was ignored by my friend.
  – lost money.
  – found my job painful.
  – was rejected.

Step 3. For each instance, search for other emotions you may have felt. List every emotion that comes to mind, including the enjoyable emotions. Repetition is fine. For example: When I failed the test I also felt disappointment, fear, humiliation, insecurity, relief.
  When I was being mocked by the children I also felt powerlessness, humiliation, etc.
  When I felt ignored I felt . . .  (And so on.)

Step 4. The next time you feel your default emotion, remind yourself that you are probably experiencing other emotions as well. Search for them. Label them. Get to know yourself.

‘. . . there is a tendency among some men to convert any and all emotional experiences into anger. Feeling anxious, jealous, sad, embarrassed, or ashamed, these men tend to display nothing but anger. You see the justification of this emotional funnel system again and again on television and at the movies. A man’s wife or friend is hurt or killed, but masculine men are not supposed to experience vulnerable emotions like sadness and grief – the natural reactions to psychological losses. Instead, they can only experience anger, and they do not react by merely feeling, they must also react by doing, which usually translates into hunting down and hurting or killing the perpetrator, thus doubling the amount of violence that takes place.’    
Christopher Kilmartin.

Posted in The Adventures of Sir Thrustalot. | Tagged | Leave a comment