Key 8. To become resilient, allow yourself to cry.

When I was a little boy I was in the back yard crying (for a forgotten reason) and my grandfather rushed up to tell me I mustn’t cry. It was a message he gave me often. Countless men and women have received a similar message: ‘Don’t cry; it shows weakness.’

There is a good chance you have received that advice.

Some parents tell their children to not cry because they want to them to be able to bluff the bullies, and show strength instead of weakness. That’s understandable. However, they’re confusing resilience with stoicism.

Stoicism is enduring something without showing pain or complaining. A child who refuses to cry is being stoic.

Resilience is the ability to recover from something. A child who cries but bounces back afterwards, as strong as ever, is resilient.

That’s what we want: resilience.

When a child is allowed to express their suffering by crying, with the safety and support of those around them, they come to realise that they can experience the suffering without being obliterated by it. By ‘coming out the other side’ they learn (at a subconscious level of course) that they can handle a situation.  They feel resilient. And, because they realise the suffering passes, they tend to in future suffer less. The fear behind it, the turmoil, has gone. And because they tend to suffer less, they also become stoic.

When we cry it’s as though we dissemble, and when we assemble again we are a little more solid than we were before.

For any parents reading this, do you have children?

If your children are taught to inhibit their tears they might lose the chance to discover they can handle feeling awful. As a result, they might lose the chance to develop resilience. They may become stoic, but not resilient. That means, if they do experience anguish as adults they may be able to hide their distress, but may not know how to handle it.

Furthermore, if they become proficient in pushing down their emotions, after a while they won’t be aware of those emotions. Then how can they address them? So, their emotions could toss them about, and lead them to behave poorly.

Let’s allow children to cry. We can nurture them and use tricks to cheer them up, but let’s not encourage them to stop crying.

When we cheer them up they learn ways to cheer themselves up. That leads to resilience. But if we don’t allow them to cry in the first place, they don’t get to learn those skills. All they learn is how to hide their pain. And they don’t learn how to deal with it.

We can ask a crying child:
‘Do you feel frightened because the dog is barking? Is that possible?’  
‘Do you feel sad because you are missing your sister? Is that possible?’

‘Do you feel angry because you believe we should give you the lolly? Is that possible?’
That way, the child learns to search for the emotion being experienced, and how to label it.


What about you?

If you feel like crying, and you’re on your own or with supportive people, do so. Don’t hold back. Allowing ourselves to cry is one way to deal with what we are feeling. It’s a release, and it’s a way to remind ourselves that we will get through this, that we are resilient. Reminding ourselves that we are resilient is a good way to add to our resilience.

If you can’t allow yourself to cry, at least make the choice to cry. Give yourself permission to cry. That’s a start.

If you cannot give yourself permission to cry, at least give yourself permission to suffer. Even that can provide relief.

‘It can be a great release to cry. If you stay quietly present, your tears will run their course. Do not fear. They never go on forever. Tears wash the soul. They cleanse the heart. Unshed tears can hurt.’  
Susan Halpern.

‘Sometimes the most empowering thing you can do is get real, get ugly, express your emotions and bawl your eyes out.’

Caroline Southwell.



Q. ‘Why don’t adults cry often?’

Either because they have become experts in bottling distressing emotions, or because they have learned to handle their emotions effectively.
Some adults do cry easily. I know a woman who cries freely when she watches a movie or reads a book. She allows herself to fully feel. In life she is emotionally healthy, happy and resilient.

Q. ‘An adult I know cries regularly and isn’t resilient.’
You probably also know people who cry regularly but are resilient. Some people cry regularly because they are not coping; others cry regularly because they have good reason to cry, or because they like to fully experience the book or film they’re engaged with.
In some tribes in Papua New Guinea men cry freely, yet there is no suggestion they aren’t resilient.

Examples of resilience.
1.  From: ‘National Geographic’ magazine, May 2011:  Khalilullah is a char dweller, one of the hundreds of thousands of people who inhabit the constantly changing island, or chars, on the floodplains of Bangladesh’s three major rivers . . .  These islands, many covering less than a square mile, appear and vanish constantly, rising and falling with the tide, the season, the phase of the moon, the rainfall, and the flow of rivers upstream. Char dwellers will set out by boat to visit friends on another char, only to find that it’s completely disappeared. Later they will hear through the grapevine that their friends moved to a new char that had popped up a few miles downstream, built their house in a day, and planted a garden by nightfall. Making a life on the chars – growing crops, building a home, raising a family – is like winning an Olympic medal in adaptation. Char dwellers may be the most resilient people on Earth.

There are tricks to living on a char, Khalilullah says. He builds his house in sections that can be dismantled, moved, and reassembled in a matter of a few hours. He always builds on a raised platform of earth at least six feet high. He keeps the family suitcases stacked neatly next to the bed in case they’re needed on short notice. 

 . . .   His real secret, he says, is not to think too much. “We’re all under pressure, but there’s really no point to worry. This is our only option, to move from place to place to place. We farm this land for as long as we can, and then the river washes it away. No matter how much we worry, the ending is always the same.”

2. Howard Lutnick was well known in financial circles to be a tough and uncompromising business man, and was widely disliked because of it, yet when almost three quarters of his staff died in the September 11 attacks he wept openly and publicly on national television.  Those tears did not indicate a weak or broken man, because Howard immediately continued to make business decisions which were believed to be hard-hearted (at the time). Those decisions saved his business, which now thrives, and he ensured that the victims’ families were fairly compensated.

 

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Key 9. Don’t ‘fake it until you make it’.

When a horse pins its ears back it’s displaying anger, so some horse trainers tape the horse’s ears forward to create a ‘feedback loop’, to trick the horse into calming itself.

Some happiness experts have the same idea. They say, ‘fake it until you make it’. The idea is that if we act happy, after a while we will become happy. If we keep smiling, for example, we will trick the brain into becoming happy.

Bad idea.

If it works for the horse it is because the horse is feeling one particular short-term emotion: annoyance (or something like it).

That ‘fake it until you make it’ strategy can work on our short term emotions too. For example, if we are in a scary situation like a job interview, or we are meeting someone special, or competing in a contest, then it can be a good idea to fake confidence. We can change our body language, vocal tone and manner, and feel more confident.

But when it’s a long term strategy, no. Don’t aim to create a permanent facade.

Core happiness is not a short term emotion, it’s our long-term day-to-day default emotion. It’s what we feel when nothing in particular is happening. It’s the lubricant to the life. If we have low core happiness – if we are feeling miserable in day-to-day life – something is wrong, and masking that misery by acting happy won’t work in the long-term. It can even cause problems: if we pretend to feel happy when feeling miserable we can end up feeling resentful and shortchanged. Worse, we can lose touch with the misery we really are feeling. How then can we deal with it?

We need to label the glumness and search for the reasons why we are feeling it. Trying to act happy will hinder that process.

Even with our short-term emotions I suggest that we don’t ‘fake it until we make it’. I can understand that there are times when it might be advantageous to pretend to be confident, but if we pretend to be cool when we feel jealous, or pretend to be calm when we are angry, we won’t get to express those emotions in a healthy, constructive manner. For example, how can we deal with our anger effectively if we pretend it’s not there?

And, how do we get to truly know ourselves if we are lying to ourselves?

In short, if we do choose the ‘fake it until we make it’ strategy let’s use it sparingly. Let’s first consciously acknowledge what we really are feeling, accept it, and then consciously adopt the pretence for the short time we need it.



Q. ‘In her book, Embracing Uncertainty, Susan Jeffers talks about pretending to be ‘the laughing Buddha’. That’s when we ‘radiate a happy, loving energy no matter what is happening.. It worked for her husband: his relationships with his co-workers improved. What’s wrong with that?’

When he ‘radiated happy, loving energy’ he was being nice to people. He wasn’t pretending to be happy himself.
‘But he was faking it. He was ‘faking’ loving energy for his co-workers, and found himself feeling it for real.’

There’s a difference between behaving affectionately towards others and manufacturing an emotion to mask what we ourselves are feeling. Hey, I might be wrong. If it works, go for it. But I’d rather be myself than pretend to be a laughing Buddha. Besides, ’radiating loving energy’ sounds like hard work.

Q. ‘I was told that if I didn’t think I could do something, I could pretend that I could, and attempt it anyway.’

Sounds like a good idea. In that instance you are faking a belief, or a thought, not an emotion.

Pretending doesn’t seem to help this person: ‘I’m polite and friendly and smile and laugh and while I’m doing it I’m thinking about how much I hate you.

 And by “you” I mean “everyone”. . . . . deep down, without irony or humour or melodrama or sarcasm, I’m filled with hate and just want the world to burn itself to a soulless cinder.’
An anonymous person on the ‘True Confessions‘ site.

 

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Key 10. 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.

It’s an expression today. When someone needs to refrain from presenting ‘unsophisticated’ (stupid) advice, they might be told, ‘No comments are required from the peanut gallery, thank you!’

Some people giving advice are sitting in the peanut gallery. Their advice is 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 which emotions we are feeling. A well-meaning 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 actually are feeling and tell them. ‘No, I feel dismayed, and apprehensive.’  (Good, that’s being specific.)

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, “I can decide for myself 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 are feeling won’t help, and you don’t need comments from the peanut gallery.



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 reject advice on what we are feeling; let’s ignore the peanut gallery and work it out for ourselves. 

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Key 11. What’s your default emotion?

Here is an old Scottish fable I just made up:

One day, 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 aside the protestors 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 describe what happened next because I haven’t made that bit 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.) But using a sword to solve all his problems created even more problems for him. For each different problem he needed to use a different method.

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; they only had to wait in line. Later, I expressed my bewilderment to a co-worker. 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 their one method. It had worked for them on occasions 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 and bully me. 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 dealt with all situations using the one method: anger. No doubt he was feeling other emotions: hurt, perhaps? Shame? Disappointment? Frustration? Whatever it was, he was converting what he felt into one emotion: anger, because that was his way of getting results. That’s the emotion he created within himself to get things done. As a result, anger had become 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 after week. He was ignoring all his other emotions, and if you are not aware of an emotion, it will lead you.

‘. . . 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.

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.

The key: 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. And then, instead of being led by those emotions you can begin to deal with them in a constructive, appropriate manner.

Your life will change considerably for the better.

Do you have a default emotion?


Step 1. Ask yourself: ‘Do I often get angry? Do I often feel despair? Do I get lonely often? Feel unworthy often? Do I often withdraw from people? Or feel some other emotion, often?’

An example: despair might be the default emotion for someone feeling lonely, flat or guilty.
If necessary, ask a perceptive friend. Or monitor yourself for a few days, using a logbook.
The first key in this book suggests we label our emotions. 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 example 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 — (And so on.)

Step 4. If you find the same word popping up, notice it. For example, you might find yourself often feeling shame, or embarrassment.

It is beyond the scope of this book to go further, but if you are now aware that you regularly feel one particular emotion in varying situations, you have taken a stride in the right direction.

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.

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Key 12. Find the hidden concerns.

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.

Another example.

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.

‘Know thyself.’ 

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.

 ‘That’s all?’

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.




An exercise.
Do it now. List in your mind all the minor and major concerns you have right now. Every one of them.

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Key 13. What presses your button?

Rolf would become incensed when a driver would cut in front of him. One time, when a driver had stopped at the lights, Rolf got out of his car and rapped on the other driver’s window, yelling. Fortunately for Rolf the incident did not lead to harm or an arrest.

Most of us have ‘buttons’ – incidents in life that prompt us to react with unwarranted passion. Jan becomes tearful when given a particular insult; Roy feels deeply hurt when ignored; Jenny feels outrage when someone refutes the existence of God; and Ali feels overwhelmed with exasperation when he sees someone litter.

We all need to become aware of our buttons, for two reasons:

1. Being aware of our buttons can help us moderate our behaviour.

Being asked for my star sign is a button of mine. In past years, if I were on a date and were asked for my star sign, I would become passionate in my criticism of astrology. My intention was to ‘wake her up’ but my earnestness would sour the date.

When I finally figured out that astrology was one of my ‘buttons’, and that it was disabling me, I moderated my behaviour. Nowadays I simply grimace inwardly and adeptly change the subject. I still become incredulous when a woman asks for my star sign, but my awareness of that button allows me to behave appropriately.



2. Being aware of our buttons also allows us to search for the deeper concerns behind them. That can make a big difference to how we feel and respond.

When Rolf, our road-rage driver, explored what 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 he had not been taken seriously and had felt irrelevant. 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 developed strong subconscious ‘shoulds’ in his life. ‘Drivers should respect me. Drivers should not think I don’t 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 was not taking him seriously and considered him unimportant. All the emotions Rolf felt as a child: frustration, exasperation, powerlessness, humiliation . . . rose within him and incited his fury.

When Rolf understood he was making false assumptions about other drivers, and becoming unnecessarily upset, he realised those drivers were mere triggers for his own emotions. He then focused on himself.

Rolf still became irritated when drivers cut him off, but the intensity of his feelings had diminished considerably. By becoming aware of that button, and dealing with it, he had added to his resilience.

If Rolf had not bothered to identify his ‘button’ and examine it, he might still be road-raging today.



In short, we need to know our buttons. Knowing them can help us deal appropriately with situations when they arise, and allow us to focus on addressing our distress instead of feeling a victim to the outside world.

‘Oh, this is where I have a hissy fit. This is one of my buttons. Alright, I can choose how to behave. I’ll just put up with their behaviour.’ 


(Don’t criticise yourself for having buttons. This is not an exercise in blame; it’s an exercise in observation.)

‘Every time I find the toilet seat up I feel a flash of irritation. Oh, that’s a button.’

‘I become irritated when Bill sings to himself. That’s a button.’

 ‘I become grumpy when Kim suddenly ignores me when her phone rings. Button!
’ 
 ‘I become tense when I drive to Vicki’s house. Ah. That’s a button.’



What we do with our buttons is our choice. If we want to get mad, we can. But we might choose instead to ask ourselves, Why do I become upset when Bill sings? What emotions am I feeling? What beliefs do I have about life that are prodded by Bill’s singing? Why do I get upset about his singing when someone else wouldn’t?

Once we are aware of our buttons we can search for the deeper concerns behind them. That will further diminish their influence upon us as well as the intensity of what we feel.

We might continue to be irritated when Bill sings to himself, but at least we will know that it is not Bill creating our distress. Rather, we are creating our own distress with our beliefs about Bill’s singing. We know it’s not the outside world after all. That’s a big step forward to solving our distress.



Q. ‘Mark, what are your triggers?’

Oh dear.
1. Being asked for my star sign.
2. Like many people, I become distressed when I witness or read about acts of cruelty and neglect. Ugh. I even feel bad when I see a dog unnecessarily on a lead, or hear one in a backyard barking, bored out of its brain. Don’t get me started.
3. Being fussed over. A girlfriend and I were to drive for less than a kilometre. In a daring burst of adventure I chose to recklessly not put on my seatbelt for that short distance. She refused to start the car until I put my seatbelt on. At that moment I began planning to break up with her. My over-the-top reaction indicates a button: I feel ‘smothered’ when I am fussed over. 
 By being aware of that button I can ensure my response is civil and helpful in future.
4. If I think someone has not listened to my side of a disagreement I become loud and earnest (if I’m not careful). Even today, in certain situations, I succumb, and my companion can hear the frustration and tension within me. I don’t know why that’s the case, but I do know it’s a button, so when I notice my rising fury I remind myself that I’m succumbing to that button again. I place the argument aside and focus solely on calming myself down.

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Our enjoyable emotions.

Gosh! All this talk about our dark emotions; you’d think it was all doom and gloom! Let’s mention a few of the ones that make life enjoyable.



joy (euphoria, elation, ecstasy)  I have leapt out of my chair, yelled, and punched the air when my football team has hit the front with only seconds of the match to go. What joy!
(There might be ‘better’ reasons for feeling joy – like the birth of a child, or getting a coveted job – but hey, I’ll take joy wherever I can get it. You might as well, too.)

relief is a discombobulating emotion occurring when joy replaces fear. At the conclusion of the 1989 AFL Grand Final a supporter can be seen (on the replay) crying with relief. It is an awkward emotion to feel, but it’s always welcome!

gratitude  Sometimes we are expected to feel grateful, but may not actually feel it. We might out of politeness go through the motions of expressing it, and that can taint the emotion and even give it a bad name. However, when we do feel the real thing, when we feel a big slab of appreciation to someone and are bursting to express it – it’s a cleansing emotion to feel. And it sends to our subconscious a big reminder that we are connected.

amusement  To chuckle at a pet’s antics, a child’s naivety, a workmate’s quip, and if we can, at the daily absurdities of Life itself, is like pressing the reset button when life is drab. It’s a great little heart-starter.



enjoyment  To enjoy a book, a movie, a television episode, watching pets play, a magic show . . . what pleasure!



wonder (as well as awe, curiosity, interest, admiration and intrigue) These emotions can temporarily free ourselves of our own ego. How refreshing!

contentment  To have it is to fear no lack, and no harm. It’s the opposite of anxiety.

excitement A charge of adrenalin really makes us feel.

Feelings that don’t have a name  As our parents drove my sister and I towards the ocean on a hot summer’s day we would keenly look ahead for our first glimpse of the sea. As I write these words I can feel the emotion I felt when that line of sea blue came into view. That emotion doesn’t have a name. Yet, what a gorgeous emotion to feel!
I bet you have memories which include feelings that don’t have a name.

Let’s remember to recognise and saviour these emotions when they come along.

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