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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: May 2009

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ducking Shoes ~The Rule of Three: Impulsivity, Waiting and Not Acting on Feelings

You know the old adage..."If I had a dime for every time I......" fill in the blank...and in this case..."for every time I acted impulsively and wish I had not..." or " that I did not stop to think things through."

It is rarely a good idea to act on a feeling. And yet, we do it all the time. In both large and small ways. Some more destructive than others. We are angry, we yell. Or leave. We are stressed, we overeat, or drink or fill in the blank. We feel hurt, we insult whoever hurt us, or we ignore them. When we get flooded with an emotion, we often act before we really can pause to consider what may be in our best interest, or in the best interest of the relationship.

What are we after we when we do this? A few things maybe. Understanding, revenge, relief, release, connection, attention, assurance, validation. To begin with.

If we stop to reflect or discuss things with a third party, a good ear, and to study what we do and when, and why, we often learn a lot about what goes on in the relationships we have. Sometimes, when I suggest this, I am met with the fear that I am implying that whatever is going on is our own fault. That's true, in some ways, but really, it's not a matter of fault, but a matter of effect. When we are naturally caught up in a torrent of emotions, we are not usually in the frame of mind to consider the effect our words and actions might have on the situation, or relationship, past the relief of the moment. And sometimes, certain people bring it out the reactor in us, for a variety of reasons. This too is worthy of study.

There are times when we do have to act or react right away. We have to call for help if there is a fire, or accident. We have duck if someone hurls something at us. (For some reason, I am thinking of former President Bush and the shoe incident). I suppose its because we sometimes have to duck words as well. Verbal shoes. And we have to gather up our cool to not react in the moment.

Of course we did not learn our reactions in a vacuum. We have life stories, histories, both psychic and environmental, familial, and cultural. These histories have shaped us, and often we repeat what we have learned. We do this consciously sometimes, but more often, its unconscious. In therapy speak its called repetition compulsion. Doing what we do is a complication of learned behavior and survival, of coping and dealing and taking care of ourselves. But when we don't have the success we might like in our careers, relationships, and the feelings we want in our lives, day to day, and overall, its time to take a good look at how we operate and why. This can take a while, but I think its worth it. We can get a lot of mileage out of unpacking the past, and seeing how it affects the present and future.

In the meantime, there's always the rule of three. Before making a big decisions, or little ones for that matter, and before yelling back, or throwing a verbal knife, before taking any action, that is based on a feeling, teach yourself to wait three. Three minutes. Three hours. Three days. Take three. The more urgent it feels, the more we need the rule of three. Unless its really a fire.

Not an emotional fire. A real fire. All other things, usually, are better off tended to with care and whatever calm we can muster.

Of course there are those of us who really like a good fight. S'okay. More on that one day soon. And I am all for passion, and plenty of it, in the right time. But its good to know where we walk, and what the point, or purpose of it is. Breathe, pause, pray. Talk, walk, write, slow it down. No doubt we need relief from our urgent feelings, but at what cost? I think it pays to wait, when we can. However we can, and go gently.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Sad, The Upside of Down vs. Emotional Suffering

I am already feeling sad writing this post. Truth is, I have been thinking about it for some time now, trying to figure out to what extent I agree with defending sadness. And wondering as always about the slippery slope from sadness to depression....where is the line? When does it get crossed. Is sadness really painful? Does it count as emotional pain? How much emotional suffering can one bear? And how?

In the medical arena, society subscribes to doing whatever is clinically possible to control physical suffering. Though religions differ in philosophy, especially with end of life and terminal illness issues, extreme comfort measures are usually the standard course.

But what of mental illness? And what of extreme sadness? What of emotional pain that brings thoughts of death? Some would say that emotional pain rivals physical pain, is worse, even. Betrayal, abandonment, neglect, trauma, shame, fear, anger. Powerful stuff. Life altering stuff.

We don't hesitate, usually, to medicate physical pain. And of course, we medicate emotional pain in many ways. The nuances are many. What is a mood disorder? What is biological, hormonal, genetic? Organic? The debate is particularly intense when it comes to emotional pain that manifests into physical pain. And vise verse.

We are relief seeking. Most of the time. Even the folks I work with who take razors to their own skin, or drive with their eyes closed, or vomit, starve, burn their bodies with hot match tips. They are seeking relief from pain by out-paining it with another. That's only a piece of the puzzle of course, but it fits.
But what about sadness? What about extreme sadness? How do we know when we are just deeply, humanly, unchangeably, peacefully, even, profoundly, sad. When is the feeling something we have to learn to live with. Live around. Endure. Enjoy even. In a life embracing sort of way. Some think this is the way to go, to defend sadness. To employ it even. To help us be in our own skin, to recognize the deeper more poignant, spiritual side of life. To get in touch with Gd, with ourselves, with a higher wisdom, a higher faith. To hang on to the idea that if we let sadness wash over us, it will not wash us out, but fortify us, fill us, and help us to experience our ourselves in whole new ways. And it will pass. It will not always linger and darken into depression.

For some sadness is welcome, connective and appropriate. Its not something to treat, but rather something to tend to. To feel, to talk about, to give permission to. Out of it comes all the things that its defenders suggest, contrast, meaning, connection to others, to G-d, to our own sense of self.

So how much is enough sad? How much is enough grief? When should we hope, pray, talk, walk out of the feeling, and when should we just give it grace to live on until it dissipates at its own initiation. When do we put it in the attic of our mind for another day, and when do we move about with it wrapped around us like a blanket?

The answer is: it depends. We are influenced by so many things. Our thoughts, of course. Hormones, chemistry, sunlight. Our past, our belief systems, our religion, spirituality, environment.

It never ceases to amaze me how much words can effect moods and feelings. Someone's unasked for advice, or analysis. Someone's criticism or abruptness. How words can be the seeds of resentment or self pity. Or fear. And sadness.

In my office, where all feelings are invited, all words welcome, all ideas and thoughts allowed to step out of the psyche and into the room, sadness often hedges. But sadness is often one the greatest gifts. Not only because it can be sign of life, but because we don't have to rush to cure it, and we don't have to subscribe to the notion that we can have only one feeling at a time.

We can be sad and be relieved, hopeful, interested, happy, even, about other events, people, parts of our lives. We can be grateful even. And we can both sit with the sadness, and use it. I think that when we impulsively, or compulsively, rush to eliminate it, we are missing out. Of course, when it begins to cloud everything, for too long (and how long is too long?), then we may have to take a look at why. But to go slow with sadness, not to fear it. To allow ourselves to feel it freely, to know why we are sad, and then perhaps to see if there is something to be done or not, that's better I think, than ducking it.