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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: February 2013

Monday, February 25, 2013

Less is More Sometimes (More or less anyway)

Often when we are struggling with relationships, with career issues, mood issues, we start to think that more would be better.   And sometimes it is.  We can sometimes have more.  And in fact in therapy having more is often a goal or a theme to explore.  But more of what is really the question.  Because we can't always have more of everything.  Some things, if we have more of them,  create more problems, more issues, more pain, more conflict.  Other things, though, we can have more of.  And these are most often the things that we should really be striving for.  Like more serenity, more inner peace, more humility, more satisfaction with our sense of self, our relationships, our jobs, our environment.
A friend of mine recently told me that her 12 step sponsor told her that her life seems to sometimes be a combination of Peter Pan and Eeyore.  Part "I don't want to grow up" and part "Poor me."  I asked her if she was offended by this observation.  And surprisingly she said not.  She told me that she thought her sponsor had a point.  That she has often approached life this way, wishing that she did not have to take care of herself, do her part in her relationships, consider other people's needs, points of view and  foibles.  And that she often does lapse into self pity, thinking that everyone else has it better, comparing her insides to other people's outsides (often with a lot of help from Facebook). 

We talked a lot about how those parts of her are not the only facts, not the only parts of her.  She is also funny and kind, generous and a great listener.  She is quite a good photographer and talented graphic artist.  Sometimes we and others can tend to focus only our (and other's) pathologies and not also account for the rest of our parts. 

Still, my friend felt helped by her sponsor's honesty and candid comments.  She felt that by accepting all the parts of her self, she could begin in real earnestness to have more.  Not necessarily more spouses, or lovers or hobbies, jobs or money- though we do sometimes need to assess whether a change in relationship or job or living environment may be the way to go-   but more peace, more insight, more joy, more attention to her spirit, and more ease and more relief.   And because less is more sometimes: less self pity, less self attack, less reliance on others for too many of her emotional needs.

And somehow we got to thinking that it's first things first sometimes.  It may be better to have a better internal life first rather than attempting to change our boss, spouse, kids.  When we have more inside, it's much easier to figure out if, when  and how we need to have more outside.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

A friend of mine had a root canal last week.  She was in a good bit of pain, but the procedure went smoothly and now she is feeling much better.  We got to talking though, about how much she wished emotional pain could be like a tooth ache.  We could feel it hurting and then get numb and have the source of the pain pulled out by the roots.  Emotional surgery. And then afterwards, we get to feel much better pretty much right away. 

The ache becoming a distant memory.

But it doesn't seem to work that way with feelings.  At least not all the time, and not the heavy ones. And after we talked it up a bit, we thought maybe we would be short changing ourselves anyway if it were possible to just dig out the hurt and move on.  We would miss out on all the information the pain gives us about what we need, what's important to us and what it means to be mindful in our own hearts and minds and bodies.  And all the info we get about our ability to survive and thrive and grow.

I'm not saying we should stay in the pain all the time, certainly we need relief, but since we can't do a root canal on our emotions, we can give ourselves a chance to get to the heart of the matter.  It  is not always possible to know exactly what we are feeling, what hurts, when we are in a painful moment, or a crisis.  Sometimes we have to take a step back, pull apart the different pieces, examine them and figure out what feelings make up the bad feelings.  From there we can see what our part in things is, how to move forward, how to deal well and in ways that leave us feeling resilient and steady, instead of off kilter and frustrated.

I used to be able to use the image of a typewriter, but it only works if you remember using one and what would happen if you pressed down on all the keys together.  So if you do, it's this: They would jam, and then in order to start working again, you'd have to pull each key back one at a time.  So this is how I think of emotional pain sometimes, like a jam.  And we have take the time to pull each key, each feeling out and take a look, and then we can get to the heart of the matter and get moving again.