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Hope Forward: Surviving and Thriving through Emotional Pain: May 2015

Monday, May 4, 2015

Monster Bash

I know there is a great and worthy debate about the various ways to deal with anxiety and treat anxiety disorders - from mindfulness to prayer, spiritual fitness to embracing the rage,  from CBT to ACT, from unpacking unconscious repetitions, analyzing the sources and then, some gentle but worthy combination of all of the above.  So many good ways to work with our human mind and heart.

Do we feel our feelings and use them guideposts? Do we push them away? When do we act on them and when do we sit still and wait?

So here's another combo, in some way of all of the above.  And by no means do I think this is easy or fast, but I do think it's useful.  It plugs into the possibilities and ways that we help ourselves live life and feel life and more forward:  Telling the monster to sit down and be quiet.  Here's what I mean:

For most folks who have some kind of recurring anxiety or continuous anxiety, whether it seems to be situational or external (a kid acting out, job stress, money issues, relationship issues), or whether it seems to be more internal (having the idea that worry keeps us safe, or that if we don't worry we will get blindsided, or that we have to worry over it to figure it out, being overly concerned about what people think of us), there are usually recurring underlying story lines.

There is a strong case to made for analyzing the story lines.  Studying the different fears and the different thoughts underneath the different feelings.  And almost always, it's the quiet chaser thoughts that are ruling the day and have us by the throat.  It's not that we think "I am so overwhelmed."  It's that underneath that we think "I cannot handle the overwhelm.  I cannot stand it.  I'm doomed no matter what."  And it's not that we think "I screwed this up." It's the quiet whisper of  "I am terrible. I am worthless. I am worse than everyone else. I am not okay.  I am not safe.  I cannot have what I need and I never will.   Things will never get better or be okay."

And it's not that we ask ourselves "How will this ever get better?" It's how we ask it, and with what tone: curiosity or animosity?  And  that we hear underneath "It will never get better.  I am a bad mother/father/spouse/person. It is terrible to make mistakes.  Forget it, you're hopeless. You're awful.  Things are awful and you will lose everything.  You cannot stand this."

There are themes, though, that we can identify.  And after we get to know our themes, and after we've done our inner research and we have answered those deep whispers, in addition to continuing to answer them, we can also see them as one of my young clients does:  as monsters.  Funny looking, over sized grouchy monsters.  And we can feel them coming.  We know the feelings they bring.  We know the theme thoughts they bring.

And we can tell them to go sit in the gallery.  Go sit down because we know what you have to say, and we know what feelings you bring and we know that going along with you only is a repeat of the same old same old and never takes me anywhere but down.  So go sit down in the bleachers with the other monsters and be quiet."

Here are examples of "monsters":

Triggers: Hard day at work, disagreement with spouse, lots of housework to do, kid getting in trouble, unexpected expense, someone saying something mean  , difficult conversation with a parent. (add your own recurring themed ones!)
Feeling lead: Dread, panic, frustration, doom, shame, guilt, resentment
Thoughts (see above)

So sometimes we need more exploration and answering the quieter thoughts and feelings, and sometimes if we see the same triggers over and over again, and we've been through all the real and deeper answers to the deepest whispers, its time to say to the monster, "Yes, I see you.  I feel you coming on again.  Here you are again.  Now, sit down and be quiet, I've got a day to live."

It's not magic, but if we practice it, repeat it and move on, we often see that new feelings and thoughts and ideas present themselves and life opens up in ways that are so much better than being led around by the same ole' same ole monsters.

photo credit:  | Dreamstime Stock Photos