Here are some paragraphs from this book:
“When the bottom falls out and we can’t find anything to grasp, it hurts a lot. It’s like the Naropa Institute motto, ‘Love of the truth puts you on the spot.” We might have some romantic view of what that means, but when we are nailed with the truth, we suffer. We look in the bathroom mirror, and there we are with our pimples, our aging face, or lack of kindness, our aggression and all that timidity– all that stuff.
This is where the tenderness comes in. When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very honorable and tender place, and tenderness could go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch and I met throbbing quality. There is definitely something tender and throbbing about that groundlessness.
Things falling apart as a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: Room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Going into the bookstore has always been a positive experience for me. I am always filled with wonder at the millions of things I feel I could learn when I visit a big bookstore. I get the sense that I could just pick up a book, read it, and acquire a new skill, craft, or some time of knowledge that wasn’t there previously.
A few years ago, though, I wanted to write my own book. I was working on The Emotional Extremist’s Guide to Handling Cartoon Elephants. I would go into a bookstore and I would have the sensation that there were so many delightful, treasurable, and competing ideas and books that it almost felt as if I would just become one more competing voice. That my contribution wouldn’t make a difference. That all the ideas were taken. That people had accomplished so much more than I would ever be able to accomplish. The experience of going into the bookstore, as exciting as it was, had the potential to tap into my anxiety and prompt me to stop writing my book.
Sometimes “good” stressors open up in our life. What we really want is at our fingertips. Feeling good, contributing our own ideas, finding our voice, speaking up, influencing the world, and getting out of a place of feeling trapped, helpless, or stuck becomes an option. It’s there in front of us. We have the choice to be powerful and make a difference.
Sometimes these options cause us to shy away, shut down, stop believing in ourselves, not think we are good enough, or feel as if we are undeserving. These types of beliefs get in our way of taking action, having a better life, and surrounding ourselves with things we really want.
Here is a question for you: What is the cost of sitting back, becoming inactive, or avoiding what you want the most? How might your life be different if you approached -and got- what you want?
Ultimately, I was able to finish my cartoon elephant book. My confidence may still vary when I am around lots of beautiful books, smart people, or fabulous contributors to society. But I know that by not giving up on my goals, people have enjoyed my cartoon elephants, given me positive feedback about my book, and have found the cartoon elephant book to be a fabulous resource in addressing their own painful emotions.
Try softening your stance, gently relax your face, and allow your muscles to become loose and less tight. Put a hand over your heart with an intention of lovingkindness, and try repeating the following statements with a tone of voice that conveys self-compassion:
May I bear this pain with kindness to myself
May I safely endure this pain
May I accept the circumstances of my life
May I find peace in my heart
May I let go of what I can not control
May I remember that others are also suffering
Here is a cartoon elephant that may not look like a cartoon elephant.
Sort of like an emotion in disguise.
Emotions in disguise are emotions that may not be clearly recognizable.
The best ways to figure out if you have an emotion in disguise include:
1) Being curious or gentle with that which you do not understand
2) Find compassion for ambiguity
3) Gently notice the sensations or discomfort
4) Find space for the undefined pink
5) Breath into, with, and through the pink
6) Allow for the pink to exist in all it’s pinky pinkness
Sometimes your pink will become a cartoon elephant with edges and tusks and lines, and it will help you understand yourself and your situation better.
For more on how cartoon elephants help us solve emotional problems, visit www.cartoonelephantbook.com and buy the book.
Often people with self-hatred, shame or self-criticism get “caught up” in a thought process that includes a fair amount of self-attacking. This thought process can include arguments with oneself, reasons a person should not be the way he/ she is, or a rationale for how he/she “should” be feeling. Sometimes this thought process is associated with muscle tension, headaches, the suppression of emotion, the inhibition of interactions, or the shutting down of expression and experience.
People sometimes think that by punishing themselves in a self-hating dialogue is an effect way to change thoughts, feelings, or reality. Almost as if they are somehow being “deserving” of “bad” things someone sets things right. The difficulty is, it typically is not an effective strategy for changing thoughts or feelings! It might temporarily suppress feelings, shut down hurt or sadness, make one feel more empowered or less vulnerable, or even distract from other problems. But the bottom line here is this: Does actually work to reduce suffering? Does it get rid of emotions in the long term?
Being mindful, or starting to observe this process, is really the first step towards making some changes in this process. Being able to notice the thought, step back, practice using a gentle tone of voice, and practice saying “I am noticing the thought that…” is one way to start to just notice thoughts, rather than try to change them.
Next, assess your willingness to “shift gears.” Often people who are stuck in a ruminative process somehow believe that if they keep ruminating, something will change. That’s not to say you have the power to immediately “stop” ruminating, it just starts to get you thinking about an alternative.
If you feel miserable, want to stop hating yourself, and invest a lot of unproductive energy into engaging in self-hating thoughts, the option of doing something different just might be appealing. Once you decide to try something different, you can try softening your facial expression and relaxing your shoulders. Consider being curious about the physical sensations in your body that accompany the thought. What uncomfortable sensations might you be pushing aside in order to invest in the thought? Practice accepting physical discomfort and think about how you might approach or move towards it instead of away from it. If you could be curious about your pain and your emotion, you might be able to work with it a little bit differently. Remember to stay non-judgmental.
Finally, try out the phrase, “May I be at peace.” Try stating this phrase quietly and softly to yourself. Make sure you keep your face and shoulders relaxed, and practice acceptance. Try doing these steps several times throughout particularly difficult days, knowing that practicing new behaviors (and getting “good” at them so they are more automatic) takes effort and rehearsal.
How did this class help you? Here is the feedback from four parents who took the Spring 2015 class:
“To try and react better..To try and anticipate my daughter’s behavior triggers..try to find out what is causing the extremes and deal those triggers… By accepting emotions and where they are coming from; not to deny my emotions but they are there for a reason. To validate how I feel as well as my daughter. To be calmer. “- Parent 1
“To better understand my emotions, and that they have a purpose…To explore that purpose. Better able to identify escalation in my daughter. I’ve learned to buy time, to put some time in between responding to my daughter and others. What was most helpful was the overall impact of the course which has left me better equipped and more curious about DBT.” -Parent 2
“It made me more willing to bit my tongue, take a deep breath, and not focus on ‘fixing things’. Acceptance was important, both dealing with my own emotions and allowing for acceptance of my child’s emotions. Using mindfulness techniques to tone down my level of arousal was also important. Understanding that emotions might be valid but ineffective in some circumstances. I thought the (video content shown in class) outlined some very pragmatic examples and techniques.” -Parent 3
“To be more present with my emotion. To validate how I feel as well as my daughter. To be calmer, to think things through. Being able to listen to others’ experiences. Each class was built on each other. Have learned many skills to be more effective with my daughter.” -Parent 4
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Depression often occurs when something that has been rewarding, reinforcing, consistent, or available gets taken away. We get depressed when relationships end, when we lose people we care about, and the things that we were taking for granted are suddenly no longer available. Depression is the lack of something. Depression is often associated with loss, change, or a disconnection with the reinforcing aspects of our life.
People are often depressed when they don’t have enough connections, experiences, interactions, or things in their life that naturally bring about joy, peace, or a sense of well-being. Depression can often be associated with lack of activity, becoming withdrawn, and staying in bed. People sometimes get depressed when they don’t have enough to do, or when they are overwhelmed with multiple demands.
Teens can often be depressed because they do not get enough things in their life throughout the day that give them a sense of well-being or joy. Being able to take mental breaks, have activities that they look forward to doing, and have enough “down” or “me” time is critical in mitigating depressive symptoms. Taking a plethora of classes that one really dislikes, being behind in homework, and having non-stop activities scheduled until bedtime can sometimes be enough to get a teenager depressed. Social losses, such as a recent break up, an exclusion from a friend group, or navigating the unfamiliarity and changes of a demanding schedule can negatively impact mood. Try to keep in mind that depression has to do with what is lacking. If your teen is comfortable in social situations, feels as if he or she has choices in making his or her schedule, is not expected to work nonstop outside of school, feels a sense of contribution/ effectiveness/ mastery in some area of his or her life, and engages in activities he/she looks forward to, then he/she will be less likely to be depressed.
What could be more reinforcing for your teen? Try to think of reinforcement as something rewarding, enjoyable, energizing, or even peaceful. Don’t limit your thinking to only adding things, as the demands of having too many things can in and of itself be a problem. Balance is key. Consider how these simple things might really matter: Sleeping in, taking a long hot shower, watching a favorite TV show, hanging out, or interacting with a parent in way that feels appreciative or warm. Consider that finding happiness is not the key to treating depression; rather it is creating a life that is rich, full, balanced, and meaningful.
In addition to time management, scheduling, and navigating opportunities that are reinforcing, a parent might also want to consider key biological factors that really matter when it comes to managing mood. Consider your teenager’s sleep schedule. Is he or she getting enough sleep? Sometimes teens think they can overcome their biological limitations by staying up extremely late and thinking it doesn’t impact mood. Sleep should be a priority, because a lack of sleep often precipitates a big blowup, a heated argument, or other behavioral issues that are clearly difficult for parents. Is he or she getting adequate nutrition, eating at regular intervals, and relying on something besides caffeine, carbohydrates, and sugar for energy? French fries and Coca-Cola will not be adequate. Skipping breakfast or lunch doesn’t help either. Sometimes we like to attribute mood problems to conflict at home, problems with stress, or the demands of homework. However, taking some simple steps to increase pleasant experiences, take enough “breaks”, and manage biological factors can go a long way in treating adolescent depression.
When did you last eat? Irritability because you are hungry is common, but many people underestimate how important it is in managing emotion. Irregular eating habits, using caffeine/ sugar/ carbs to fill oneself up, and overeating when overly hungry can have a big impact on mood management.
Are you going through biological changes? Medication changes, alcohol use, dehydration, sickness, pain, smoking habits, caffeine dependency, and menstrual cycles all affect how we feel. Taking care of your biological wellbeing will help you take care of your psychological well-being. If possible, consider saving that “difficult conversation” for later- and not when you are at your biological worst.
How is your sleep hygiene? Get to bed at a reasonable hour, use the bedroom only for sleeping, and generate calming routines before bed. Don’t overestimate how irritability is more likely to s how up when you stay up extremely late or sleep all day.
Is the weather getting to you? Extreme temperatures can make people irritable. Get out of the cold or the heat. Make use of bright lights, warm temperatures, and potential social gatherings when it gets dark early.
When is the last time you did something you liked, enjoyed, or looked forward to? Doing things you enjoy will put you in touch with positive feelings, even if they are temporary. Do more of what you love, especially if you are in the middle of a crisis. Making time to do so is critical.
When is the last time you worked hard to accomplish something difficult? Building mastery and surviving challenges gives us a sense of accomplishment that can happen despite painful life circumstances.
When is the last time you had a tricky relationship situation and you feel proud of how you handled it? Remember that approaching situations with some element of acceptance can enable us to be more flexible; creating more options for the other party and making them feel less trapped.