10 Reasons why you need The Emotional Extremist’s Guide to Handling Cartoon Elephants book this holiday season
1. The Cartoon Elephant book, after being temporarily unavailable through Amazon, is now back on the market. The retail price is $26.95, but sometimes Amazon will let it go for a bit less.
2. Cartoon Elephants approach painful emotions with humor. If there is an elephant in the room in your family, this book is the starting point for approaching avoided conversations. You will recognize yourself and others in this book. There is no finger pointing or blaming.
3. Cartoon Elephants is something you can put on your coffee table. Because it is a graphic book with pictures and fun fonts, it is an easy read. The elephants will fit nicely next to big picture books about Africa and Asia.
4. The Cartoon Elephant book is being used to teach people in Dialectical Behavior Therapy skills groups about emotions. Loaded with psycho-educational material and teaching points, it cleverly accomplishes the task of making people think they are reading something fun yet giving them something valuable.
5. This book is not hard to read. There is no “plugging away” at chapters. If you want to bring something to someone’s attention in a way that is universally applicable, this book will do the trick. You don’t need to have painful emotions to appreciate elephants- you just need to have emotions.
6. If you are going to buy someone a self-help book for Christmas, this is safe bet.
Whether they believe it or not, everyone has cartoon elephants. The research proving this to be true is cited in the back of the book.
7. This book can be used and re-used, read and re-read. You can share it with family members, friends, or long lost relatives. It won’t go out of style. Emotions, as a rule, will be with you as long as you live.
8. You will get some food for thought about how and where you see yourself in relationship to your elephants. This is great for discussion groups, weekend retreats, and writing workshops.
9. This book is great for people of all ages. If you’re trying to get your kid to read something important, heavy, and deep, you can give them this book. It won’t take long to read and it is much more fun with illustrations.
10. The book will be the perfect introduction for my live series on emotions starting January 20, 2014. Of course you don’t need the book to sign up, but if you have the book you will have a better appreciation for cartoon elephants in general.
Click here to learn more about the online course and SIGN UP BEFORE DECEMBER 10 to get the course discount.
Two different concepts that often come up for handling emotions might at first appear contradictory:
1) In order to handle emotions effectively, a person has to be able to step back and notice what they feel (observe).
2) In order to survive strong emotions, a person needs to fully experience the nuances and physiological discomfort that arises when emotion is present (enter into the experience).
Can you see how both of these concepts make sense?
Being able to step back and observe emotions is effective because it increases options and awareness for how to respond to emotional material. Without the ability to “stand by”, a person might immediately act on their emotion. When a person always acts on their emotions, he/ she might regret it later. For instance, if you become really angry at someone you care about, you might lash out. The ability to “step back” and observe what you are feeling can help you organize a thoughtful response in which you maintain integrity, speak clearly, and feel better about yourself later. Sometimes refraining from taking immediate action is very effective.
On the other had, a willingness to experience strong emotions when they arise is a critical element to being human and being alive. Emotions give us very important information that we can’t always ignore. When we experience emotions fully, we are in touch with what matters. When we suppress, hide, ignore, or push away strong feelings they may become worse or “blow up” on us down the road.
In some ways, a person can both experience and observe emotion. A willingness to get in touch with what hurts and to hold off on any immediate reactions can increases options for the best response.
1) Remember what matters. Consider the connections you have and what your current relationships mean to you. Do something today to honor those relationships, even it if is just expressing appreciation or liking.
2) Look for meaning in the current situation; including spirituality, faith, understanding, vulnerability, and connection. Sometimes our own painful situations get us to take our guard down, soften our stance, and risk letting others in.
3) Keep in mind the “bigger picture.” How do you think you will be looking at this situation in ten years? Sometimes focusing on our current pain prevents us from seeing reality in perspective.
4) Sometimes, when we are in pain, we look around us and see how other people don’t have to go what we go through. Instead, consider what you have right now that someone else would want (A job, an able body, health, a place to live, a relationship, a child, a parent, someone to love you, a garden outside your window).
5) Consider rehearsing, imagining, or writing out a scenario in which you cope adaptively. The key is that you don’t avoid reality and that you respond in such a way that you maintain your self-respect.
6) If you can’t solve a big problem right now, solve smaller problems. Sometimes taking care of smaller problems gives us a sense that we are doing something as opposed to being passive or helpless.
7) Give your mind a “break” by planning adaptive distractions that have nothing to do with your current life stressors. Sometimes perseverating on a painful situation makes us think that we are actually doing something to solve it.
8) Take care of your health. Remember that physical activity can help you “shift gears” by releasing endorphins and changing your physiological arousal. Don’t forget to eat. When you eat, pause and actually taste the food.
9) The only way to get through a situation is to survive the moment. Instead of denying, avoiding, or escaping the moment, breathe into it. This moment too shall pass.
10) Consider how you typically respond to a crisis. Do you do anything to make it worse, such as complete avoidance, threats, or escalations? Take the first step towards doing what works. Be effective and do what is needed, even it if is hard.
The elephant in the room usually refers to the thing that’s not being said. Typically the thing that is not being said should be obvious, but it is not.
Things that don’t get said have a tendency to create a bit of stress! Consider what happens if what needs to get said doesn’t get said.
- It becomes avoided
- No one brings it up
- You think someone else should bring it up
- By not talking about it, it gets ignored
- Ignoring it makes it worse
- Ignoring it makes it so that others continue to do and say things that create problems or are hurtful
Generally the cost of bringing the elephant into the room is one in which people have to contend with something big.
If the big thing is in the room, this might generate anxiety or even anger. The participants in the room would have to tolerate a conversation in which stuff was out in the open, even if it meant dealing with things that are hard to talk about. However, if the elephant could be invited in to the room and managed, it might just be the case that elephants would eventually become easier to handle.
One quick tip for bringing the elephant into the room is to describe in an accurate, matter-of-fact way what you have observed. This helps lower defensiveness and doesn’t come across as an attack. Keep your tone of voice neutral and curious, and be ready to hear the other person out- even if what they are saying is hard to hear. Consider that the other party may find it just as difficult to talk about, and it may take more than one try to bring the elephant into a place where it can be seen for what it is.
Consider: What is it costing you to keep the elephant out of the room?
Is the newness of college stressing you out? Some people have difficulty adapting to college because they suffer from social anxiety, which includes a fear of being scrutinized, judged, or standing out in the crowd. This can lead to avoidance of classes, diminished social contacts, and a slightly more difficult transition from home to college. Here are some tips for handling social anxiety:
1) Try to find something to focus your attention on when you go to class. In most instances, people who are socially anxious become pre-occupied with self-consciousness. The focus on being scrutinized or judged increases anxiety and becomes the “problem” in and of itself. Fixing your attention on other things will help reduce anxiety by getting your attention away from all the things that might go wrong. Here are some suggestions:
- Bring candy with a strong sensory component (mint, cinnamon Altoids, black licorice) and focus all your attention on the taste. This may work even better if you have a strong flavor you don’t particularly like- because it will be harder to ignore.
- Put a hand on your stomach and- when you breathe- focus on bringing the air down into your diaphragm so that the hand on your stomach gently moves up and down.
- Try to identify as many sounds as you can- and notice where they are coming from. Gently shift your attention to sounds from within the room and outside of the room. See what sounds you can hear that you wouldn’t normally because you aren’t paying attention.
2) Keep your facial expression soft and your gaze curious. Often when people are anxious they close themselves off to social interactions. Their expression might read: Don’t talk to me. A tight and stiff posture may be how you are communicating your anxiety- even if you don’t intend it. Try to soften your face and smile gently at people you don’t know. Remember, if you aren’t looking for connections and friendships, it’s harder to make them happen- thus increasing your fear of being among strangers.
3) Don’t skip classes and make it a point to get to class early. Telling yourself “I will go tomorrow” may be setting yourself up for not going at all. The next morning it will be easier to skip because you will feel behind. When you go early, you have the advantage of not walking in late, knowing where the class is, and gently greeting new people who walk in the door. See if you can make it a point to learn people’s names so you can greet them when you see them. Greeting people make them more likely to connect with you- and when you have friends you are no longer among strangers.
4) If you’ve missed class already, go back. Define a small goal for yourself (ie, sitting through class) and don’t focus on all the information or material that overwhelms you. Instead, make eye contact, focus on your breathing, and sit quietly. Remember that you can solve problems later if you need to- such as meeting with an advisor or the academic support center if you need to change your schedule or drop a class.
On being “right”: Demystifying the “stiff and rigid” cartoon person from The Emotional Extremist’s Guide to Handling Cartoon elephants.
Sometimes being “right” has to do with maintaining a sense of justification, power, or virtue. Sometimes being “right” has to do with feeling valued or heard, or even finding others to support your point of view. Sometimes it has to do with taking sides, feeling validated, or knowing that you have something important to add that is being left out of the equation. Sometimes being “right” has to do with not sacrificing a point of view, a perspective, or an observation.
Sometimes, when people feel emotionally threatened, they focus on the “right”-ness of where they are coming from. When threatened, attention is often narrowed and constricted to the threat- thus making it difficult to shift perspective, see things from different points of view, or understand the person who is identified as a threat. Sometimes being “right” has a certain quality, characteristic, or experience that feels guarded, shut down, or even restricted. It’s a way of being that builds walls, doesn’t let other people in, and sends a strong message. It builds a dichotomy in which one person has the upper hand, and the other person doesn’t.
Sometimes people need to be “right” to gain a sense of influence, power, or importance in a relationship or situation. Being “right” may have to do with making a statement, communicating something strongly or clearly, or not yielding to an expectation. It may have to do with mattering.
Sometimes being “right” means sacrificing a relationship, failing to get along with someone, or being seen as someone who is approachable. This can create difficulties in important and unavoidable relationships.
Sometimes being “right” isn’t so much about being non-negotiable as much as it is about trying to define values, being clear about how much you can take, knowing that you can no longer make the sacrifices you are making, or suddenly realizing the demand that someone is placing on you. Sometimes it is difficult to define the “right”-ness of your experience and keep important relationships.
Here are some ways in which you might re-consider being “right”:
- Even if you are “right”, consider the impact that communicating being “right” has on the relationship.
- Stop thinking about one person being “right” and the other person being “wrong.” Start thinking about it as “this is my experience” and “this is the experience of the other person.” Make space for them to be different.
- Sometimes it makes sense to simply stop bringing it up. Refraining from pointing out your point of view can challenge you to tolerate differences, anxiety, or some other threat in order to make for better relationships. Making strong overtures in which you are constantly proving your point can exhaust any conversation.
- If you are in the middle of one of those conversations that bring out the “I have to be right” in you, consider having the conversation while practicing loose and floppy (refer to the cartoon elephant book for more specific guidelines!).
- Consider what you would lose if you found out conflicting information that challenges your “right”-ness. What’s the threat?
PS- Want to get a free Cartoon Elephant book? Make sure you check out the last blog post for details…
Panic attacks? You may not think that putting someone into a panic is actually treatment for panic. However, the recommended treatment for panic consists of exactly that. It’s called exposure. Exposure works by purposely inducing the types of symptoms that arise when people get panicked. That’s not to say that an assessment wouldn’t include recent stressors, problem solving, or other interventions. It just means that when push comes to shove, what people are often scared of is having a panic attack in a situation where escape might be difficult.
When people panic, their sympathetic nervous system kicks into place. This increased arousal may be experienced as having sweaty palms, a racing heart, a feeling of lightheadedness, or shortness of breath. These types of symptoms can also be found in people that exercise hard.
The problem with panic is that people start to fear the symptoms of panic. They get panicked of having panic. And then the panic attack becomes more than it ever was. The original stressors that created the onset of panic almost disappear into the background.
Putting oneself in a situation -on purpose- where the above types of symptoms are experienced is a means for treating panic attacks. While it might be likely- or even ideal- to go through this with an experienced professional, the basic how-to’s for the treatment may include something like this:
- Hyperventilating on purpose (take shallow breaths through the upper chest)
- Breathing through a straw (pinch the straw if this is too easy)
- Going round and round on a merry go round
- Running up and down the stairs
- Spinning around in circles
None of these exercises in and of themselves are harmful. It’s just that they can make you feel uncomfortable- and that’s often what people are afraid of! You could try anyone of them for 2-3 minutes.
The benefit of exposure is that your brain starts to get that you can tolerate physiological discomfort. When you tolerate physiological discomfort, the threat of uncomfortable sensation goes down. You could almost say- “This uncomfortable sensation is arising within me, and I can tolerate it. For the moment- I can be okay.” You may need to practice this multiple times before you start to get used to it- but you will need to weigh the costs/ benefits to letting your panic control your life.
Exposure is one approach to treating panic. Because once you get your brain back, you can use it to help you start problem solving other aspects of panic.
Sometimes, if you look closely at what actually feel, you won’t like what’s there. Sometimes it’s just too much. Here are some tips on what to do when you get up close and personal with your elephant, and this
may be what you find.
- Start with whatever is present in the moment. See if you can notice and allow for what is there vs. actively trying to ignore or push away.
- See if you can get yourself to willingly tolerate all sensations, discomfort, or urges associated with the emotion. Noticing if there is anything holding you back from doing so.
- Bear in mind that the better able you are to tolerate, you will be better equipped to survive the moment. Redirect your attention back to your elephant and practice the gentle yet curious gaze.
- Tolerating sensation does not mean that you have to approve of reality, take action, or fail to take action.
- An unwillingness to tolerate what is there will not make cartoon elephants disappear. (You can’t have a life without cartoon elephants!) A refusal to tolerate can actually create more problems later.
- What you pay attention to= what your life is about. Do you want your entire life to be characterized by the struggle of not looking at your cartoon elephants?
Click here for The Emotional Extremist’s Guide to Handling Cartoon Elephants: How to solve elephantine emotional problems without getting run over, chased, flattened, squished, or abandoned by your true cartoons.
Here is a sneak preview of the book chapters:
Part I: The problems of cartoon elephants
- The non-existence of cartoon elephants
- The weight of cartoon elephants
- The equilibrium of cartoon elephants
- Stampeding, out-of-control elephant situations
Part II: The basic steps for solving elephantine problems
Part III: When your cartoon elephants are in danger: How to cope with critical obstacles
Part IV: When solving elephantine problems seems impossible: What to do when stuck beneath an elephant’s foot
Part V: What to do when elephants end up on your back
Part VI: What to do when your cartoon elephant turns blue
Here are some FAQ’s about the book:
Is this book for children? The intended audience for this book is adults (hey, adults need cartoons too!) and is fine for adolescents. Younger age ranges may have some difficulty with the abstract reasoning and the metaphors, and may not grasp all the concepts and big words. However, the big pictures, changing fonts, and fun graphic design makes this an attractive book for young kids (my 9-year nephew zipped right through it).
Why are the elephants in the male gender form? I used “he” and “him” when referring to the elephant to make the book simple and less wordy. I did not have any gender specific intentions. If you experience your elephants in the female form, you are welcome to take your own copy of the book and change all the pronouns.