Have you ever had a conversation with someone that you really cared about that ended up with them saying something like: “I’m not good enough.” “I don’t deserve that.” “I’m not worth it.”
As a recipient of this conversation, you may have been tempted to argue, disagree, convince, or encourage the person to think otherwise. While this strategy may have communicated a sense of caring or encouragement, it is quite possible that this conversation quickly fell into a polarized, deadened, undesirable re-occurring conversation. The difficulty with having these conversations is that they typically don’t end in any personal problem solving and both parties leave the interaction with a sense of dissatisfaction.
The “third wave behavior therapies” are a cluster of treatments that encourage people to look at the function and the context under which behaviors occur. For instance, if we were to think about the function of this conversation, we could start to ask a bunch of questions that would help us get at something a little bit more useful than a repeated and unsatisfying conversation.
Getting people to understand function is, in my experience, kind of hard. Function has to do with what purpose is this behavior serving. Context can help us understand under what conditions this behavior occurs.
Here are some questions that I might consider useful in considering the function of this type of conversation: What is the person wanting? How is the person expecting this conversation to end? Is convincing the responder that he/she doesn’t deserve something a way to avoid something difficult, not take a risk, do something that could change the situation for the better (but doing it is too scary)? Is the person seeking reassurance or connection? If the person wanted more of a connection with the recipient, what might be a more effective way to get it? What would be a better way of spending time together that would be more meaningful? What is the benefit, value, or use in convincing another person of one’s non-deserving status?
Third wave behavior therapies (or functional and contextual treatments) include Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Functional Analytic Psychotherapy, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy. Three really wonderful books based on the “third wave” of thinking and can help people “get” more of what I’m talking about include ACT Made Simple by Russ Harris, Overcoming Depression One Step at a Time by Michael Addis and Christopher Martell, and Things Might Go Terribly, Horribly Wrong by Kelly Wilson.
I will also add that, for my surviving depression teleseminar this coming June 3 (click here for more info), I’m going to help you take a closer look at the function of worry/ non-useful thinking/ rumination- and give you some strategies for figuring out what this behavior is all about.
Acceptance is an option for managing really painful things when solving or fixing it is not an option. The next time you think “I just can’t stand this any more” consider trying acceptance based strategies for the next 10 minutes. If you want, you can even rate your distress before and after you try it. See if your stress goes down. Remember- the only way this works is if you do it willingly.
- Try to remember that being able to accept the next 10 minutes is not the same as accepting your life. If you can be accepting for the next 10 minutes, then right now you don’t have to accept fate, hopelessness, or any foreboding feelings that this is the way things will be forever.
- Try to think of acceptance as one small step. It is what you could do right now that will help you get through this situation better.
- Consider acceptance as an exercise in acknowledgement: What is, is. When we can simply see what’s going on around us for what it is, it can help us to stop fighting reality. When we see reality for what it is, we will have more resources for addressing it.
- Acceptance doesn’t mean that you don’t have to feel the way you feel. In fact, it may even be helpful to consider being accepting of what you don’t want to feel.
- Try softening your body, facial expression, or muscles. Melt into the moment. Accepting reality will not make it go away, but if it feels better to get through the moment without clenched jaws and a big fight, why not take advantage of it?
Cartoon elephants do, indeed, exist. The question is whether or not you believe in the existence of your own elephants. In truth, life will be much harder for you if you go around pretending that you don’t really actually feel the way you feel.
It can be that other people have worked hard to convince you that cartoon elephants do not exist- and that you have started to believe them. For example, someone might be saying, “You shouldn’t feel that way! No one else feels that way. I have the answer to your problems, and there isn’t any option for you to react to it. I want you to behave a certain way, and I will be angry or punish you for it if you don’t. I don’t care what you have to say about it. Talking about your own reactions is not an option.”
In reality, cartoon elephants do not go away because people ignore them.
Paying attention to your cartoon elephants means doing some hard work of figuring out what, exactly, is being felt. It is certainly possible that your cartoon elephants are right there, trying to get your attention. Perhaps there have been so many barriers to their discovery that ignoring them takes twice as much effort as figuring out what they are trying to tell you.
In reality, it is extremely difficult to collect cartoon elephant data. It is even more difficult to collect cartoon elephant data when people don’t believe cartoon elephants exist. Your emotions are there: Alive, present, and real.
Stop pretending they are not.
Here are some tips for breathing:
- Put one hand on your stomach and one hand on your chest. When you breath deeply – into your diaphragm- the hand on your stomach will go up and down. This is one way to develop a feedback loop that will help you breathe in such a way that gets oxygen where it needs to be. Shallow breathing, hiccupy breathing, or shortness of breath can often induce panic like sensations, and can be reflected in the rise and fall of the upper chest.
- When you breathe, think of ways in which are simply creating space for what you feel. Counteract urges to restrict, suppress, ignore, judge, or inhibit what you feel. Breathe in, around, and through emotions. Practice gently curiosity- soften your stance and allow what’s there to be there. Try softening your facial expression to encourage and invite the process.
- Find a time during the day to check in with your breath. It’s often when we’re NOT paying attention to our breath that we can make the best use of this simple and accessible skill.
Like cartoon elephants? Sign up for my mailing list to receive notifications on when the book is ready: 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.
Four brief ways in which mindfulness can actually be used to help you cope: Practical applications of being mindful.
Here are a few simple ways in which learning and using mindfulness can help people.
Quiet the mind. A simple mindful activity such as focusing on the breath for a few minutes can help people slow down racing thoughts, lower emotional arousal, and feel a bit more settled. If a person can take emotional arousal down a few notches, he or she may feel more prepared to face a situation that evokes anxiety.
Focus attention: When people are wholeheartedly involved in one task (focusing all of their attention on whatever they are doing), their mind is typically not racing, jumping, or scattered. Focusing on one thing can help a person feel less disorganized.
Become grounded, centered, or more connected to ourselves, our environment, or our surroundings. This can be important if you have a hard time relating, enjoying, or benefitting from pleasant experiences. Sometimes the focus of attention is on pain, threat, or impending crisis and it’s hard to absorb the stuff that makes us feel better.
Help you be clear on what you feel: We know what we feel because we sense it in our bodies. Some people spend a lot of time trying to ignore, hide, repress, or inhibit what’s going on inside. Being mindful can help us get back in touch with emotion, discomfort, and even desire.
Want to learn how to be mindful? Click here to try my 30 days of mindfulness program and receive one e-mail a day for 30 days with a mindfulness tip, suggestion, skill, or practical “how to”. If you’ve already done it, click here to do the 30 (more) days of mindfulness- for a total of 60 days of opportunities to learn mindfulness.
One way to reduce emotional arousal is to get your parasympathetic nervous system to help. When people are under emotional duress, their body kicks into fight or flight mode. Emotions serve to protect us by revving up our body and preparing for disaster, threat, humiliation, or the onslaught of a problem. They wake us up to danger signals.
In some cases, people experience danger even when no danger is imminent. Have you ever logically known that a situation wasn’t threatening? For instance, there was no evidence to support your fear, but the emotional part of your brain didn’t seem to care? Or perhaps the threat was removed or resolved, but you remain on pins and needles anyway?
One way to get your emotional temperature down is to use hot and cold temperatures to change your physiological experience. Taking a hot bath or shower or using ice is one way in which people can get their parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and speed the process of lowering emotional arousal.
Here are some more specific suggestions for how to use ice:
1) Buy an ice pack (ie, for sports injuries) to keep in your freezer. When you need to decrease your emotional temperature, take it out, wrap it in a light towel, and apply it around the base of your neck or over your face/ eyes.
2) Stick your face in a basin filled with water and ice cubes.
3) Stick your foot or hand in a bucket filled with water and ice cubes.
4) Stick your hand in a snow bank, hold cold snow in your hand, or put cold snow around your neck.
For best results, don’t fight the ice. In other words, stop doing any activity that re-actives emotional arousal (ranting, arguing, obsessing, analyzing, etc.). Let the ice do the work.
Click on the link above to watch a two minute video clip on how your emotions are like paper airplanes- and what messages might be flying by.
Making space for your jumbled, confused, disorganized, messy, or incoherent cartoon elephants (emotions!).
A lot of effort may need to go into sorting, identifying, labeling, and describing your elephants. It is quite possible that you neglect to do this because you do not believe in the existence of cartoon elephants. Or maybe you do not think your elephants are important, other people tell you your elephants are not important, other people blame you for the situation that you are in, or other people do not offer very much space to allow the assortment and organization of your true cartoons.
Here are some tips for sorting your elephant situations: Gently notice your elephants. Make space for their messiness, disorganization, or lack of words. Don’t get hung up on WHY you feel the way that you do. Often people feel if they can not explain what they feel, then the unexplained should not have the right to exist.
When you start to make space for experience, elephants will slowly start to sort themselves out. When people can’t really organize and articulate experience, it can result in incoherence. People need coherence to feel organized, communicate effectively, and exert influence.
If you have nothing more right now than a jumbled pile of elephants going on, make sure that you make some space to be curious, allow elephants to exist (cartoon elephants do, indeed, exist!), and give them a bit of breathing room. It is possible that this task is twice as hard when people around you are unable to do this with you. Remember to be patient with your elephants, because impatience can often result in a bigger jumble. And, if you’re not used to making space for your elephants, it may take a lot of practice.
Don’t give up!
- Be reminded on some gut level of why you want or need to change
- Avoid everything related to changing
- Consider those who have changed
- Compare yourself to those whose lives are different
- Attack yourself for not changing
- Start to take the first step towards change
- Become overwhelmed
- Wallow a bit
- Consider the benefits of change
- Get motivated or inspired by others whose lives are different
- Be reminded on some gut level of how things are miserable for you now
- Ask for help
- Experience a sense of efficacy or encouragement
- Experience a setback or discouragement
- Try again
- Become overwhelmed
- Avoid people and places reminding you of change, at least for a while
- Give up
- Try again
- Get reminded of how miserable you are
- Approach everything that you’ve tried to avoid
- Get overwhelmed
- Take a small step and stick with it
- Notice the pros and cons of the small step
- Rant and rave to other people in your life about how things aren’t working
- Try to get help again
- Get motivated, take another step.
Don’t kid yourself.
This is hard work.
We’ve all been there!
Loneliness may have to do with a feeling as if something is missing. A loss of connection, a loss of relationship, a loss of well-being, or a loss of what could or should have been.
New Years Eve may bring up a loneliness for several people, and may be related to anxiety or discouragement regarding:
- Personal failures or setbacks over the course of the year
- Uncertainty about how to be around the people currently in your life
- The relationships you think you should have but don’t
- Comparisons to others who may be having “more fun” or “a better time” than you
- Not being invited or included in the way that you think you should be
- Not feeling a sense of connection to anyone
- Anxiety about what it means for you (on this particular day of the year) to not be in the place you want in your life right now
Loneliness can happen to people who are surrounded by family during the holidays, to married couples, to engaged couples, to divorced people, to single people, to people who are with the people they want to be with, and to people who have a wide range of established connections and meaningful relationships.
Just like pain, loneliness doesn’t discriminate across ethnicity, class, gender, age, or social economic status.
There is always someone who is lonely!
- If anxious indecision is part of your pain, accept whatever it is you have chosen to do (who you are with and how you will spend your time) to bring in the New Year
- Find a way to acknowledge loneliness, even if the only thing you are doing is reading this blog post
- Bear in mind that loneliness is not a reflection of personal failure on your behalf
- Spend the holiday in such a way that is the most meaningful to you despite your loneliness
- If there is someone you could reach out to or make a connection with- consider doing it
- Remember that this too, shall pass