We have choices every day of how we will respond to each thought that soars through our mind. Those thoughts of ‘not enough’ or ‘too much’ are going to show up. It’s simply a reality for most of us. So what do you do about those pesky thoughts when they show up? Fight them! Send them away! If you give those thoughts very much air time in your head, you are setting yourself up for a dangerous ride that is very hard to get off once you get started. The key is, don’t get on the ride! Seriously. We think we can’t stop those thoughts, but we can. We have the power to say, “No!”
After saying no, stay away from the pendulum swing of telling yourself you are the best because that isn’t exactly true. You don’t want to combat the false negative with a false positive, over-inflating your ego. Be realistic. Here’s what it might sound like: “Uh oh! Here comes the thought that I’m not enough. I am enough. I may not be perfect, but honestly, no one is. People might seem perfect sometimes, but truth is, nobody is. My job is to focus on myself and be the best me I can be. So, what am I going to do now to shift away from this lie? I’m going for a five minute walk around the block to clear these thoughts. While I’m walking I’m going to remind myself that I do not need to be perfect and I am enough.”
Choose to be kind to yourself instead of making yourself get on that scary, beat-yourself-up ride!
What to do about those unwanted thoughts or emotions? It’s crucial that you first understand what you are feeling or thinking. After naming it, find connections to help you understand why you are thinking or feeling what you are. Here’s an example: if you are feeling fear, what is the fear reacting to? Perhaps you just heard about impending layoffs at work and you’re not sure if you’re going to lose your job? It makes sense to feel fear when you don’t know what’s going to happen.
Now that you know what it is and why it’s there, you can work to change it. How will you benefit by continuing to feel the fear? Perhaps it will help you do your job well. Maybe it will help you update or start your resume, to begin thinking about the possibility of a job change for yourself. Think of channeling that fear energy into doing the things you can to prepare yourself, just in case.
Next, focus on the thoughts that led to fear. It’s likely something along the lines of, “and I’m going to lose my job.” What do you know is true and real beyond a shadow of doubt? Perhaps you received a memo from HR that announced upcoming layoffs. All you know is you received that memo. That’s it. You know nothing more so don’t add to the story: “Oh my gosh! I’m going to be laid off, I’m not going to be able to find another job and I’ll be living under a bridge.” You don’t know that won’t ever happen, but you also don’t know it will. You don’t have any data to support this. Have people lost jobs and ended up homeless? Yes. Do you know beyond a shadow of a doubt it will happen to you? No.
When you put your thoughts through this test, it helps to minimize the emotion that is connected to the thought. Now you can free up some mental and physical space to work on your resume, just in case. It’s ok to prepare for the worst while acknowledging you don’t really know what will happen.
You will likely need to go through the process again and again of asking what is true and real about your thoughts on this very same issue. I like to say, “rinse and repeat” because our thoughts have a way of going back to square one. Just recognize what you are thinking and feeling, and repeat the process.
My neighbor has a home in Morehead City, NC. A fun little beach cottage she and her husband just finished remodeling and it sits right in the path of Hurricane Florence. We chatted at the mailbox last night about holding things loosely and doing the next right thing. Often when faced with some sort of adversity we may freak out, which doesn’t really help us at all. Other times we may try not being bothered in the least, which isn’t actually real. Either option is an extreme and extremes don’t tend to be beneficial.
So what does balanced look like? It’s when we are aware of the emotional impact of whatever is happening but we don’t allow the situation to own us. In my neighbor’s case, she feels the sadness of what might happen but recognizes she doesn’t actually know yet so she is holding some hope that perhaps things will be fine and if not she will then deal with it. Her words, “I’m taking the next right step.”
Closer to home, Anna (my daughter) is going through chronic rejection of her transplanted lungs. I’m focusing on what we know now: she’s fine, she’s humming along living her life even though she is well aware her lungs are failing. This is a slow progression for the time being so no action is necessary at this time. Anna understands this balance of living in reality but not letting her emotions take control. From her blog post in July:
“…yet as with all my fears they turn out to be not so bad and the things that suck are things I never really saw coming. Trust me I know from experience God really meant it when he said “DO NOT BE AFRAID”. There really is no point, it does nothing but get us all worked up, steal our present moments and lock us in a box of fear. Everything I have ever been afraid of happening that has happened was actually okay, there was no reason to get all worked up. And yet God also knew what he was doing when he said it over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over …. okay you get the point. Not being afraid is something I have to constantly remind myself. My latest mantra is the little bit of the song “don’t worry, about a thing, cuz every little thing is gonna be alright” and it is true!”
“Every little thing is gonna be alright” doesn’t mean everything will turn out as we want it to, but whatever it is, we can grow through it step by step.
I frequently talk about Viktor Frankl with my clients. He survived Nazi concentration camps from 1942-1945. His freedom came when his camp was liberated at the end of World War II. A Psychiatrist, he was intrigued by the motivations and actions of himself, fellow prisoners and guards in this unplanned and unwanted research experiment. After the war, he turned his discovery of the power human beings possess to survive horrific experiences into a therapeutic method: Logotherapy.
In the most unlikely of places, Dr. Frankl made a decision to be the best prisoner he could be. He didn’t execute this perfectly as he admits in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning but his intention gave him purpose and the will to survive. He reasoned if he was able to do this in a concentration camp, then anyone can. As human beings, we have the ability to choose our thoughts, words, actions and attitudes.
My circumstances are not even remotely as challenging as Dr. Frankl’s. Still, I recognize I have the same choices. In simple trivial situations like driving behind a slow vehicle I can get upset about it or relax, recognizing I have no power over the driver. I only have power over myself. I know that unhealthy, illegal and unwise decisions will have a negative impact on me and potentially others so I choose to breathe, be calm, and recognize that my impatience is likely my own responsibility for not leaving enough time for the inevitable slow driver, accident or heavy traffic.
The same goes for the more painful situations in my life. It’s important to note, this doesn’t mean I pretend to be fine. Oh, no! We must be real about the emotions we have in all situations whether trivial or intense. Acknowledge your emotions, understand why you feel what you do, validate your emotions then have a conversation with yourself about what to do. I go into this process in greater length here and here.
Remember, you have the power to decide what you think, feel, say and do in all situations. No one decides that for you.
I took a break from everything for a few days over the holidays. It wasn’t intentional, it just happened and it felt awesome! I had to pick up a few dropped pieces afterwards but it was still worth it. Life can get so busy sometimes it’s easy to forget to just be, not do. Sometimes life is so painful we avoid the being so we don’t have to feel; the doing serves as a painkiller of sorts. Some days we need more being and feeling. Some days we need a break from the feeling. Too much feeling can overwhelm us.
Find the balance that works for you of feeling and doing. Everyone is different. Our needs vary. I need a lot of being and feeling. I need time to just sit and ponder. In that space emotion rises to the surface. I identify it, understand it, sit with it, decide what I want to do because of it, then let it go ~ until the next time it shows up. Then I go through the same process. The more I allow myself to intentionally be with my emotions, processing them not just swirling in them haphazardly, the less control my emotions have over me.
Make time to find your balance between doing and feeling.
It’s that time of year again, the holidays. As with each year since I started blogging I will post holiday-related topics for the next few weeks. Last week was Thanksgiving for those of us here in the States. Generally I have enjoyed my Thanksgiving holiday but not so this year. There were some highlights: gathering together with most of my children and grandchildren, seeing siblings, nieces, nephews, a few cousins, my mother-in-law and my mom. It was a chaotic experience with many people I did not know and that was not enjoyable. Sometimes I am in the mood for conversations with strangers but this year, not so much. This year, I just wanted to be with family. I definitely felt my dad’s absence and that was part of my sadness.
I experienced the strangling of disappointment and anger taking over inside of me. It sucked me down into a familiar hole. I stayed there for several days. I was less patient with those around me, especially strangers in cars who received eye rolls and shouts of frustration. All of which I’m sure went unnoticed. It felt safer to yell at them. They can’t yell back (or at least I won’t hear them if they do). You know those times when you only want to have one-sided conversations because you are pretty certain a two-way conversation won’t go well? I felt gloomy, eyore-ish, and it’s been hard to get out of it.
I stopped to take stock of the why. My self-care was nearly non-existent while I was away for the week of Thanksgiving. I had been expecting myself to survive on the basics alone and that is not enough for me. On my last day away, I grabbed my husband and our puppy and went on a walk. I griped along the way, getting all that life-sucking poison out. I requested that we leave early (a looming snowstorm sealed that deal for me!) to put an end to this misery. Along the way, we stopped on a pedestrian bridge that overlooked the Roaring Fork River (sounds big but it’s just a stream really, especially in the winter). The clear frigid waters lolly gagged and splashed around huge boulders and scattered tree limbs. Patches of ice formed on the rocks on the downstream side of the bridge while the upstream side, in full sun, remained ice free. Something about that caught my attention. Maybe my heart was like the river. When I am on the downstream side, away from my source for internal warmth, I ice over. It’s harder for me to stay grounded. When I move toward the warmth of my source (in my case, God), the hardness and ice inside of me begin to melt.
But it doesn’t stop there. Ice builds inside of me when I am not getting out on walks, feeling fresh air and sunshine on my skin. I desperately need to soak in nature, do yoga, and spend time in solitude with my thoughts and prayers. Those are my biggies, the most important pieces of my self-care that must be regular ingredients in my life. I had a profound experience of what happens to me when I starve myself. I am working on stabilizing again, turning toward the sun, feeling the ice crystals softening and chunks of ice peeling away from soul. I feel warmth growing again and with it, hope that I will be ok.