Emotions Are a Strength, Not a Design Flaw By Joanna Warwick (orginal blog post link:) http://tinybuddha.com/blog/emotions-strength-not-design-flaw/
Eyes that do not cry, do not see.” ~Swedish Proverb
Just get over it; don’t be so sensitive. You should toughen up and grow a thicker skin…
I’ve heard this advice so much over my life, but I’ve never seen it make anyone happy.
Advised to toughen up with thicker skins so we can protect ourselves, we end up just bottling it up inside and pushing away how we feel, hoping it looks like we’re strong.
It’s like trying to avoid our own shadow; believing it’s gone because it’s behind us, but it’s totally visible to anyone else who cares to look.
Instead of becoming stronger, this denying and rejecting behavior makes us more susceptible to danger, more fearful and wary, resulting in confusion and unhappiness, because we’ve thrown away the information we need to survive and thrive.
The Rhino’s Lesson While I was volunteering in South Africa for an animal conversation charity, I found myself in close proximity to a wild rhino in the early hours of the morning.
She was beautiful.
With only a few feet between us, and little shrub to block her path, she did not seek to fight or flee; she just stood there.
Although rhinos are quite blind, they have other strong senses, including smell, hearing, taste, external touch, and instinctual felt sense (internal and external nervous systems).
They have thick, layered, armored skin that protects them from sharp, thorny bushes, but they are not insensitive and tough.
In fact, their survival and ability to thrive is wholly dependent on their sensitivity.
She didn’t run or charge because she didn’t feel I was a threat.
Sensitivity Is Power Sensitivity means to be connected and aware of all our senses.
Our bodies are descendants of mammals, so we’re sensory beings.
This means, like the rhino, we are designed to use sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, and felt sense to navigate the world around us and survive.
This sensory information creates an internal response to everything, including danger and safety, separation and bonding, otherwise known as emotions.
It’s a fact: we’re all emotional, male and female!
Unlike our animal cousins, though, we have an evolved conscious awareness to this emotional information, so they become defined as feelings—the language of emotions to which we attach judgment.
Instead of responding naturally and appropriately to this navigation system, we stress ourselves out, worry, shame, analyze, get embarrassed, get scared, get stuck, don’t act, ignore, or do the total opposite of what our body tells us to do.
The rhino does not question the sensory information the brain collects, it just acts appropriately either by running away and avoiding the danger, or standing still to assess and inquire.
Or, by running toward it, threatening with their full force of size, strength, weight, and their strong, sharp horn, not because they are bad tempered, but because they must still protect their well-being, even though they are naturally shy, curious, and non-predatory.
Confusing Safety and Danger Our brain continually processes sensory information to inform our responses to a situation or person by encouraging slowing down, moving toward or further away.
Teaching us to ignore, shame, disregard, and disconnect from this emotional sensory information leaves us unarmed, unprotected, and unsafe. It’s like being in conversation but only talking, never listening, and assuming what the other person thinks and feels.
How A War Zone Becomes Your Norm This behavior is most obvious in adults who experienced abusive childhoods or were parented inconsistently by alcoholics, drug addicts, or the mentally unstable, and if they were conditioned to be good girls and boys and shamed for expressing anger, desire, or tears.
In these environments, a child absorbs the message “Don’t express how you truly feel.”
If they accepted the sensory information they received, they would have had to accept that their home environment, where they needed to be cared and protected for survival, actually felt unsafe and rejecting to live in.
It’s unimaginable for a child to acknowledge that the parents who they love might not be safe, even if they come to see a difference in other families.
They learn not to respond appropriately, as it would result in possible physical danger, punishment and abandonment, so they disconnect, desensitize, do as they are told, try to please to make it safer, and stop trusting their feelings, because they lie and let them down.
If they continue this behavior into adulthood, they will keep seeking out the familiar—hurtful, disappointing, painful, unstable, rejecting, or even dangerous relationships and circumstances, to mirror the feelings of childhood.
Getting Emotionally Reconnected I used think women who cried were pathetic. I thought they should just get over it and pull themselves together, as this was how I saw my own emotions.
Every feeling I had was buried away, unspoken, and unshared, branded as either a sign of weakness, as regards to crying, or unacceptable, if it was anger. I considered every other feeling bad and dangerous.
My exterior had toughened up until I was cold and as hard as an ice queen.
I chose abusive lovers, friends, and bosses over and over again, even though when I met them all I had the same uncomfortable, sickie, withdrawing feelings. I just ignored them and believed I must be wrong; and I jumped into, at worst, dangerous and, at best, rejecting and unloving environments.
Part of my self-discovery was learning to get out of my judgmental head and back into my body; and trusting its natural ability to know my boundaries and how to protect myself, so I could begin to make the right choices for my health, well-being, and happiness.
I sought people who showed me how to demonstrate my emotions openly and gave me permission to feel angry and cry. I came to understand my body’s language, so, if I felt something, I got real and responded appropriately.
If I felt happy and safe, I smiled.
If I felt safe and laughed, I opened my mouth wide and laughed wholeheartedly from my belly.
If someone tried to disrespect me, I called them on it or walked away.
If I felt desire to touch and be touch, I trusted my intuition.
No longer confused and distrusting of my sensitivity, I didn’t need to waste my energy fighting and denying how I felt.
I was now open to love and intimacy, no longer terrified of it as dangerous, or afraid of rejection, because I felt safe in my ability to know and accept the truth.
I was now listening to the whole conversation and all the information I was receiving, so that like the beautiful rhino I could own our greatest strength of all: our emotional instinct to navigate the wilderness and know who is part of our herd.
By Joanna Warwick http://tinybuddha.com/blog/emotions-strength-not-design-flaw/
Learning how to manage emotions, so they don't manage you. Let it R.A.I.N....R = Recognize, A = Accept (Allow), I = Investigate (Inquire), N = Not-identify (Not-self). R.A.I.N. and related practices of spacious awareness can sometimes enable painful or challenging contents of mind to dissipate and pass away" ~ Rick Hanson, PhD and his "Just One Thing" e-newsletters - (sign up, they are free!) Learning how to be with "what is" rather than push away "what is" is an important skill in learning to manage emotions, especially the ones we would rather not have. Below is Rick Hanson's original post, link included at the end as well.
By Rick Hanson, PhD.
Can you be with the whole of your psyche?
Let it R.A.I.N.
When you're young, the territory of the psyche is like a vast estate, with rolling hills, forests and plains, swamps and meadows. So many things can be experienced, expressed, wanted, and loved.
But as life goes along, most people pull back from major parts of their psyche. Perhaps a swamp of sadness was painful, or fumes of toxic wishes were alarming, or jumping exuberantly in a meadow of joy irritated a parent into a scolding. Or maybe you saw someone else get in trouble for feeling, saying, or doing something and you resolved, consciously or unconsciously, to Stay Away From That Place Forever.
In whatever way it happens, most of us end up by mid-adulthood living in the gate house, venturing out a bit, but lacking much sense of the whole estate, the great endowment of the whole psyche. Emotions are shut down, energetic and erotic wellsprings of vitality are capped, deep longings are set aside, sub-personalities are shackled and silenced, old pain and troubles are buried, the roots of reactions - hurt, anger, feelings of inadequacy - are veiled so we can't get at
them, and we live at odds with both Nature and our own nature.
Sure, the processes of the psyche need some regulation. Not all thoughts should be spoken, and not all desires should be acted upon! But if you suppress, disown, push away, recoil from, or deny major parts of yourself, then you feel cut off, alienated from yourself, lacking vital information about what is really going on inside, no longer at home in your own skin or your own mind - which feels bad, lowers effectiveness at home and work, fuels interpersonal issues, and contributes to health problems.
So what can we do? How can we reclaim, use, enjoy, and be at peace with our whole estate - without being overwhelmed by its occasional swamps and fumes?
This is where R.A.I.N. comes in.
R.A.I.N. is an acronym developed by Michelle McDonald, a senior mindfulness teacher, to summarize a powerful way to expand self-awareness. (I've adapted it a bit below, and any flaws in the adaptation are my own, not Michelle's.)
R = Recognize: Notice that you are experiencing something, such as irritation at the tone of voice used by your partner, child, or co-worker. Step back into observation rather than reaction. Without getting into story, simply name what is present, such as "annoyance," "thoughts of being mistreated," "body firing up," "hurt," "wanting to cry."
A = Accept (Allow): Acknowledge that your experience is what it is, even if it's unpleasant. Be with it without attempting to change it. Try to have self-compassion instead of self-criticism. Don't add to the difficulty by being hard on yourself.
I = Investigate (Inquire): Try to find an attitude of interest, curiosity, and openness. Not detached intellectual analysis but a gently engaged exploration, often with a sense of tenderness or friendliness toward what it finds. Open to other aspects of the experience, such as softer feelings of hurt under the brittle armor of anger. It's OK for your inquiry to be guided by a bit of insight into your own history and personality, but try to stay close to the raw experience and out of psychoanalyzing yourself.
N = Not-identify (Not-self): Have a feeling/thought/etc., instead of being it. Disentangle yourself from the various parts of the experience, knowing that they are small, fleeting aspects of the totality you are. See the streaming nature of sights, sounds, thoughts, and other contents of mind, arising and passing away due mainly to causes that have nothing to do with you, that are impersonal. Feel the contraction, stress, and pain that comes from claiming any part of this stream as "I," or "me," or "mine" - and sense the spaciousness and peace that comes when experiences simply flow.
* * *
R.A.I.N. and related practices of spacious awareness are fundamental to mental health, and always worth doing in their own right. Additionally, sometimes they alone enable painful or challenging contents of mind to dissipate and pass away.
But often it is not enough to simply be with the mind, even in as profound a way as R.A.I.N. Then we need to work with the mind, by reducing what's negative and increasing what's positive. (It's also necessary to work with the mind to build up the inner resources needed to be with it; being with and working with the mind are not at odds with each other as some say, but in fact support each other.)
And whatever ways we work with the garden of the mind - pulling weeds and planting flowers - will be more successful after it R.A.I.N.s.
Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and New York Times best-selling author. His books include Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence (in 13 languages), Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 25 languages), Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time (in 13 languages), and Mother Nurture: A Mother’s Guide to Health in Body, Mind, and Intimate Relationships. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and on the Advisory Board of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s been an invited speaker at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA, his work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, CBC, FoxBusiness, Consumer Reports Health, U.S. News and World Report,and O Magazine and he has several audio programs with Sounds True. His weekly e-newsletter – Just One Thing – has over 100,000 subscribers, and also appears on Huffington Post, Psychology Today, and other major websites.
For more information, please see his full profile at www.RickHanson.net.
New video posted on "The Power of Empathy", narrated by Brene Brown. Two and a half (or so) minutes full of information, insight, and practical "how to's". Check it out under the Ted Talks and Other Helpful Videos link on the side bar menu.
Let's help to de-stigmatize and bring awareness and compassion to discrimination and other issues folks with mental health issues face. There is no shame in having to struggle and figure out how to live with strong emotions. We all have feelings, and some folks have bigger, more complicated feelings to figure out and manage than others. And that's not wrong....it simply is. The blog post reprinted below is from the TED blog and Thu-Huong Ha is the author. Here is the link to the original post: http://blog.ted.com/2013/12/18/how-should-we-talk-about-mental-health/
TED Blog Post:
Mental health suffers from a major image problem. One in every four people experiences mental health issues — yet more than 40 percent of countries worldwide have no mental health policy. Across the board it seems like we have no idea how to talk about it respectfully and responsibly.
Stigma and discrimination are the two biggest obstacles to a productive public dialogue about mental health; indeed, the problem seems to be largely one of communication. So we asked seven mental health experts: How should we talk about mental health? How can informed and sensitive people do it right – and how can the media do it responsibly?
End the stigma
Easier said than done, of course. Says journalist Andrew Solomon, whose tear-inducing talk about depression was published today: “People still think that it’s shameful if they have a mental illness. They think it shows personal weakness. They think it shows a failing. If it’s their children who have mental illness, they think it reflects their failure as parents.” This self-inflicted stigma can make it difficult for people to speak about even their own mental health problems. According to neuroscientist Sarah Caddick, this is because when someone points to his wrist to tell you it’s broken, you can easily understand the problem, but that’s not the case when the issue is with the three-pound mass hidden inside someone’s skull. “The minute you start talking about your mind, people get very anxious, because we associate that with being who we are, fundamentally with ‘us’ — us as a person, us as an individual, our thoughts, our fears, our hopes, our aspirations, our everything.” Says mental health care advocate Vikram Patel, “Feeling miserable could in fact be seen as part of you or an extension of your social world, and applying a biomedical label is not always something that everyone with depression, for example, is comfortable with.” Banishing the stigma attached to mental health issues can go a long way to facilitating genuinely useful conversations.
Avoid correlations between criminality and mental illness
People are too quick to dole out judgments on people who experience mental health problems, grouping them together when isolated incidents of violence or crime occur. Says Caddick, “You get a major incident like Columbine or Virginia Tech and then the media asks, ‘Why didn’t people know that he was bipolar?’ ‘Was he schizophrenic?’ From there, some people think, ‘Well, everybody with bipolar disease is likely to go out and shoot down a whole bunch of people in a school,’ or, ‘People who are schizophrenics shouldn’t be out on the street.’” Solomon agrees that this correlation works against a productive conversation about mental health: “The tendency to connect people’s crimes to mental illness diagnoses that are not in fact associated with criminality needs to go away. ‘This person murdered everyone because he was depressed.’ You think, yes, you could sort of indicate here this person was depressed and he murdered everyone, but most people who are depressed do not murder everyone.”
But do correlate more between mental illness and suicide
According to the National Institute for Mental Health (NIMH), 90 percent of people who die by suicide have depression or other mental disorders, or substance-abuse disorders in conjunction with other mental disorders. Yet we don’t give this link its due. Says Solomon, “Just as the association between mental illness and crime is too strong, the connection between mental illness and suicide is too weak. So I feel like what I constantly read in the articles is that ‘so-and-so killed himself because his business had gone bankrupt and his wife had left him.’ And I think, okay, those were the triggering circumstances, but he killed himself because he suffered from a mental illness that drove him to kill himself. He was terribly depressed.”
Avoid words like “crazy” or “psycho”
Not surprisingly, nearly all the mental health experts we consulted were quick to decry playground slang like “mental,” “schizo,” “crazy,” “loonie,” or “nutter,” stigmatizing words that become embedded in people’s minds from a young age. NIMH Director Thomas Insel takes that one step further — he doesn’t like the category of “mental health problems” in general. He says, “Should we call cancer a ‘cell cycle problem’? Calling serious mental illness a ‘behavioral health problem’ is like calling cancer a ‘pain problem.’” Comedian Ruby Wax, however, has a different point of view: “I call people that are mentally disturbed, you know, I say they’re crazy. I think in the right tone, that’s not the problem. Let’s not get caught in the minutiae of it.”
If you feel comfortable talking about your own experience with mental health, by all means, do so
Self-advocacy can be very powerful. It reaches people who are going through similar experiences as well as the general public. Solomon believes that people equipped to share their experiences should do so: “The most moving letter I ever received in a way was one that was only a sentence long, and it came from someone who didn’t sign his name. He just wrote me a postcard and said, ‘I was going to kill myself, but I read your book and changed my mind.’ And really, I thought, okay, if nobody else ever reads anything I’ve written, I’ve done some good in the world. It’s very important just to keep writing about these things, because I think there’s a trickle-down effect, and that the vocabulary that goes into serious books actually makes its way into the common experience — at least a little bit of it does — and makes it easier to talk about all of these things.” Solomon, Wax, as well as Temple Grandin, below, have all become public figures for mental health advocacy through sharing their own experiences.
Don’t define a person by his/her mental illnesses
Just as a tumor need not define a person, the same goes for mental illness. Although the line between mental health and the “rest” of a person is somewhat blurry, experts say the distinction is necessary. Says Insel: “We need to talk about mental disorders the way we talk about other medical disorders. We generally don’t let having a medical illness define a person’s identity, yet we are very cautious about revealing mental illness because it will somehow define a person’s competence or even suggest dangerousness.” Caddick agrees: “There’s a lot of things that go on in the brain, and just because one thing goes wrong doesn’t mean that everything’s going wrong.”
Separate the person from the problem
Continuing from the last, Insel and Patel both recommend avoiding language that identifies people only by their mental health problems. Says Insel, speak of “someone with schizophrenia,” not “the schizophrenic.” (Although, he points out, people with autism do often ask to be referred to as “autistic.”) Making this distinction clear, says Patel, honors and respects the individual. “What you’re really saying is, this is something that’s not part of a person; it’s something the person is suffering from or is living with, and it’s a different thing from the person.”
Sometimes the problem isn’t that we’re using the wrong words, but that we’re not talking at all
Sometimes it just starts with speaking up. In Solomon’s words: “Wittgenstein said, ‘All I know is what I have words for.’ And I think that if you don’t have the words for it, you can’t explain to somebody else what your need is. To some degree, you can’t even explain to yourself what your need is. And so you can’t get better.” But, as suicide prevention advocate Chris Le knows well, there are challenges to talking about suicide and depression. Organizations aiming to raise awareness about depression and suicide have to wrangle with suicide contagion, or copycat suicides that can be sparked by media attention, especially in young people. Le, though, feels strongly that promoting dialogue ultimately helps. One simple solution, he says, is to keep it personal: “Reach out to your friends. If you’re down, talk to somebody, because remember that one time that your friend was down, and you talked to them, and they felt a little better? So reach out, support people, talk about your emotions and get comfortable with them.”
Recognize the amazing contributions of people with mental health differences
Says autism activist Temple Grandin: “If it weren’t for a little bit of autism, we wouldn’t have any phones to talk on.” She describes the tech community as filled with autistic pioneers. “Einstein definitely was; he had no language until age three. How about Steve Jobs? I’ll only mention the dead ones by name. The live ones, you’ll have to look them up on the Internet.” Of depression, Grandin says: “The organizations involved with depression need to be emphasizing how many really creative people, people whose books we love, whose movies we love, their arts, have had a lot of problems with depression. See, a little bit of those genetics makes you sensitive, makes you emotional, makes you sensitive — and that makes you creative in a certain way.”
Humor, some say, is the best medicine for your brain. Says comedian Wax: “If you surround [your message] with comedy, you have an entrée into their psyche. People love novelty, so for me it’s sort of foreplay: I’m softening them up, and then you can deliver as dark as you want. But if you whine, if you whine about being a woman or being black, good luck. Everybody smells it. But it’s true. People are liberated by laughing at themselves.”
First, a big thanks to Carol Vivyan at GET.gg for giving me permission to share her STOPP worksheet(s).
We all find ourselves in difficult emotional situations - the kind where we know we need to think before we speak, but we're losing perspective fast, our feelings are getting bigger, we're struggling not to react - you know those situations..... Carol has created a wonderful worksheet called 5 "First Aid" Steps for Self-Help in difficult situations. The acronym is STOPP!
S - stop and step back. Don't act immediately.....Pause
T - take a breath. Notice your breath as you breathe in and breathe
O - observe. What am I thinking? What am I feeling in my body?
What am I focusing on? What am I reacting to? Is this fact or
P - pull back! Put in some perspective. Zoom out...see the bigger
picture. Is there another way to look at the this? What would
someone else say about it? Does it affect others? How important
is this situation right now?
P - practice what works. Consider the consequences. What's the
BEST thing to do? Is this in line with my principles and values?
Do what will help most!
Think about situations where STOPP might be useful to you. And then think about how specifically STOPP could help you in those situations. It's helpful if you can figure out what you'd like to be different in these specific situations so you can have a goal to work towards. Try practicing STOPP on some situations that are less difficult or emotionally charged to get familiar with the 5 STOPP steps. Try picking one situation a day to practice on....it's a lot easier to learn something if you start small, and practice more often! Then when you run into a difficult situation, you'll be familiar with the steps. I't's much harder to learn and put into practice a new skill or technique for the first time during a crisis. It's sort of like learning to sail a boat, or learning to ski (or think of a metaphor that works for you). You start in calm waters or on the bunny slope, and as you get more familiar and comfortable with what you are doing and gain experience, you move on to open, choppy water or steeper ski slopes. The goal is to be successful as you learn, so again, start small! Most people tend to start "big", then think they can't do it, it doesn't work, give up etc. The tendency is to blame oneself rather than realize you may have started with a situation that was very challenging to learn on.
To help you with learning STOPP, I've included links below to STOPP worksheets on Carol's website. (clck on the link to go to workshop pages) And I'm hoping to introduce some of Carol's other worksheets that I think could be useful in later blog posts.
http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/STOPP.pdf (STOPP description worksheet - complete)
http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/STOPP4.pdf (Simple version STOPP description worksheet)
http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/STOPP5.pdf (5 column STOPP thought record worksheet)
http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/STOPPworksheet.pdf (another version STOPP thought record worksheet)
I posted a new video in my Education Videos to View section - a powerful TED Talk by Brene Brown on Listening to Shame. From TED TALKS: "Shame is an unspoken epidemic....Brene Brown explores what can happen when people confront their shame head-on. Brene's own humor, humanity, and vulnerability shine through every word".