By Cathryn Bond Doyle.
With everything that is going on in the world and in our own lives, there are times when we may feel like we’re about to “go crazy,” “lose it,” “give up” or “give in,” and it’s at these moments of feeling at the end of our proverbial emotional rope that we make important choices. What do you do when you feel this way?
There are lots of ways to deal with this kind of stress. However there are basically two major categories of behavior. Behavior that helps us heal and regain our sense of strength & well-being and behavior that numbs the pain, causing us to deal with any consequences at a later time. Some strategies are healthy, bring us long-term results and are effective and productive. Others are not-so-healthy, help us only in the short-term and can negatively impact others. Unfortunately sometimes these numbing strategies also include eventual apologies, varying degrees of relationship damage control and/or “after the fact” feelings of guilt or self-punishment. The purpose of this article is to offer insights and a positive self-care strategy for the next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, emotionally exhausted or have just plain “had enough!”
When we’re under stress (or at the end of our ropes), we’re often not at our best. Our resources are often depleted, we’re probably exhausted and we’ve been trying our best. We may even feel out of control or unfairly impacted by events and situations. Whether we’re conscious of them or not, we all have survival strategies for these situations. When we’re not feeling in tip-top shape the natural tendency is to resort to anything that will make us feel less pain. This is where the allure of numbing strategies becomes appealing or occurs automatically, like a reflex action. Before we go on to talk about the new ways of behavior, let’s talk about some common numbing strategies.
Numbing strategies are popular, plentiful AND punishing.
There are many ways to numb our feelings. They can take the form of artificial substances (we already know a lot about them.) There are mechanical ones, like working or playing so much that we neglect/deny/ignore our responsibilities. There are also emotional numbing strategies. Of the three mentioned, emotional numbing seems to be generally less understood.
Emotional numbing strategies are designed to stop us from feeling our real feelings by giving us something else to think about and feel. They are designed to distract us from our true feelings therefore having the effect of numbing or seemingly ending our initial pain. Common examples of these numbing strategies are becoming controlling (the subject of several other articles) and feelings of blame, judgment,, guilt, self-pity and righteous anger. Although these feelings are not very much fun; they are familiar, instant, legal, we’re quite good at them and they’re comparatively less threatening to us than the feelings we’re trying to avoid.
To Blame or not to Blame: That is the responsible question.
Probably the most popular numbing strategy is blaming. Many of us will rush to quickly figure out who or what we can blame, as soon as we begin to feel emotional pain. Duh! It makes perfect sense. It feels a lot better to blame someone ELSE for our problems than it does to admit we had anything to do with our own troubles. It feels much better to make someone ELSE bad and wrong, than to admit to ourselves, “Oh my, maybe this is my issue and my responsibility not someone else’s.”
Blaming another for our pain can make us feel “better than” someone else. Our judgments of right and wrong will indeed numb our pain but they won’t fix the problem, heal our wounds or get us any closer to feeling better. If we’re willing to act like adults (not children), take responsibility (versus blame) and grow up from past wounds and childhood issues and if we’re brutally honest with ourselves, we’ll see that blaming usually creates more problems and delays constructive and long-term solutions. When we can recognize and admit that we’re blaming (even if just to ourselves) to numb our pain, we can stop this behavior, have some compassion for ourselves and try something new. We can begin to focus on taking care of ourselves. There’s an idea worthy of our time and attention.
First things first: Self-care, an essential goal!
Remember when the airlines first came out with that line: “Please get your oxygen mask on first and then help those around you.” Initially some people felt that was a selfish action but it’s now a well accepted view that we are better able to care for others once we have taken care of ourselves. This concept clearly applies when we’re stressed and upset. By making effective self-care a priority in times of high stress, we help ourselves and anyone else with whom we interact. If we can agree that self-care is the avenue of choice and that we want to take positive, non-punishing, non-numbing actions, then what do we do the next time we feel upset and stressed out?
The first thing to do is STOP! Pause!
Consciously resist old habits.
Stop ourselves from taking any actions long enough to ask ourselves some valuable questions and give ourselves the space and time to come up with some meaningful answers. Get curious about our own needs! Just do this one step and be amazed at the changes and the wisdom that surfaces. This could be uncomfortable at first. The discomfort is due to lack of practice, that’s all.
Questions to interrupt old patterns and lead to “happier endings”:
1. What do I need, right now, to feel better? A nap? Some food? A hug? 20 minutes of quiet time? Some help? A friendly ear or shoulder? More time to complete a task?
2. What can I do, this very minute, to help myself? Take a break? Step out for some air? Take a bath? Call a friend? Change my mind? Try something new? Have courage? Face a fear? Stand up for myself?
3. What, in this situation, do I have the ability to control? Cancel something? Schedule something? Create new solutions to a problem? Walk away from an issue? Find an option you like better?
As we learn more effective ways to deal with our lives and the situations we face, we are taking better care of ourselves and this can reduce the day-to-day stress. With less stress, we handle things with more ease and consequently minimize the “end of our rope” moments. By taking the time to get curious, we can develop a unique and personal strategy that improves our ability to handle whatever life offers us. We can learn to do this without controlling anyone else, without needing anyone else to change and without temporarily numbing our feelings, knowing at some level we’ll have to deal with them eventually.
Please note: Blame will always be a choice. Numbing will always be an option. However, as you get to experience the joy of creative problem solving and you begin to feel your personal power and your self-confidence soar as you take charge of solving any stressful situations that arise, you’re likely to get hooked on this new strategy.
It’s quite liberating and wonderful to realize that your day is no longer at the mercy of “incoming stress.” You’ll probably startle those around you, who expect old behaviors from you, but what a joy for all to experience your new strategies. You’ll probably also inspire those around you and that’s a great feeling as well. So remember, next time you feel like you are at the end of your emotional rope…hang on, get curious and show yourself your own talents and competence. Good Luck. You’re going to be changing life habits so give yourself a little time and be patient with yourself.
©2001 Cathryn Bond Doyle. All Rights Reserved.