Note: My therapist has been trying to get me to just sit with powerful emotions I’m feeling… stay with it as long as I can. Observe without making a judgement. I think that this is to move me away from automatic coping behaviors & start desensitizing me to the worst of them, without invalidating myself in the process. I was thinking about this on Monday night and sat on my bed before going to sleep and wrote this journal entry.
Think about ways to just sit with, and experience, emotions. Remember that emotions on their own are unlikely to hurt you (hurt as in: injury, not discomfort).
Sitting with both good (encouraging), and bad (uncomfortable) emotions — not distracting myself from them — will help me build my confidence to get through highly difficult emotions later on. It may seem strange that I mention distracting myself from strong ‘good’ emotions, but I know I’ve done that.
I want to learn ways to sit with my emotions. Not to say “this is bad,” or “this is good,” but just “oh! This is fear.” “This is anger.” “This is grief.” “This is embarrassment.” “This is joy.”
If I can learn to sit with those emotions and let them wash through me without grasping them, then I might be able to react slowly when in the grip of stronger emotions and make decisions that are more skillful.
I might also gain a… familiarity? …perhaps a ruggedness. Not of the armored-self kind (which I know all too well), but the kind of thing you get when you exercise or work in challenging conditions. You toughen up a bit.
I read, in the DBT Skills Training Manual, this quote: You are not, and do not need to be, the story of your suffering.
As I read that aloud, I got a little frisson of encouragement, almost joy. I started rewording it in my head:
I am not, nor do I need to be, the story of my suffering.
I am not the story of my suffering.
Something happened to me. I never had the skills to understand or deal with it when I was younger.
That makes sense. Kids don’t have those skills, even smart kids. I can forgive myself for not rescuing myself. I can forgive my parents for not rescuing me. They were in their own pain. They may not even have known what was going on inside me.
Because of my pain, I hurt myself and other people in my life. That did happen, and I need to take responsibility for those things.
I do take responsibility for my actions.
However, I need to remember that those things are not happening right now. Reliving the guilt and shame now, years and even decades later, isn’t helping heal the wrongs I did to others. It’s just prolonging the pain.
I need to leave something for myself to find (when I was writing this, I was picturing the gift that Galadriel gave to Frodo, the gift of light, which he used in a very dark moment in the story).
When things get dark, I need to find this thing, like a spark in the dimness. That wrongness I lived isn’t now. It isn’t here.
It’s okay to be alive. It’s okay for me to let go of the ropes that I’ve wrapped around my heart and lungs. The bandages can fall away now. The scars may be there, but that’s okay.
Maybe the dark place is a well, where I can go for cool water when I need it.
Maybe the dark place is a refuge.
Maybe the dark place is where my roots can go.
March 26 morning follow-up note:
In the night after I wrote the above entry, I started having an inner monologue of doubt, telling myself that what I wrote was garbage, just something intended to interest my therapist.
Shallow and trivial.
So I decided to write down the doubts so that I could look at them in the light of day, and distrust them… in the sense of not taking them at face value.
Later in the morning, I came up with a metaphor that has to do with working with untrustworthy emotions.
Imagine waking up one day, and all colors have shifted, and keep shifting, so that food looks horrible, and traffic signals make no sense. I would still have to get to work; still have to find food to eat. I would learn to compensate for my new situation. Raging against it may be understandable, but at some point, I have to put the upset to one side and deal with the reality.
It’s frightening to realize that my emotional response and inner voice can’t be trusted, but it’s the situation that I find myself in. I have to learn to cope. Not shut down, or grind through, as I’ve done before, but really cope. Learn new skills. I’m good at skills, though. I just didn’t realize that emotions were susceptible to control. I think I’ve seen them as I’ve seen weather. Outside my control.
Apparently, it is more like a physical problem. If I discovered that I was bumping into walls and corners due to a physical illness, but it was something that I could learn to compensate for, wouldn’t I want to learn those compensation skills?
Books & articles mentioned in this post
- The Expanded Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Manual: DBT for Self-Help and Individual & Group Treatment Settings, 2nd Edition
- Self Validation: Learn to accept your internal experience and build your identity, by Karyn Hall Ph.D (Psychology Today)