Fixing. Solving. Smoothing over. We often reach for the metaphorical superglue when we feel bad or out of sorts. We seek to plaster the cracks of ourselves so the negative emotions don’t leak out, keeping a self-imposed equilibrium of what life “should” be like. But it is OK to be frightened, sad, stressed, anxious or feel grief because it’s OK for it not to be OK.
The amount of effort it takes to hold the self imposed equilibrium tells us something — something important if we choose to listen. What it’s pointing out is we are fighting a battle we may not win. We are effectively fighting our own pain which often results in further pain. It’s a cycle of ouch.
As well as denying ourselves the opportunity to develop healthy ways to cope with adversity. We are giving power to the emotional energy and building it into an insurmountable beast.
The Cycle of Ouch
The actions of fixing, solving or smoothing over suggest to our subconscious that what we are feeling is wrong. Its an inadvertent judgment saying it’s not OK to be in pain. We try to turn the tap off to our emotions by diverting attention or ignoring it, which triggers yet further pain, continuing the cycle of ouch.
If we give ourselves permission to experience the emotion, open ourselves up to the vulnerability of pain we can find security. It is scary to even consider it. But being in the present with it, simply saying, “Hey, I feel you and I’m not fighting today,” takes away some of the energy of the emotion.
This is a neutral position of working with the emotion rather than against. Neither holding it in or pushing it down into our bodies and hoping it will just go away. Or expressing it to its fullest so it bubbles over and becomes a bit messy. Neutral is a softer way to experience emotions.
Rather than fighting life, we go with it. We find more inner peace as we embrace our experience just as it is. This won’t be easy to start with as this approach is a skill you practice and develop over time, but once you have it, it’s an approach that you will get plenty of use from.
Five Skills to Develop to Break the Cycle of Ouch
- Say hey to it – Give the emotion recognition: “I see, hear and feel you and I’m OK with that.”
- Name it – Identify the emotion you are experiencing. The more honest you can be with what you are feeling, the gentler you can ultimately be with yourself. “I feel you ‘anger,’ I feel you in the pit of my stomach, I’m not going to fight you today, its OK that I feel you and it hurts.”
- Hang out – Just sitting with the emotion and even giving it space in your mind and body brings the potential for calm with no effort on your part. The emotion’s energy sometimes runs out when you allow it space; it kind of gives up as it’s not causing the desired drama.
- Focused breathing – Just noticing your breath, not making an effort to breathe deeply, just noticing where you are breathing from and maybe even counting the length of breath in… and out… will help the mind and body cope with what it is experiencing. Our minds can’t multitask so focusing on the breath rather than the emotion will automatically break the cycle of ouch.
- Trust yourself – Remembering that you are the best person for the job and your willingness to feel uncomfortable is a true sign of strength. Trusting in the knowledge that this will last for as long as it lasts but it won’t be forever, is powerful. This isn’t easy, but fighting or ignoring it isn’t easy either and takes more effort.
Once the emotion has lessened, when you feel able you can choose to reflect on your experience and recognize your thoughts that triggered the emotion, you can do so, but you don’t have to do anything with these thoughts — again it is just acknowledging them because it is OK.
Having simple, but effective techniques we can call upon when we experience negative emotions takes the power and energy from what is a scary experience. You can start to break your own cycle of ouch by just by remembering it is OK, for it not to be OK.