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Dealing with Negative Emotions
Three Categories of Emotional Sufferers
One doesn't have to be a shrink in order to have noticed basically three categories of emotional sufferers. Only a small percentage are in a realistic need for a professional help, reduced to those whose disturbed emotionality is a result of a major trauma, certain hormonal or neurological disorder, or those unfortunate folks who hear voices, hallucinate, or have a tendency to hurt themselves or others.
But again, considering the number of people these days pecking on tranquilizers, self medicating with nutritional supplements, driving themselves and everybody around crazy with their complaints, or just quietly suffering, the above extreme kind are in a great minority.
In the second group are those who could solve their emotional problems relatively easily, but for one reason or another are unconsciously resisting their getting well. I'll never forget a psychotherapist's confession in a book, when he said: "With the resistance to therapy of some of my clients I am honestly tempted to kick their ass all the way to the door".
Some of them have an unconscious payoff for prolonging their excessive emotionality. Maybe the extra attention they are getting; or being exempt from work or house chores. Quite a few of those are simply bona fide hypochondriacs, and the following definition of those is still the best that I have heard so far: "It's a person who only feels good when they are feeling bad".
And finally, there is that third kind, who basically need just a little push in the right direction. Maybe as little as a talk with a proverbially savvy bartender or a good friend may do. It's for that kind that I am writing this article. They are the ones who are not inclined to attach too much weight to their "emotional phase", while seeing it as a mere need for a little "tune up" to sort out things in their mind.
Grieving---How Long, How Hard?
When I got the news about having lost a dear person, I got that initial wave of deep sadness, which I relatively quickly subjected to some practical thinking, as I always tend to do. So, my first question to myself was: "What am I planning to make of it---for, obviously no amount of my sadness will bring that person back?"
My knee-jerk tendency was clear to me: to go through a lengthy reminiscing about all those good times we had together---which would have been enough to get me all choked up. Then, I could also give it a good mix with the fact that I would never see her again, which would have certainly done a number on a selfish attitude which doesn't like losing.
And, as for that bitter icing on the top, the whole thing, if given a full suggested significance would have kept reminding me of my own mortality, which is not exactly a theme for a dude who loves life as I do.
You see, as a dear person dies, we tend to empathize so much that "putting ourselves in their shoes" means also putting ourselves six feet under, and in the square root of honesty that empathy is hurting too much as we are also going through an unconscious process of giving ourselves a burial.
For the finishing touch in all that thinking I also asked myself: "How will I feel about it a year, or five years from now? The time will certainly do its part; but could I feel like that right now, because in five years that person will be just as gone as she is now, and yet the intensity of this feeling will be so reduced?"
With that kind of thinking, and with my usual emotional flexibility, I just snapped out of my grieving. And I actually loved that person even more because the memory of her is not associatively attached to a lot of emotional pain.
Worries---a Total Waste of Time
Thinking back over many years of my life---and there really are more than I care to mention---I can remember some of those worries which never turned out to be justified. And I am more than sure that they are not all, as my somewhat turbulent childhood and adolescence provided a lot of material to be worried about.
Then add army service and two emigrations to that bouquet of memories, and why even bother thinking of those "nice" times, since the whole damn thing could be seen as one continual string of worries.
Except that it wasn't so, mainly thanks to my innate or acquired nature to go pragmatic about hardships, and particularly those emotions attached to them. However, during that "life school" I did go through some periods when momentary worries were threatening to turn into a habit.
Actually so much so that some totally innocent happenstances posed as reasons to worry. Like, say that wedding of our daughter which involved a ceremony on the church. Not being a religious dude I never felt comfortable at those places, feeling a sort of hypocritical.
You know what I mean? In my eyes it was O.K. for all those other people to be there, but I felt as an intruder, to say the least. So, maybe that's why I started worrying about that upcoming experience. Of course, not to that ridiculous point of expecting a thunderbolt to strike me dead for my appearance there, but simply uneasy about the whole thing.
Then I resorted to tricking my mind out of worrying, as I had done in so many other in so many other instances. I exaggerated the problem to the extent to make it ridiculous, and that took care of it.
Namely, I started listing down in my mind some highly improbable things to happen. Like: "What if I make a fool of myself by tripping over my daughter's wedding gown while I am taking her down the isle? What if I have to go pee? What if the groom doesn't show up? What if my wife starts uncontrollably crying? "
You see what I mean? Worries usually go away when we blow them out of proportion.
Angry---and Hurting Ourselves Only
When it's about being pissed-off at someone--- just like with any other negative emotion---we have a choice to make: do we want to insist on it; and for how long before we get tired of it? Or we just decide to cut it all short and smartly snap out of it, as if nothing happened.
Indeed, the question is, how much longer we are planning to keep ourselves all revved up and fuming and feeling "right", and "hurt"---while cursing ourselves for not having said or done this or that? What's the use, other than hurting ourselves with the whole matter?
It was St. Augustine who was credited for saying: "Resentment is the poison that we drink while hoping that someone else will die". No wonder the Pope of that time gave him a sainthood, the dude was smart, no question about it.
Really, why do we need that insisting with hurting ourselves by using someone's improper acting? Do we hate ourselves that much or something? With all those stress hormones, and that increased blood pressure, that knot in the stomach, and blood turning acidy, and that overstimulated sympathetic nervous system, and that fight/flight mechanism activated and urging us to do what we surely won't do...why use all that to torment ourselves that's already gone and impossible to bring back for editing?
What gets achieved after we have run out of derogatory names, after spending all that unnecessary time chasing our tail with the same story told over and over? Is there a purpose to it?
And the final question: What makes that person so special that we are offering our buttons of anger available for them to push?
Guilty---Maybe for Parents' Mistakes?
There are folks who don't only feel guilty for something that they have done, but actually for something that they "are", whether in their own eyes or in the imagined eyes of others. The first part is easy to fix---you apologize, and you don't repeat the mistake.
Then, if the person still insists on being pissed at you, tough luck, you shouldn't let them use it as a leverage for some future advantage over you by keeping you "in debt". We are only imperfect humans bound to make mistakes, and they are all forgivable except, of course, those that a judge has to deal with.
But then, there is that extended form of guilt---for something that we "are", which calls for a little deeper look. It usually comes from a childhood conditioning during which we kept being verbally punished for our alleged "selfishness, inadequacies, weaknesses, faults, and something shameful and unforgivable".
So in the process of it we develop a heightened sensitivity to disapprovals which we take with us into our adult life and to many challenges of interacting with others. We tend to forget about individual differences which give everyone a freedom to be who they are---but rather tend to judge ourselves by other people's criteria of what is "appropriate".
Then some of us may turn into martyrs, sacrificing our own happiness to catering to others' emotional and other needs---just to keep quiet that inner voice which might call us again "selfish".
Well, the first step in all this would be accepting our primary caretakers as imperfect humans who didn't know any better at the time, and understanding that not everyone is cut for parenting who is biologically capable to bring a child to this world. Many parents treat their kids as they were treated themselves, and they are projecting their own guilt on their kids, not even aware what they are doing.
So, guilt is just a waste of time, to say the least, and some things are best left behind, along with everything else that our emotions can't make any better. We just can't feel guilty enough to change that what was back there.
Anxiety---Too Much Fuss over Nothing
I wrote another article about anxiety, but let's go quickly over the main points of it. Anxiety is like a toothache, when we feel like the whole jaw is falling apart, while it's only a tiny nerve at the bottom of the tooth giving us trouble.
Likewise, anxiety may mimic a heart attack, with that pain in the chest, shortness of breath, cold sweat, dizziness, and nerves to match. You see, our body has only a limited ways to express when things are out of whack. We may have a headache because of a brain tumor, or that same headache because we didn't have enough sleep.
So, for all that parading of the nervous and adrenal systems, anxiety is just as "serious" as a sneeze, it only feels a hell of a lot worse, that's all.
There is something to remember about that innocence of it: the less attention we give to it, and the more we are acting as if nothing is happening, the sooner the episode will taper down. You see, there is something like primary and secondary adrenalin reaction. The first one is the initial sense of uneasiness with some limited symptoms.
But then we have to catch it right there, and prevent the secondary adrenalin coming from our freaking out over the experience. That second one is bound to give us a "better serving" of symptoms, because we are getting upset over being upset.
So, my suggestion still stands: unless you are a heart patient, don't take any of those symptoms seriously, don't be intimidated by the episode, act as normally as you would without it---yes, even smile. And, don't tell anyone about it, trust me, that makes it worse, as people start treating you as a "sick person" and thus prolonging the episode.
As you take it with a smile, you are retraining your nervous system for future episodes to make them milder and shorter, until they completely disappear. Remember, the more you fuss, the longer they last, so treat them as a sneeze even though they don't feel like one.
Well, I hope these few pointers may be helpful for those of you who may go through emotional bouts with certain events in your life. No matter what, insist upon a positive and practical solution, rather than helplessly wallow and wonder what's wrong with you. Nothing is wrong with you, you are only being human.