Techniques to Help You Cope - Part 2
By Dr. Alexander R. Lees
As one reader of Reflections wrote to ask, "Why all the emphasis on controlling emotions?" I thought I'd start with that question in mind.
To use an analogy, driving a car with one or two flat tires really interferes with a smooth ride. In a like and similar way, unresolved emotional 'baggage' within the system accumulates, and, because of the way we are wired, makes us more and more likely to express those emotions, and with less and less stimuli needed to trigger them as time goes by. The ride can get bumpy indeed.
These emotions can then enter into and contaminate conversations, leading to unpleasant consequences at best. Even dreams are not immune.
Emotional contamination is where we get some of our expressions, such as, "He's like a powder keg, just ready to explode." Or, "Maybe it was something I said, but the next thing I knew, he/she just..."
As stated, emotions can begin to influence our thinking and disrupt sleep patterns, and many a client over the years has presented various examples of this effect, such as insomnia, high blood pressure, a seeming inability to cope with the children being children, or worrying unnecessarily over X, Y, and Z. In extreme cases, the person may have developed obsessive compulsive thoughts or behaviours, some form of depression, or even preoccupation with something normally considered trivial in their lives and is now, at least as judged by others, completely over the top in terms of a reaction.
"Cindy" presented as a bright, quick thinking and articulate 22 year old. Her list of issues was considerable, and insomnia was the first on her list to explore. She described herself as tossing and turning in bed for hours, her thoughts were "like soup, each one running into the next." She was also astute enough to report that some part of her realized the whole thing was ridiculous, that it was as if there were two 'voices' in her head, one rational, and the other like a overly stimulated child now run amuck. Various medications were prescribed, complete with side effects, and she wanted "off the roller coaster."
She also presented she had been depressed previously (for about a two year period) much of that time bedridden, and again, subjected to various medications to try and control it.
Helping her to clear the years of abuse, and more importantly, the pent up emotional aspect resulting from these experiences simply allowed the body to do what it was designed to do -- heal itself, which is exactly what it did.
Now, way back when it was very useful to have the emotional brain in charge; after all, it's primary job was to kick us into fight or flight -- such as causing us to whack lunch over the head with a good sized stick, or turbo charge us out of there when a dinosaur spotted us, and decided we'd make a tasty morsel if we stuck around. Do you suppose people were the first fast food?
Today, that part of our brain still exists, but the world has become a tad more civilized, so using a grenade to deal with a stuck elevator would be considered poor form, and society tends to frown upon such behaviours as a tad excessive.
Study after study reports the effects on health, both mentally and physically, of emotional turmoil, especially when allowed to remain in the system over time, and is rated as one of the main precursors of disease. Now this isn't to say all disease is caused by emotions, nor is it to say it is the only contributor, meaning they have to be there for disease to occur. However, since you are being introduced to some very powerful techniques from various disciplines by the talented writers of Reflections, as well as myself, why not take advantage of this talent, and decide to learn, apply and practice, practice, practice what each has to teach? At least you will be eliminating one of the main precursors to disease, and even if you aren't suffering any physical health discomforts, you will most certainly benefit from the resulting mental and emotional calmness it can provide, not to mention the resulting added bonuses of improved self confidence and social comfort into the bargain.
Last month you learned two techniques, and now it's time for another. As this technique requires a bit of a preframe, let me start with this. Our nervous system decided long ago that to try and pay attention, and then try to process, all the information coming at us via our senses would overload the system very quickly. To protect itself, the brain developed 'mental filters,' and thus had a method of reducing the data to a manageable size. This evolutionary step comes with both pros and cons.
Granted, thanks to these filters, we don't go into 'tilt mode' and end up staring at some blank wall, muttering and dribbling 24 hours a day. At the same time, however, we can misinterpret, or translate any given situation, event or circumstance in which we find ourselves involved in a way that can be interruptive to our sense of well being. "How?" you might ask.
Well, by reducing the data coming in, a form of reductionism, we don't really live in reality per se, but more in a model of it. And any time there is a reduction, we can expect distortions. As someone famous once said, "The map is not the territory," so when we are exposed to any event, situation or circumstance, we need to translate that data into meaningful terms that make sense to us. When others interpret the event or situation the same way, it is called a shared reality.
So when we are in disagreement with someone else, more often than not, the glitch is to be found between the models themselves, rather than the model and reality.
This is also true, more often than we realize, when a situation doesn't fit our expected understanding of it, and our nervous system then goes into tilt mode. The difference between our expectations and what is actually occurring is once again a clash between models (unless, of course, you can't or won't believe that what is occurring makes some kind of sense to someone else -- after all, it is occurring, is it not?)
Again a question might be posed; and that is, "What can be done about it?"
I suppose you could become a guru, and try to start a movement of change, or perhaps even a dictator, so everyone has to do your bidding, and therefore conform to your model of the world. On the other hand, you could learn some coping techniques, and by using them faithfully, at least your head will be okay, even though those about you seem to be losing theirs.
You already have learned of two techniques to deal with emotive stress, so now let's go a little deeper, and learn about a technique that works further up the chain, that is, one that can go a long way to preventing the unwanted emotive reaction in the first place. The technique is called a reframe.
A reframe is simply a way of saying that if what you think just happened is causing you stress or upset, then more than likely a new interpretation would be just the thing to right the boat, and return to happy sailing once again.
Some examples of a reframe:
A customs agent has just finished giving several travelers the third degree, including you. One person can walk away from that experience thinking, "Everything bad happens to me." And the rest of his or her day is ruined. Another may have interpreted the situation as the customs officer is having a bad day -- in other words, the officer owns the problem, not the traveler, and - soon enough, the traveler is once again thinking about the excitement of the rest of the journey, and arriving at the destination.
"Ralph," a rather sad looking and somewhat inverted twelve year old, was slouched on my office couch with mom in the chair beside him. Ralph was busy studying whatever it is that twelve year olds think live in carpets, and eye contact with us was minimal. At mom's prompting, Ralph started with: "Whenever my Dad ignores me, I know it's because he thinks I've done something bad. It really bothers me, a lot." (Read: Dad is doing, or not doing, some behaviour that Ralph translates as 'ignoring me,' and, Ralph besides possessing the ability to read minds, has also offered a 'cause and effect' statement, and does so without any explanation of the evidence procedure used to validate it.)
Before I could respond with my brilliance, complete with the benefits of my insights and experience, Ralph's mom leaned forward and said: "Oh, Ralphie, I've know your Dad far longer than you have, and he's been going into deep thought since before you were born. (Read: Therefore, you can't be at cause.) That's how he's always come up with his great ideas."
The obvious shift in Ralph's body language and facial expression told me this reframe had worked quite well, so I wisely kept myself out of the conversation, other than to smile knowingly, as if I knew this all the time, and mom had simply confirmed it.
Ralph then uttered a quiet, "Oh," and it wasn't long before his agile mind was quickly off on some other interests, and the non-verbals now suggested it was time to go, as he had things to do. Granted, there were other issues that needed attending to, but the above aspect of the visit does offer an example of the value in learning about, and putting into practice, a technique referred to as a reframe.
A reframe is nothing more than creating, or accepting, a different interpretation of any situation, such as a conversation, or something you see, and so on. Why? For the purpose of feeling better.
After all, it is all an interpretation anyway, so learning to be flexible, and allowing yourself to consider an alternative possibility in terms of interpretation is the essence of a reframe.
And that leads us to one more question: "How do you know which reframe is the right one?" And the answer to this question is simple; it's the one that you or the other person accepts!
One more example:
"Judy" bounced into my office with such enthusiasm that I had to ask with a smile, "And what have you been up to?" "My husband has been on my case about emailing jokes all the time, she said. "Then he called me obsessive compulsive." "Ouch. And what did you do?" I inquired.
"Instead of becoming defensive, then shut down, I simply reframed him." (Judy had recently attended a workshop I'd presented, and reframes were part of the content.)
Sensing she was dying for me to ask another question, I did. "And what, if I may ask, was your reframe?"
"I just told him that emailing friends and family was my way of staying in touch, that it sends a message saying, "I'm here, thinking of you, and wanting to share," she replied.
"And what did your husband say or do with that?" I asked. "It shut him up," Judy replied with a grin.
Now, there are two categories of a reframe, but, I don't want to overload you. After all, this article should supply you with enough to do for now. I would welcome your feedback (in reframing and especially your successes). Please remember: practice makes perfect! More, much more, next month.
If you can start the day without caffeine,
If you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains,
If you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles,
If you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it,
If you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time,
If you can take criticism and blame without resentment,
If you can conquer tension without medical help,
If you can relax without alcohol,
If you can sleep without the aid of drugs,
Then You Are Probably.........
The Family Dog!