What happens if you let a pot of rice boil too fast? What happens if a sweet potato drips onto your oven rack? What if the oil in the pan gets too hot? Over-boiling rice makes a mess of the stove and the pot. It becomes a ruined meal. Dripping sweet potato smells great at first but slowly turns acrid, permeating the entire house. Baked-on sweet potato also takes elbow grease to clean. Hot oil causes smoke, then fire alarms followed by fire engines.
What does the kitchen have to do with emotional safety? Think about it – remember the last time you were angry – seriously angry. Did you feel hot? Did you boil over? Did you leave a mess in your wake? Are you still trying to un-think, un-say, un-do the damage? What messes have you made because of a too-hot emotion? What decisions do you wish you could re-do because you let your emotions rule your house?
Like food, emotions are important – critical to our survival. And, like food, we have to live in balance. Just like we have to balance the level of boil in our rice, we must balance the boil in our emotions. Like your kitchen, emotions are only one room in your house and it does not control everything else. Our emotions must be balanced with our mind, body and soul. How?
Why are cookbooks so popular? Why is Pinterest littered with recipes? It’s simple really – we all want guidance to make something better, something delicious or healthy or easy. Sometimes we want a recipe that challenges us. Sometimes we just want something different. Recipes guide us to pleasurable, balanced meals. What if there were recipes to keep your emotional world from boiling over and creating a mess? What if someone took all that expert sage advice and distilled it down to a set of actionable recipes?
What is your number one goal in this exact moment? Don’t make that harder than it is … your number one goal is always TO MAKE THE NEXT BEST DECISION. The decision you made two minutes ago is over and done. What about the next minute? If you are operating with boiling emotions, you can’t make the next best decision. You have to first lower the temperature, control the boil.
Have you ever been angry? Have you ever been so angry would wanted to break something? Have you ever been so angry you wanted to break someone? What do you do?
Have you ever been afraid? Maybe the fear was legitimate, maybe it wasn’t. What do you do?
Have you ever been sad? Depressed? Lonely? Bored? What do you do?
Have you lost someone or something important to you? Been betrayed, abandoned, disappointed? What do you do?
Do you have one of the labels professionals have to use in order to collect payment: manic-depressive, bi-polar, depression, severe depressive disorder, eating disordered, anxiety/panic, etc.? What do you do?
Do you feel mad one minute, guilty the next, followed up by sadness and a return to anger? What do you do?
Just as death and taxes are part of the human condition, so is emotional suffering (aka the emotional boil).
What do you do? How do you turn down the heat?
Our emotions are important – they have a role in our physical, mental, emotional and even spiritual lives. Without emotion, we are robots. Our fear response tells us to run or fight when danger approaches. Our sadness allows us to process loss. Our anger allows us to defend ourselves. Our emotions keep us safe! If, however, our emotions become master instead of helper, we leave safety and enter the realm of suffering.
We should never try to squelch our emotions or control our emotions or judge our emotions. Our emotions just are. Sometimes I think of my emotions as small children who want to be heard. If you don’t pay attention to your emotions, they will throw a temper tantrum. But if we cater to our emotions too much, they become uncontrollable brats.
To continue the cooking metaphor – we must keep an eye on the pot so the food doesn’t burn, make a mess or catch the house on fire. Perfectly cooked pudding is delightful.Overcooked pudding is ugly, bitter, clumpy and too often the pot has to be trashed. When we let an emotion get too hot, we often create a similar disaster.
Can we control how hot our emotions get? Maybe. Maybe not. What we can do is recognize the water is boiling and take action to turn it down before it leaks over the pot, across the stove and onto the floor. We can slow the boil before the pot is destroyed. But how?
Learning how to give your emotions the proper attention takes practice and technique and strategy. It means knowing What To Do. It goes beyond theory and into practice. Just like I can watch the Food Channel all day long, I can read every self-help book on the market. But if I don’t actually take the advice into the kitchen, I never create; I never improve; I never become a better cook. I never make the next best decision. I never gain confidence in my skills. So how do you move from theory to practice?
Use a recipe: gather the supplies, follow the instructions.
And, just as you would a food recipe, analyze the results. Did it need more of something? Less of something? Did it simply not meet your needs? Was it perfect? Do you want to ‘cook’ it again?
If you noticed, I don’t have any letters behind my name. The only “mental health” education I claim is the adolescent development classes I was required to take during college. Why listen to anything I have to say?
Because I am a fellow sufferer! Five years ago, I crashed and burned. But the suffering started long before that. If I had figured out what to do earlier in my life, I might have saved myself – and those people that I love – ongoing pain. I would have understood the concept of “what’s your next best decision”.
When it finally all came crashing down, I took getting healthy seriously (mind, body, soul). I’ve spent – and continue to spend - countless hours in individual therapy, group therapy, classes, reading, writing, creating. As we go along, I will share my story and my ongoing struggles – I will show you my vulnerabilities so that you can be confident I know how you feel. I get it. I live in a pot ready to boil.
In the last five years, I’ve finally figured out some things and I have created a new life – a balanced life. A life where my emotions do what they are supposed to do – warn me, protect me, guide me. A life where my emotions do not take me by the neck and wring me around. A life where my emotions do not cause me to treat people I love like bowling pins. What did I do?
I became a cook in my own emotional kitchen. DBT, CBT, ACT, etc. etc. etc. Every expert, every model, every program has its nuggets of wisdom. Even fictional material has nuggets that allow me to think deeper, find wisdom, move toward balance. I use them all.
I listened to all the advice; I learned everything I could. I gobbled up ideas, suggestions. I took these ideas and adapted them to tangible activities. Then, just as any good cook, I …
I learned how to handle a hot potato without burning myself. I learned to put the hot potato down, let it cool, then enjoy it. This is what I’m sharing with you. I’m giving you my cookbook. I’m also hoping to add your recipes to mine.
No, I don’t have all the answers. No, I don’t have it all together, all the time. No, all of these recipes will not work for you. I’m not trying to be a your last stop. I’m simply trying to give TANGIBLE ways to jump into that overwhelming emotion, tame it, then let it be useful to you. I continue to listen, learn, read, watch … I add to my collection of recipes every day.
I will make my NEXT BEST DECISION. My emotions will help me instead of filling the house with smoke.
I have tried so many things – every book I read (even novels) give me an idea. I’ve been collecting these ideas and manipulating them to my advantage. I’ve been turning the wonderful “gooey” advice from self-help books, therapy sessions, etc. into tangible activities. I’ve asked my therapist a thousand times, “What do I do?” – she never tells me. She has me dig around – that’s her job. But, when the chips are down, I just need to know WHAT TO DO in that exact moment. These recipes are my answer.
For example, we all know going for a walk is supposed to help calm us … but if I just go for a walk, I’ve discovered my too hot emotion just goes with me, talks to me, justifies itself, heats up. But, if I enhance that walk by adding another ingredient, I diffuse the heat and can analyze what the emotion is actually trying tell me and then use that information to make my next best decision.
I mix and match all the different techniques into something that works rather than something that simply sounds pretty and scientific.
When that emotion grabs you, grab a recipe – follow it. Your volcano will cool. Even if all you do is take a second to pull out a recipe, you’ll force some control back into the house.
You know it’s going to happen – your spouse is going to make you mad; someone is going to hurt your feelings; you are going to lose something valuable in your life.
Play with these recipes before you need them. Mark those that really made an impact. Just as you probably know how to make your favorite food without a recipe, you’ll be able to pull up some emotional control more quickly.
Just as these recipes diffuse your emotions, these ideas can also lower the temperature in relationships. Invite participation. On each recipe, I’ll give you suggestions on how to do this.
Many of these recipes are simply fun or they are a unique way to communicate. I’ve used them with my husband, my children, my friends. I’ve used them simply to encourage myself to keep moving forward.
These are for you to use in YOUR emotional kitchen. Only you live there and only you can decide what works and what doesn’t. I’ve taken the guesswork out – I’ve read the books, listened to the experts, allowed my pot to boil-over. I’ve made the next worst decision. I’ve done (and continue to do) the work required to make perfect rice. Don’t just read – get out your pots and pans. Learn to use your emotional kitchen. Choose one recipe and follow the steps.
Always keep the goal in mind … the NEXT BEST DECISION. Decide to put some new tools in your kitchen!
I will be posting recipes with many of my posts -- give 'em a try.
In April 2012 I had a mental breakdown. The real thing. I have about 36 hours that I don’t remember....