Have you noticed that when you are shouting at someone, they stop listening? They close down? If you have children, you can actually see their eyes glaze over.
Now take a second and think about your reaction when someone yells at you. Do you really get anything out of the interaction other than increased animosity? The person who is yelling does have something to tell you – something worthwhile or their emotions wouldn’t run so hot.
Sometimes we let our emotions SHOUT at us. The emotion becomes a clanging beast pounding your head, your heart. When that happens, we no longer hear what the emotion is trying to say. If we can calm the beast, then we can get the message. Remember though we want to calm, NOT ignore. We never want to shove emotions away. Our emotions have a purpose but we can’t find their message when they are shouting down the door.
Here’s One Way to Calm Down (and it’s fun)
Read the lyrics carefully. Ask yourself these questions:
I used Chris Stapleton’s newest song, "Either Way" because I found it very powerful the first time I heard it. Here are the lyrics:
We pass in the hall on our way to separate rooms
The only time we ever talk is when the monthly bills are due
We go to work, we go to church
We fake the perfect life
I'm past the point of giving damns
All my tears are cried
We can just go on like this
Say the word, we'll call it quits
Baby, you can go or you can stay
But I won't love you either way
It's been so long since I've felt
Anything inside these walls
You can't help, you can't hurt
When you don't feel at all
I used to cry and stay up nights
And wonder what went wrong
It's been hard
But hearts can only do that for so long
We can just go on like this
Say the word, we'll call it quits
Baby, you can go or you can stay
I won't love you either way
This took me all of five minutes but I’m calmer. I can hear myself now instead of all that internal clatter. Five minutes well spent!
Our inner critic has one favorite activity – knocking you off your game! I just wrote another recipe that helped to shut the critic’s mouth. As I did those activities, I realized I was having a ton of fun with one specific activity:
Imagine you are at dinner with a [fictional] character you absolutely HATE. (Every story has a villain, right?) What would you talk about? What you would want to say? What do you imagine the character would say back?
As I played this game, I realized my inner critic was having the time of her life! And, since it was a fictional character, I could do/say/think whatever I wanted. My inner critic is really pulling out all the stops – I’m truly laughing at her exuberance.
Let’s go with Cersei Lannister (Game of Thrones)
What would I say?
Can you see why my inner critic is frolicking? I’ve given her free reign (and trust me, she’s being more graphic than I can be here) ….
My inner critic is focused elsewhere and since I’ve given her such a dramatic character, she’ll stay busy for a while. If I know her, she’ll move through all the characters in Game of Thrones. I’ll have lots of time to get things done without her voice bringing me down!
Trust me, Cersei won’t mind! After all, she’s fictional. And my having such vehement feelings just proves Lena Headey is a great actress!
What do you when your inner critic rattles your cage? You know what I’m talking about – you’re trying to do/change/become something and your inner voice tells you why you can’t/ shouldn’t/ won’t. Before you keep reading, find that voice and let her get a few jabs in – that way, you’ll know if this activity helps you or not.
My inner critic is having a high-old time telling me:
She needs to SHUT UP … (I wanted to use much more colorful language!) How can I put a sock in it? (Note: first you have to recognize the voice – which requires you to pay attention to your thoughts!)
It would be great if you have paper and pen but you can just do this in your own brain!
Actually, trying to “hold” all of this in your mind will really stretch you and force that inner critic to hush – there won’t be room enough for both!
Recognize that negative voice!
Choose one or more of the following topics and just think about it. Dig deep for the answers – don’t settle for easy, superficial answers.
Did you notice that I stayed in a fictional world? That was intentional. Our inner critic can’t criticize something that’s not real. Oh she may try to critique your choices or answers, but her voice will be diminished because there is no basis in reality. In a fictional world, your choices don’t matter – it’s all in a world someone else created.
Is your Inner Critic quiet? Or at least quieter?
Did you find another way to entertain yourself instead of listening to negativity?
Did you learn something about yourself based on your choices? (I did – I really was able to understand what types of stories bring me joy and why.)
I’ve been watching The Fall on Netflix. The story is simple – a serial killer is being pursued by a detective. What makes it so interesting is the character development. I HATE the main detective, Stella Gibson, who is played by Gillian Anderson. If I could have her over for dinner what would I want to know? I’m only ½ through the series, so I started asking questions I hope get answered before it’s over. Here are a few:
Okay, so my inner critic is now beating up Stella Gibson – it’s better to beat up some fictional character than me! And, I get to feel virtuous – I may not be the next Elizabeth Gilbert but at least I’ve never slept with a married man!
Lastly, and this is just a side benefit, I’m pulled even more into the show – in a way, I’ve entered the show – which will just enhance my watching experience. As a matter of fact, I’ll be asking these questions to my husband – we should have some great conversation!
My husband does my editing … here is what he added:
“Your Inner Critic is a moron. If I was violent, I’d kick her ass from here to Hades.” ~ I thought that was sweet and wanted to share.
Some people, like my husband, live in a more rational world. He rarely, if ever, feels an out-of-control emotion. He gets angry, sad, scared – but he never feels out-of-control. When an emotion hits me in that powerful way, he’ll often look at me as if I’m an alien. My kids actually used to say that I literally turned blue when I was excessively angry. A blue alien.
Unfortunately, for me at least, I’ve never been able to put into word what’s happening inside me. I either can’t find the words or can’t make the words make sense. Or, and this is what happens most often, I feel like if I do explain I’ll sound crazy.
I’ve been reading this great real-life story (a combination of fiction and non-fiction) by Anton Svensson. In the book, he writes these words:
….[it] was like forcing out another person who’d moved inside him, who’d made himself at home, and who under no conditions wanted to move out again.The Father by Anton Svensson
As soon as I read those words, I recognized myself when I’m filled with excess emotional energy. It fills like someone (anger, sadness, fear) has become a completely separate being inside me. I feel alien. I act/react in alien ways. I scare people. I scare myself.
I keep repeating that emotions are important because they are. Out-of-control emotions, however, are counter-productive. As a matter of fact, out-of-control emotions usually make the situation worse and the consequences more dire. We must find strategies to calm ourselves.
In DBT circles, this is called Distress Tolerance. I think all therapeutic models have some mode of finding calm. This site offers several suggestions: http://www.dbtselfhelp.com/html/distress_tolerance1.html
I found what works for me: I get in my car, drive around I285 (63 miles) while listening to a book that I already know. I choose a book that I already know because I’ve already experienced the crisis and climax. When I’m in distress, it doesn’t help me to add stress with a fictional crisis. The book I choose also has a ‘happily ever after’ ending and I skip around the chapters to only listen to the ones I enjoy. Interestingly, this is the only time I actually drive the speed limit.
Usually after this hour of driving, I’m still emotional but I’m no longer a blue alien.
I know this is a disassociation technique. I know some therapists would not condone my approach. Some therapists would tell me to “sit with it” or “hold it”. I agree with that most of the time but sometimes it’s just too hot to hold. When the emotion is that hot, it can burn down the house.
My husband used to hate it when I took this little trip. He worried. He also likes to resolve conflict as it occurs. He still doesn’t “get it” because he doesn’t experience extreme emotions. On the other hand, he has also learned that 1) I’m probably safer taking this time to chill; 2) Our relationship is likely safer because the danger of saying things or making decisions we regret later is reduced; 3) When I return, I’m able to handle my emotions and use the information they provide wisely. He has also learned through experience and time that I return home OK – almost always better off and safe every time.
Sometimes I don’t need something as extreme as a tour of Atlanta. I have a list of other strategies to use: read, bath & book, walk/exercise.
It’s important to have strategies in place BEFORE you get out-of-control. Once that emotion dragon takes over, it’s hard to even think. So, today, tomorrow, find a few strategies to try when you are feeling like your normal self. Which activities calm you? Which make you more anxious?
For some of you, doing a meditation or a mindfulness activity helps. For me, meditation/mindfulness makes me jittery. It’s important to know what works and what doesn’t.
What works for me is a solo-activity. Maybe journaling or coloring or doing your favorite hobby would work. Maybe cooking or savoring a bowl of chocolate ice cream. Maybe doing one of the DBT worksheets (or any of the therapeutic worksheets) is the key. How about a puzzle or Sudoku or Angry Birds?
Look at the website list above or search “worksheets for calming” – even some of the worksheets for kids will help.
Don’t be dogmatic: what works for YOU may not be what works for your friend.
Create a toolbox of strategies. In the second drawer of my office I keep colored pencils, sketch paper, some of my favorite DBT worksheets, a coloring book, a book of word finds. I also have a file folder on my computer of puzzles and other therapeutic things.
Just yesterday, I was wrestling with a problem and I felt myself beginning to get anxious. I heard my negative voice start condemning me. I went to my drawer, tried to draw a flower. It sucked! I have no drawing talent. I actually ended up getting tickled with how bad it was. I only took 10 minutes to calm myself. When I came back to the project, I was able to refocus and get my problem solved.
If I just have to let that emotion run its course – if none of my strategies work, I do the Catastrophe Exercise – either written or just in my mind.
I learned about this via a TedTalk. (I can’t find it again to give you the source. Sorry.)
By the way, watching YouTube or TedTalk videos is a great way to take a few minutes to chillax. The TedTalks are all less than 20 minutes and they have some compelling talks. And, we all know that cat videos are relaxing – laughter always is!
In the spirit of catastrophe, cats and humor: https://www.youtube.com/user/CatCatastrophes
I knew red roses meant love, white roses meant purity, etc. I didn’t realize
that almost every flower and herb has a meaning. Did you know, for example, that oregano represents joy? We’re going to use our brains and a touch of creativity to design a bouquet. As much as I’d love to be able to buy one, I doubt that would be affordable or even possible due to seasonal differences. Instead, we are going to use the internet and our printers.
Please share your bouquet with all of us fellow sufferers at JuneConverse.com.
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.
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