I've had a depressing week. I've been comparing myself and letting my mind drag me into a low mood by believing (or not challenging) the stories of comparison, regret and self judgement:
This kind of thinking is responsible for so much despair in my life and so many other people's. I coach people and have the privilege of helping them to escape this endless loop of misery and internal drama. But that doesn't mean I can always escape it myself. In fact I notice how I often post all the nice bits of life on social media - then other people can compare themselves negatively to me! Oh dear! With practice I'm getting more resilient to comparison. What is the practice?
I'm fortunate enough to have access to some pretty awesome friends and therapists and this week I've been taking a look at my inner critic in more detail, as well as the vulnerable inner victim. In the paradigm of 'parts work' (AKA internal family systems, voice dialogue, fooling etc) we recognise there are many parts at play in our internal landscape. There parts are like people of their own accord. If you pay attention to yourself you'll notice your energy levels, voice and posture change when you are 'playing out' different parts.
In one recent therapy session I took time to go into my sad 'I don't know what I'm doing' part and really empathise with him. I was able to link it back to a 12 year old version of me that had trauma when entering secondary school. He felt (and still feels) deflated, small and depressed at the challenges of 'big-boy school'. My posture become hunched and my voice is squeezed. I feel this today whenever I encounter setbacks, particularly related to my work or areas where I demonstrate I'm a capable and intelligent person.
I also played out the critical parts of me - the thinkers and judges. These parts embody a more confident and even aggressive energy and posture. These relate to parents, bullies, teachers and... myself. They were necessary parts of myself that helped to protect me.
The purpose of giving these parts space to express themselves is:
What does this look like?
This morning I gave a lot more space to the critics - who really had some good advice (albeit delivered with some anger and judgements). I took a mirror and placed it in front of me and I began to lay out all the criticisms - full throttle, for 10 minutes! I went through what I should do and how I have been so wrong. Turns out I really do want to be more successful, prosperous and have more ease and fun and if I listen to the advice and weed out the condemning judgements.
I was only able to do this because I've given each part that needed it some space. In my therapy session the vulnerable victim cried - a lot! That cathartic grieving left space for me to hear, understand and appreciate the advice of the inner critics.
The beautiful side effect of all this is that the comparison mindset vanishes (along with the despair) and is replaced with a more appreciative mind - that sees the present moment as a gift - an opportunity to live! Now is wow! Today I've been exercising, working, reading and enjoying nature. It's not perfect and I still get the symptoms of 'compare and despair' occasionaly, but now I can recognise it and meet it with understanding , compassion and some really good 'self care'.
If this sounds like something you'd like to explore let me know and we can do some coaching together, I'm offering a free 1 hr intro session from October 2021. Book here.
In reality, however, these ‘negative’ emotions can be helpful. The negativity comes when we try to fight them via:
These are the basics of our learned coping mechanisms or conditioned reaction, which are largely unconscious (meaning we are not aware of them, or in control of them). They developed during childhood, when they were perceived as absolutely necessary reactions, to receive attention, love and/or safety when we needed it most. We carry these deep in our nervous system.
Something happens that ‘triggers’ past pain, and activates the mechanism. It can be anything, from a specific type of person, environment or even a raised eyebrow to a shouted word. The reactions triggered can be severe, like a full-on panic attack, or more subtle, like anxiety and a tight chest. For myself I notice that I sometimes get very sleepy and tired during emotional conversations with my partner. I realised this is a mechanism learned from childhood to unconsciously help myself avoid conflict and forced emotional dumping and enmeshment with parents). I have since learned to pause when I yawn, and name this as a 'conditioned reaction', which often stops it. Which leads me into the next step...
How to heal our conditioned reactions
The methods I work with involve multiple therapies to work on grieving, accepting and revaluating past interpretations and coping mechanisms in both the mind and the body. I also advocate for self healing through self awareness and self love and coach myself and others to do this in everyday life.
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” ― Rumi
We can do the healing work moment-to-moment by utilising these so-called negative emotions. First I remind people to ‘celebrate the catch’ - to recognise that there is a power in being able to recognise an emotion and se it could be valuable. Each powerful emotion is a clue to help you learn about yourself, to understand your patterns, mechanisms and past pains. I encourage people to become fascinated with these moments, like they are gold. Feeling the body as we ask ourselves these key questions:
This understanding is the first step in the STOP technique, which is one tool that I teach to my clients.
In reality the emotions are not just about the situation, but more about our ‘thoughts about the situation’ (stories). Most stories are rooted in the past - a conditioned judgement about how we should react, internalised. so much that we use them as expectations; not just for ourselves, but for others. Shame, anger, anxiety and even sadness became tools to make sure these hidden expectations are met as children, but of course they are ineffective as adults, in the present context.
The work of healing begins by admitting these hidden stories of expectations to ourselves internally. As we do the work of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), we learn that it’s OK to have judgements and feelings, and we can find more helpful ways to act that are aligned with what we value and want. For example, if I realise I’m holding an expectation for another person to ‘calm down and sort themselves out’ then I can start to give that to myself, giving me a chance to help them and also achieve what I want: calm, loving connection.
The real gold is in the process of helping ourselves; finding our power through admission of what we really feel and think, instead of fighting and repressing the emotion. We can turn a so-called ‘negative emotion’ into a powerful and positive force to help us heal, grow and create the outcomes we want, instead of perpetuating the outcomes we hate.
So try these questions today: if you feel ‘bad’, STOP and ask yourself “what is so bad about right now?” By admitting the truth we are set free, even if we are a bit pissed off first. I hope this helps you.
If you’d like any help finding more inner freedom and empowerment please call me today.
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com