Dreading the Holidays?

I’m sure the reasons for your yes are varied. On the top of many lists is having to deal with dysfunctional families. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people and bring our own imperfections into every encounter. Since we cannot change the world or others, we can only focus on ourselves.
If you’ve been reading my blog for awhile, you will know where I am going to begin: Awareness. My favorite concept! If we don’t notice what we are thinking, feeling and doing in any given moment we cannot possibly create change. We end up being reactionary and repeating the same old miserable scenario again and again. In preparation for dysfunctional family encounters, start now by paying attention to what you are thinking and why you are thinking it. Notice what you are feeling and why you are feeling that particular emotion at this moment. Notice your attitudes, actions and words. Why are they happening? How are they connected to your thoughts and emotions?
This is the preparation phase. If you were going to run a marathon you would not likely expect yourself to run 26 miles simply by reading about running. You would have to prepare your body for such an undertaking. Think about your mind in the same way. You have to train your mind to be prepared for the challenges in life. Spending time with dysfunctional people is at least as challenging as running 26 miles. Recognize that. Affirm that for yourself. You will have to train diligently to be prepared.
There’s more to come but for now, practice awareness. Practice being in this very moment and noticing yourself. If being aware becomes too difficult for you, for instance the emotions you feel overwhelm you and you don’t know what to do with them or you cannot access any emotion, get help from a professional counselor or therapist who advocates awareness.

Emotions 201: Just the Facts, Ma'am

In An Alternative to the Emotional Band-Aid I introduced an awareness technique that is useful for processing emotions.  This is a follow-up to that post.  One of the steps in the process is validating your emotion.  I am a firm believer in the concept that our emotions never lie to us.  They simply let us know our reaction to our thoughts.  When we question the validity of an emotion, it would be helpful to question our thoughts.  Our thoughts are where we run into trouble.  Think about this for a moment.  I can stand here and tell myself horrible things are happening to my children.  I can actually get myself to panic and even cry.  Actors do this frequently to create authentic tears.  The tears may be real but the thoughts are not.  This is called creating a story or catastrophizing, making things much worse than they really are.

To help us in our quest for emotional health, it is imperative that we look at the thoughts behind our emotion: are they real, based in fact?  Imagine standing before a judge in a court of law, would the evidence for your emotion be admissible or thrown out?  Here is an example: Let’s say your boyfriend just broke up with you.  You are heartbroken by the loss of the relationship.  As you are crying about the break-up, you start to imagine yourself alone for the rest of your life and you go into an emotional spiral.  What is true and what is the story? The truth is that you are heartbroken by the loss of the relationship (I’m assuming it was a real relationship and it meant something to you).  The story is you will be alone for the rest of your life.  How do you know that?  Can you look into the future?  I don’t believe we have the ability to know for certain what is going to happen to us.  I don’t think a psychic can even do that with 100% accuracy.

The facts are sad enough sometimes.  The last thing we need to do to ourselves is add to the intensity with some created story.  As you go about your day, notice your emotions and the thoughts behind them.  Are you creating stories?  Separate the facts from fiction; as Joe Friday on Dragnet would say, “Just the facts ma’am [or sir!].”  Allow yourself to feel the emotions tied to facts and let go of the things that are not.