Tool 1: Convert Pain Into Growth
Most of the pain we feel comes from two things: grasping and fixating. The solution in that moment will come from recognizing that in yourself – what I call, “circling it,” and then spotting the underlying emotion that is motivating it. This is also when you can see that it’s a basic and childlike emotion that is understandable and something you can soothe. You can also be compassionate for yourself instead of suffering in the mental obsession. When we grasp or fixate, we create anxiety, but when we can see the true emotion, it becomes simpler and less powerful.
Just by enacting this exercise you will have slowed down the reaction process enough that you can change how you proceed. And further, you can change the pain into something that grows you. How? By changing your habituated reaction to anything different than you normally do.
So in the moment you’re finding yourself really upset about something – grab a journal and convert it into growth! Here are the questions I want to you answer:
- Look for two things: grasping and fixation. Ask yourself, am I clinging to something?
- Am I fixating on something?
- Describe the feeling in your body. What part of your body is the feeling coming from? What does it feel like? Is it tightness or heaviness?
- Does it remind you of an emotion you’ve felt before? If so, what does it resemble?
- What is your habituated reaction to this feeling – meaning, what do you want to do right now?
- What can you choose to do that’s different? (Choose ANY kind of action that’s new.) For example, what would be an opposite response?
- Last, choose to enact one of your new responses instead of doing what you normally do.
Tool 2: Mantra: Don’t Get Morbid
If you’re a Type-A person, you’re likely an over-reactor. I say that with love – I’m like you, too. It’s how you have stayed prepared for danger in the past and it’s also why you are good at what you do, now. But when it comes to your perception, it can cause you unnecessary harm. We all create beliefs and expectations to keep us operating safely: If this, then that. However, these beliefs are not truths, they are judgments and attempts to create order in the world – and we are truly the ones who make them more solid by imagining them. The expectations are what hurt us more than actual events.
Those who have a desire to control, tend to make things more major and dire – by default. We perceive things to be worse and more immovable then they really are. So a mantra to use when you’re in the moment of dread or worry about something to come is “Don’t get morbid.” Remind yourself that everything is much more okay and fluid and flexible than you are making it in your mind. Maybe there’s nothing wrong, at all and everything is very right.
We anticipate the worst and then we experience it in our minds. It’s an overreaction to things that don’t exist – but we think we know better and that it makes us better prepared. Don’t get morbid – relax, step back and recognize you’re making it into something it’s not.
There’s a Buddhist quote that says, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the experts there are few.” And that’s because you slowly grow to believe you have control – that you know all, but that’s just a false perception. Maybe this is just another day that just is – like an animal killing another animal in the wild: it’s not good or bad, it’s life. Don’t lump any additional pain on top of that thing – remember, not everything has to mean something.
“We anticipate the worst and then we experience it in our minds.”
Tool 3: Hack Your Self-Lens (For Feelings of Intolerance for Yourself and Others)
How we relate to ourselves is shaped by how we coped, growing up. In part by what our parents told us was good and bad about us, with their responses to us. So if we blame ourselves or judge ourselves harshly or we do that to others, this is in part a method of control. An attempt to protect ourselves in the face of extreme vulnerability.
It all comes down to self-acceptance and compassion. If we did not learn to have compassion and acceptance for parts of ourselves and our feelings, we will learn to reject them – in ourselves and in the world. So if a parent was incapable of supporting you in the face of confusing or scary feelings, a child “manages” them by creating some kind of logic and rules.
It’s how we self-protect: we create some order – like rules and laws that we can point to. And this gives us a buffer: a logic to empower us to arrange things, that stays removed from the intense vulnerable spot. To blame is to assign fault and rules; to blame is to create the order. We strengthen our beliefs with logic and rationalizations: this further makes it separate from us and therefore much more manageable. It’s how we solidify and ground ourselves: we say that is wrong, that is right, this is why. It’s a way to make the extreme discomfort more manageable – a way of denying it. We create terms for ourselves so we can feel stable – where things make sense, where things are familiar, where we’re in the know and in control.
It might seem backwards to believe that anyone would prefer to feel blame even though it hurts – but the truth is, pain is much more manageable when it’s in your control. When we are right, we feel good and when we are wrong, we feel threatened and attacked. It’s a part of the survival mechanisms of our ego: we crave predictability and control. This is why we choose to be right rather than feel vulnerable.
When we blame ourselves or others or feel intolerance, it’s actually coming from the discomfort of extreme vulnerability. It’s not about what it’s about. Our labels for the pain are all made up.
When it hurts us the most is when we’re holding tight to a belief and refusing to let go: shutting down to the truth and retracting from what offers relief. Because life exists in the same way regardless of how we interpret it. Things can be seen in a thousand different ways – but when we try to create the rules, we shut down our access to what is outside us. We cannot relieve ourselves of the hurt when we refuse to look at what is causing it.
The good news is we can change how we feel in those moments: we can loosen our framework in the simple act of remembering we have a choice. It’s just noticing we are in the state of blame or self-intolerance and backing up far enough to recognize that we are grasping for security. We are holding onto a belief that separates us from possible solutions. Softening gives us access to real understanding and with that, relief and change. So if you are suffering from self-blame or harshly judging yourself, here is a journal exercise to use in that moment:
What are you blaming right now? What are you intolerant to – in yourself or something other?
What is the underlying feeling – beneath that title / explanation? Get super micro about how that feels. Where is it inside your body and what is the texture of that feeling?
What’s the underlying emotional ingredient? Can you circle the most potent and simple emotion at the bottom layer of that feeling? Spell out what that emotion comes from – what belief has created it?
Can you feel compassion and understand that emotion in yourself? Does that emotion seem logical?
Choose to accept it as it is and now write out some possible new responses you could have to this feeling that would replace your habituated reaction. It can be anything at all – as long as it’s new. Write at least 3 possible options and choose one of them.
I want to thank my monthly sponsors – I have to give a shout out to Rich. Thank you so very much!
When you face up to things that make you feel awkward and instead examine them – when you look deeper into what is happening inside you, you can change your reaction. This is when we can undo our looped responses – when we try to fix things, fight with things, obsess about them for hours and weeks. This is when we can create a better life for ourselves and let things go.
To know thyself is truly the greatest gift you could ever get – it’s like a warm blanket of comfort that makes you feel grounded wherever you are. It’s where meaning deepens as does your enjoyment of your life. There’s a Buddhist monk who said, “Do everything as if it were the only thing that mattered, all the while knowing that it doesn’t matter at all.” It sounds contradictory, but it really means is get the most out of now and don’t let attachment rob you of the enjoyment of the experience. What this approach is all about is cultivating an ability to stay floating atop the waves, not get swept down by them or waste years swimming away from them – all the while, missing the sunset. So think of this as anEmotional Floaties approach to life. It means you’re able to move through your experiences on top– with less suffering and experience greater joys.
“Real” in-person, non-distracted experiences give you greater depth and identity. If you made a choice based on the total sum of life and its worth, I think you would choose the bigger, brighter, deeper, more eventful approach to all of it. But I’ll invite you to ask yourself right now: Do you want the greatest joys if they come with suffering? Or would you choose the shallow middle that doesn’t change much at all? If you chose B, then I’ll also ask you – what’s the point? Isn’t it all just one long binge-watch of a show called “life”? I say, go for the rich life – because that’s where everything tastes better, the sun is brighter, and life in its totality expands beyond what you knew was possible.
Sarah May Bates
Founder of Yay With Me a hub of practical tools to create change in yourself, from Podcaster/Author, Sarah May Bates, @sarahmaybee