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Posts Tagged ‘Emotional Stew’

I’m borrowing liberally from Coach Jim’s blog today.  This past week he wrote a GREAT entry about attitude. 

Okay….it’s about waaaaay more than attitude.  In fact it’s probably more about perspective than attitude.  Just bear with me and keep reading.  Hopefully it will become clearer.

First things first.  Here’s a link to Jim’s blog entry. http://www.lifewithhappiness.com/2009/04/nothing-is-good-or-bad/  It’s worth the couple of minutes it will take to read the entire thing.  (And he’s much more concise with his writing than I am.  J) 

Here’s the introduction to his blog.

“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
Hamlet, Act II Scene 2

This quote from Shakespeare is one of my all-time favorites… and defines a foundational element of my coaching practice and life philosophy.

Events are just events.  Stuff happens.  That’s it.

THEN…we create a story to explain that event.  In our “story” we interpret what happened and make up reasons why it happened, and that story evokes an emotional response from us… and suddenly an event is labeled: good, bad, ugly.  And we feel sadness, optimism, fear, anger, appreciation, frustration, concern, etc

Not from the event, but from our thinking about the event.”

I love that!!!  And it’s soooooooo true!

When I see others “over-reacting” (granted, that’s an assessment on my part…..I think you know what I mean regardless …)it’s super easy for me to see that it’s the story they are telling themselves about the event, rather than the event, that is causing them stress, anxiety, etc.

I mean really, when someone doesn’t use their turn signal (or their “directional” as I often say) it’s not because they intentionally want to cause you to swear at them.  They aren’t doing it to intentionally aggravate you.  I’m nearly positive they aren’t thinking about you at all.  They are simply doing what’s easiest for them.  And ignoring the traffic laws.  Ahem.  How freakin’ hard is it to use a turn signal anyway?!?!

What?  Oh.  Sorry.  I’m off track already.  (Sheepish grin!)

Regardless of my lack of focus, this seems to be the perfect example.

If I’m the passenger in a car and the driver gets upset because someone else didn’t use a turn signal, it’s easy for me to see that the driver is reacting to the story they are telling themselves rather than the actual event.

When I’m driving the car and someone doesn’t use a turn signal, and it causes me to lose 30 seconds of time I’ll never get back…..well….that’s an entirely different story.  Grin!  Or perhaps it’s the exact same story….I’m simply telling it to myself rather than seeing someone else doing it.

It’s challenging to pull back from the story and look at the event for what it is.  And the more emotionally involved in the situation I am the more difficult it is for me to see the possibility of any story other than the one I tell myself.  After all, I am the sun and the universe revolves around me, right?????

No?  Are you sure?  😉

Once I’ve recognized I’m in the middle of reacting to my story rather than the event it’s usually fairly easy to coach myself through, “What other reason(s) might explain this?” type conversations.  And I can calm myself down and remind myself that the world does NOT revolve around me.  I can look at the situation from a different perspective and react in a different manner. 

While it’s seldom easy, I find it do-able in most situations.

Where I really struggle is in recognizing I’m reacting to my story rather than to the situation.  I’m typically so wrapped up in “this is awful, how could anyone do this to me, poor potato, doesn’t anyone ever think about me, why is everyone so mean, why are they trying to ruin my plans…” that I don’t realize it’s my own personal story I’m reacting to.  So I’ve been working on that.  On trying to realize that when I feel like I want to scream at someone it’s very likely because of how I’m interpreting the events—rather than the events themselves.

Some days I’m more successful than others.

Today is a day full of challenges.

My birthday is coming up in a couple of days.  I’ve learned (over the past 15 plus years) to be very specific with Mr. Spuds when letting him know what I’d like to do to celebrate my birthday.  (Remind me to share the bowling alley birthday story at some point.  😉  It’s a classic!)  Some years I don’t really want to do much of anything, some years I want to have a bunch of people over, some years I just want to do odd stuff.

This is an “odd stuff” year.  When talking to Mr. Spuds a few weeks ago about what I wanted to do, I asked if he would consider taking me to Nordstrom’s to shop the Saturday afternoon before my birthday.  He said that sounded like fun.  (And yes, there is a limit to what I can spend.  LOL!)  Cool!  So I’ve been looking forward to this ever since. 

Making plans can often cause more stress for me than I’d like.  I’m a total capital J (MBIT) and a bit of a struggling-to-let-go-of-the-need-to-pretend-I-have-control-of-anything control freak.  What can I say?  It’s where I am and it’s a struggle.  I’ve managed to relax some over the years.  In fact just a few weeks ago someone who’s only known me for a year or so called me “laid back.”  Whoa!  Anyway, making plans can cause stress because I have pictured in my mind exactly how everything will happen, will fall into place, will go according to plan.

And we all know how often things go according to plan.  Never!

Back to shopping.

I’d been looking forward to shopping today for a while.  Good weather or bad didn’t matter.  I’d prefer sunny and warm-ish—but whatever.  It’s indoors so no big deal.  I’d sleep in.  Get up and get ready.  Read a little.  Do the odd chore around the house.  Some point mid afternoon we’d head out.  And maybe grab some dinner on the way back.  Or if it was still too early to eat we could always stop at a book store, right!  (No comments about how many books I already have to read please Jim.  You’re just as addicted as I am!  LOL!  ;-))  Just a laid back kinda day.  One thing to do, not really planned.

I could picture it perfectly in my mind.  Ahhhhh.  What fun!

Being able to picture it perfectly in my mind might have been my first clue that I had “planned” it far more than I was admitting.  Sigh.

Mr. Spuds came home last night and told me about some guys from work who were getting together to celebrate a birthday.  They were getting together Saturday night—it sounded like fun to him.  Did I want to go?  Cool!  Yeah, let’s do it.  They are a great group of people.  We can stop by for a drink or two or dessert.  Yeah.

Okay.  We can go from Nordstrom’s to meet them.  They are getting together around 7PM.

What?  Ummmm….that’s not exactly what I had pictured.  Okay Spudsie….compromise.  It isn’t really that big of a deal.  It’s not like Mr. Spuds is trying to “ruin my plans” for the day.  Deep breath.  Okay.  He’s simply trying to work out the timing of 2 things we both want to do.  Okay.  This can work.  I can adjust the picture in my head.  I can push it back a couple of hours.  Okay.  Adjustment made with relative ease.  The irritation is gone.  This will be fun!

I didn’t sleep well last night and woke up feeling a little under the weather.  With very little energy.

Grrrr…..that’s not how I wanted to feel today! 

Okay Spuds…just go with it.  Relax.  Let Mr. Spuds make the bank-run by himself.  It will be fine.  Stay in bed later.  Take a long shower.  Relax.  Okay.  Adjustment made again.  Still gonna be an awesome day.

Go downstairs.  What?!  Mr. Spuds is still here?  I thought he’d left for the bank a long time ago?  What are you still doing here?  Oh.  You thought I wanted to go with you.  Sorry!  My bad.  I don’t feel well, could you go without me?  Okay.  Back upstairs.

What?!  You still haven’t left?  Now what?  Oh.  You can’t find your keys.  Sigh.  No I haven’t seen them.  Why don’t you take mine?  Okay.  Keep looking.  I’m sure they will turn up.

Hey Spuds…..it’s not like he intentionally misunderstood your desire to go to the bank with him.  And he certainly didn’t lose his keys on purpose.  Okay.  Deep breath.  This doesn’t impact you day at all.  Let it go.  No need to react to you story that the fates are conspiring against you today.  J

Eat lunch.  Read more of “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter.”  Listen to the birds.  Watch the squirrels (sorry Maggie Mae….I mean the tree rats!) steal the bird seed.  Ahhhhh….fluffy tailed rodents who think they are birds.  What fun!  I may not feel good, but at least I can enjoy the wildlife.

Mr. Spuds decides he wants to make a major grocery shopping run.  What?  Today?  WHA?!?!  It’s already after lunch.  You’ll never get the shopping done and get back in time to head out shopping when I wanted to.  Just when did you think we’d leave?  HOW LATE?!  I wanted to be out of the house no later than 4PM.  ??!!?!?!

Okay.  Another few minutes of deep breathing.  I can adjust again.  It’s not that big a deal.  Let go of your story Spudsie.  There’s still enough time to get everything done.  We’ll just push it back a little later than you had planned.  No big deal.  An easy adjustment to make right?  Okay.  In fact, you can use the time Mr. Spuds is at the grocery store to write.  You’ll be guaranteed no interruptions.  Yeah.  Way to spin it into a positive Spudsie!!  You go!

What?!  You’re still here?  I thought you left 15 minutes ago.  What?  Seriously?  You can’t find your keys AGAIN?!  Okay.  Okay.  Sorry for the tone.  Did you have them when you came home from the bank?  Yes.  Okay.  Did you have anything else in your hands?  Can we re-trace your steps?  Was the garage door open?

(Perhaps I should mention here….Mr. Spuds losing his keys brings back memories of when our house was broken into.  It happened overnight and we didn’t realize we had been robbed until the next morning when Mr. Spuds was ready to leave for work and couldn’t find his keys.  That was our first sign something was wrong.  I still tend to flash back to that moment when Mr. Spuds says he can’t find his keys.  My story immediately flashes to “We’ve been robbed again!”)

Okay.  We’ll find them later.  Here are mine.

Okay.  I’m sure the keys weren’t stolen Spudsie.  He just mis-placed them.  They will turn up.  Deep breath.  Okay.  Let’s write!

45 minutes later I hear the garage door open.

What?!  45 minutes is NOT enough time for a major grocery shopping trip.  Is that Mr. Spuds?  Or did someone else manage to open the garage door and walk into the house.  “Hello?”  “Hello?”

(Evidently 2 instances of Mr. Spuds mis-placing his keys in one day sends my sub-conscious mind to “someone will break into your house again” mode.  Sigh.)

Mr. Spuds?  What are you doing here?  You forgot your list?  Seriously? 

I’m sure the irritation was obvious in my face and in my voice.  I fought to control it but I’m not sure how much good it did. 

As Mr. Spuds left again I found myself really irritated.  My story?  I’m not sure what it was.  Something along the lines of , “Nothing EVER goes the way I want it to.  I can NEVER plan anything without it falling apart.  All I wanted was to be at Nordstrom’s right now.  What is that so flippin hard?!  Doesn’t anyone ever LISTEN to me when I talk?  When I tell them what I want to do?  One afternoon.  That’s all I wanted.  One afternoon!”

Whoa there potato-woman!  Calm the heck down!  That’s a temper tantrum worthy of a two year old!

You know what?  It’s not that important.  Really.  You will still go shopping.  And you’ll meet Mr. Spuds’ co-workers after shopping.  It’s not on the exact time frame you imagined, and you’ve had to re-assure yourself three times that no-one has broken into your house.  And you know what, that’s all okay.  You were able to get some chores around the house completed.  You were able to write for a while.  You were able to take it easy and try to feel better.  You got some reading done.  It’s a beautiful day.  Why the heck are you getting so stressed at a story you are telling yourself that isn’t even accurate?

C’mon potato-woman.  Deep breath.  Change the story.  Quit being irritated.  It’s not even Mr. Spuds that has you irritated.  It’s the thieves who broke into your house that have you on edge.  Why give them so much power?  It’s your own un-communicated expectations that aren’t being met.  No one can read minds.  And plans can always be changed.  Different does NOT mean less.  It simply means different.

Okay.  Letting it go.  No more frustration.  Only happiness.  And optimism.  And joy.  And enthusiasm.  And relaxation.  And peace.  And calm.

Hmmmm….that’s a pretty tasty emotional stew!  J

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It’s been almost a week since my last coaching conversation with Coach Jim.  Which means I’ve been avoiding this for almost a week now…..

Or more accurately it’s taken me almost a week to be ready to work on this.  Which is a distinction I often fail to recognize.  We talked Monday and I started brewing some of these ideas in my head.  Tuesday was an incredibly draining day—and there is no way I would have been able to have this conversation on Tuesday.  Wednesday….well check out the Thriving entry if you want to know about Wednesday.  That day was full enough on its own and I worked on other stuff Wednesday.

Thursday I tried to untangle what happened Wednesday—tried to acknowledge what I did and how well it worked.  So that kept me pretty busy.  Friday?  Well Friday was an awesome day for me.  God decided that he’d open up the virtual pens of a number of people and send some wonderful feedback my way.  At one point on Friday I was so pumped up I was giddy!  Since that’s a fairly infrequent feeling in Spusdieville I decided to stay with it.  To just enjoy the moments.  It was really nice!

Saturday and today I’ve been catching up on odd stuff.  Catching up with a friend I haven’t seen in a while, e-mailing others, catching up on some reading.  All around relaxing stuff.

And I think I finally am calm enough, centered enough to tackle this.

What exactly am I tackling?  Good question.  Whenever I start writing something for my blog I always think I know where it will end up.  And at least 67% of the time it goes in a different direction.  So we’ll find out together where this ends up.

When I started my conversation with Jim last Monday I thought it would be a relative easy, calm conversation.  (Remind me not to go in with that assumption anymore!!)  I had managed to write about grief and a little bit about fear and had really worked through some of it.  I took it out of the over-stuffed shoebox and had a conversation with it.  And it moved along. 

It worked so well I wanted to try it with other fears—other emotions.  Yet I wasn’t really sure it would work the same way.  Wasn’t sure it would work as well.  Wasn’t sure…..well basically just wasn’t sure about any of it.  So I asked Jim if we could talk about that.

I assumed Jim would say “Trust the process” and I was not disappointed.  J  I just needed to hear those words.  And whatever other insights Jim had to offer.  I wasn’t sure if it was going to be a “Come on Spudsie…..you don’t need the hand-holding …..you can do this on your own” encouragement or more of a “Let’s walk through the steps again Spudsie” or even a “Why are you hesitating?” type of conversation.  I just knew I needed someone to help move me along the path.

What I didn’t expect was to end up in tears—nearly uncontrollable tears—so early in the conversation.

Near the beginning of the conversation Jim asked me if I had a list of other fears I thought I might want to address.  (Seriously?  Jim had to ask if I had a list???  LOL!  I’m the queen of lists!)  So I rattled off the first half dozen or so.  And we started talking about how I had addressed the first fear.  How the topic came to me.  Where and when I wrote about it.  What my “plan” had been.  Kinda trying to find out what had helped it work so well the first time.

We talked about how I began (as I do with everything I write for this blog) without knowing the exact end or outcome, how I had simply trusted the process, how I started writing and was willing to let go of any expectations at the beginning and let the process be organic.  And (perhaps most importantly) how I stayed with the conversation until it was complete.

Cool.  That all sounds really reasonable.  And it worked really well.  And I was still having problems getting over some speed bump and starting to address a second fear or second emotion.  Why?

At some point in I realized I was not really participating in the conversation because I was too busy trying to calm the voices in my head.  I was on the verge of tears and had no idea why.  At that exact moment Jim asked me how I was doing.  And I answered completely honestly.  “I’m feeling really emotional right now Jim.  And I’m not sure why.”

That was a change.  Typically I’d try taking a deep breath, check and improve my posture, find calm and try to move on.  Try to say “I’m fine.  Give me a second.”  And try to continue with the conversation.  I’m getting tired of doing that.  There’s absolutely no reason I can’t tell Jim how I’m doing.  When he asks that questions it’s honestly to find out how I’m doing.  He’s not asking a question implying that I need to suck it up and move on.  So I answered honestly.  Finally.

Jim helped me untangle and identify some of the emotions I was feeling about not being completely comfortable trying to address another fear or emotion.  There was a fair amount of feeling inadequate—feeling like I wasn’t up to the task, feeling like I wanted to give up, why bother, that type of thing.  I’m not good enough to continue to do this.  It was beginner’s luck.  It worked once and I’ll screw it up if I try it again.  Even if I have a little success it won’t be the same.  It won’t help.  This isn’t really a tool I’m going to be able to use because I’m just not good enough.  (Overly harsh on yourself much Spudsie??)

I was also really frustrated.  Jim asked me to put that into words.  What does that feel like?  All I could come up with was “Arrrgggghhhhh!”  LOL!  Frustration that this little speed bump feels like a huge roadblock.  Frustration that I wasn’t able to just start the next one.  Feeling…..welll….feeling…..arrrrgggghhhh!

There were a couple of positive emotions in the emotional stew as well.

I had hope.  Hope is looking forward and seeing the positive possibilities.  I felt hope that I’d be able to open my emotional shoe box and talk to other emotions that I’ve kept boxed up for far too many years.  I had hope that I’d be able to I’d be able to sleep better, walk around without the weight of the world on my shoulders, and be able to see things as they actually are—rather than seeing them through the warped glasses I tend to use. 

I also felt some pride.  I was proud that I was able to honestly and openly address and talk with one of my fears….one of my stronger emotions.  I had done something good, something helpful, and I had done it myself.  No one wrote it for me.  No one scripted the conversation.  No one told me how it was “supposed” to progress.  I had started writing and ended up feeling as though I’d exorcised an emotional “demon.”  And I was proud of it.

And that was the point in the conversation where I pretty much had a meltdown.   Jim was headed in a definite direction.  He was working on developing a new practice I could add to my ever-growing lists of practices.  And somewhere mid sentence he lost me.  Or rather I lost the thread of the conversation.

I felt completely overcome with really strong emotions.  Something he said, something I said, something I thought (I’m not sure which) triggered a really strong fight-or-flight response in me.  Jim asked a question.  I know it was a question because it sounded like a question and there was a long pause after he finished speaking.  But I don’t have any idea what the question was.  I was fighting so hard to keep from losing my tenuous grasp on coherent speech that I wasn’t listening.  I was trying not to break into hysterical fits of crying.

Why?

I had no idea.  I was lost.  So I told Jim that.  “Jim, I’m sorry, but I’m having a really tough time right now.  I don’t know why.”  I really don’t remember exactly what I said, but I do remember making the conscious choice to tell Jim—hey, I need some help here.  I’m lost.

Jim helped me get back to calm.  Asked me questions to try and figure out what was going on physically and what I was reacting to. 

It turns out pride/being proud is a really tough topic for me.  It doesn’t exist by itself in my mind.  I’m never truly “proud” of myself or something I’ve done for me than a few seconds.  It’s almost as if as soon as my brain recognizes the “symptoms” of pride sirens go off.

Whoop!  Whoop!  Condition Red!  I repeat.  Condition Red!  Pride is on the loose!  All units respond!

And all over the place other thoughts come racing out.  Other emotions show up to put out the fire of pride.  Hey….we can’t have Spudsie being proud of anything!   Let’s get going!

I’m not very good yet at identifying many emotions.  They still befuddle me.  And when they are so blindingly overpowering as the ones that “combat” pride…..well….even looking back with some time and space doesn’t seem to help.  I’m still not sure what it is that I’m feeling.  I just know that the “I’m proud of myself” feeling flees from them.

I don’t have many memories of family encouraging me to be proud of my accomplishments as a child.  I’m sure they must have at some point…..but I don’t really remember any of it.  Papers for school could always have been better.  Recitals were okay but could have been more somehow.  New friends were expected.  (I’ve never had an easy time opening up to people and making new friends has always been a challenge for me.)  Seemingly anything I accomplished wasn’t enough, wasn’t good enough, or was simply what was expected. 

Get an “A” in a class?  Well sure.  Spudsie is smart.  She should be making all A’s.  No big deal.  Or maybe it was because I liked the teacher that I did so well.  Now what I really needed to do was work as hard in the subjects I didn’t like, with the teachers I didn’t like.  Then that might be worthy of some praise.  But to get a good grade in a class I enjoyed with a teacher who was great?  Nah….no reason to be proud of that .  No reason to be proud of that hard work.

Reading beyond my grade or age level?  Nope.  Sorry.  No reason to be proud of that either.  I like to read—I enjoy it.  So it’s no wonder I excel in that area.  That’s nothing unexpected.  Nothing out of the ordinary here.  No reason to be proud.  No reason for praise.

Finally understand a difficult math concept?  (Yech!  Math!  Blech!)  It’s about time.  What was so difficult about that?  You’re smart.  Why didn’t you get it the first 8 times we tried teaching it to you?  Why on earth would you be proud of that?

(&@^!#&#*$(@^  Here come the tears.  Okay Jim- you owe me a box of Kleenex.  ;-))

One of the things Jim suggested I do is look for assessments I make in my writing.  Look for them and back out of the assessments and look at what the actual facts are.  Unravel the assessments and look at the facts underneath them.

If I could do that here it would probably really, REALLY help.

I don’t know that I’m capable of doing that right now.  I don’t know that I can separate reality/facts from what I’ve been told and what I’ve told myself for so many years.

What are the facts?  How much pride is appropriate?  When is pride appropriate?  What accomplishments can I be proud of?  Is what I’m doing enough?  Is what I’m doing worth being proud of?

The Bible warns that “Pride goeth before a fall…”  (What can I say…I grew up reading the King James Version of the Bible so my language is slightly dated.  LOL!)  So is pride a sin?  In my assessment, no.  Why not?  What facts do I have to support that belief?  I dunno.  I just know that emotions aren’t good or bad—they simply are.  (As Jim tells me over and over. J)  And pride is an emotion.  By itself it isn’t good or bad—it simply is.

And somehow in my mind it’s been turned into something to be avoided.  Or maybe something I don’t deserve to feel.  So much so that my brain puts far more energy into creating reasons why I don’t deserve to feel proud than it would expend on simply being proud and moving on.

I suppose at the root of the problem is fear.  (No surprise there.)  When I start to feel proud of an accomplishment I immediately expect someone will come along and tell me why I shouldn’t feel proud.  Why I don’t deserve to enjoy a sense of accomplishment.  What I could have done better.

I experienced that so many times– and felt the pain of having what was (in all likelihood) a legitimate sense of pride turned into an indictment of some other character flaw (either real or imagined).  I suppose I began to associate the emotion of pride with that pain.  And who wants to experience any more pain in their life than they have to?  Not me!  So an “easy” way of avoiding the pain was to avoid feeling proud.  No pride—no pain.  Simple.  Badda bing.  Cross that pain off the list.  No need to feel that again.

But in eliminating the pain, I eliminated the good.  I can’t seem to feel a sense of pride in anything I do.  It immediately turns into a sense of fear of the pain I “know” is just around the corner.

I’m not sure how to untwist the two.   

And I suppose that’s probably a good place to start my next conversation with Jim. 

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A Deliberate Choice

There’s some heavy stuff going on in my head right now. 

I met with Coach Jim today and came away with a “homework assignment.”  He helped me narrow down a specific area to write about.

Already I have thoughts flowing through my head about what to say, what to write, what I want to express.  Yet I’m not quite ready to tackle the whole emotional topic.

So instead I’m choosing to finish “Dracula.”  I’ll let the emotional stew stay in the crockpot for a little while longer.  It’s now on a low simmer instead of a frantic boil.

It’s a deliberate, on-purpose choice.  And I’m delighted I’m strong enough to make it–even in a somewhat weakened state of mind.  Cool stuff!

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