Life is hard.
We want joy and happiness but we also have to cope with setbacks, rejection and pain.
The problem is that we divide our feelings into two categories: positive and negative. We want the positive ones to hang around (like joy and pleasure) and get rid of the negative (in other words painful ones like anxiety or anger) as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, the three most common strategies for avoiding pain only work in the short term and often make matters worse.
- We try and cover up the nasty feelings or distract ourselves with something that makes us feel better. I call this self-medicating and we do it with sugary or fatty foods, alcohol or flirting with someone inappropriate—which can easily turn from a stick to help us cope into a stick to beat us (and into affairs and compulsive or addictive behaviours).
- We minimise or rationalise our painful feelings – ‘its not that bad’ or ‘I shouldn’t feel this way because…’ However, this strategy pushes emotions underground and they seep out as general grumpiness or depression or explode when we lose our temper and let rip.
- We run away (and completely avoid the feelings) or shut down and curl into a ball to protect ourselves. But nothing changes and the original problem remains and will cause us pain again.
However, I have a revolutionary idea—try facing your feelings head on
I know this sounds difficult but I will break it down into easy steps…
When you are hurting, you can be so keen to stop the pain that you don’t even recognise what it really is.
I’d like you to identify the feeling and say it yourself or if you’re alone out loud: ‘I am feeling…’ It could be anger or fear but it could just as easily be sadness.
As you can see these are all very different feelings and each might need a different response.
When you are angry or frightened or whatever, please accept the feeling. It is OK to feel this way and there will probably be a good reason why.
Unfortunately, rather than accepting the feeling, lots of people beat themselves up for having the feeling in the first place.
Take a deep breath. Be aware of the air going in through your nostrils and your rib cage expanding and then letting the breath out through your nostrils.
If at any stage during these steps the pain gets too much, return to this safe place and count your breaths.
There are two ways of grounding yourself. The first is to locate where you are and what you’re doing. For example: ‘I am lying in my bed’ or ‘I am walking down the street’.
The second way of grounding yourself is locating where the pain is in your body. For example, ‘I have a tightness across my chest’ or ‘I have a sick feeling in my stomach’.
In the same way a mother holds both a gurgling and a crying baby, I would like you to embrace your feeling.
You might even try rocking yourself from side to side (or just shifting your weight) as this is very calming and will help you to be ready for the last two stages.
6. Look deeply
Now you’re ready to look at what caused your distress.
- What is this pain about?
- How much of it is about what has just happened?
- How much is it part of a chain of events that might go all the way back to my childhood?
- How much is about the future and my anxiety about what MIGHT happen?
7. Take the insight
When you have a deep insight into the problem, you can begin to think about proper solutions—rather than a quick fix. What would you like to talk to your partner about? What do you need to do differently?
If you need some inspiration for what to change—rather than just doing the same old failed strategy bigger and louder—have a look at my new book Can We Start Again Please? Twenty Questions to Fall Back in Love
I have taken everything that I’ve learnt over thirty years as a marital therapist and stripped ii back to:
- Seven powerful interventions
- Three questionnaires to help you take stock of your problems
- Twenty questions that will allow you to look at your partner through fresh eyes