Have you recently gone through a life-changing event or period? A divorce, the death of a loved one, unemployment, or an illness? Do you find yourself feeling stuck? As if you were in a perpetual state of emotional inertia? Did you think the worst would be over but feel as if you are flooded with residual anger, anxiety, guilt, resentment, depression, or grief? If so, you are not alone. Once the dust has settled, it is easy to feel smacked upside the head with life’s little 2 x 4, as the enormity of your new state has sunk in.
The good news is, it is all an illusion. You are still making progress, even if it doesn’t always seem that way. For many, the period after the dust settles is harder than the original shock; not because it is more draining or challenging, but because it is so surprising to be spinning in the vortex of adjustment when you thought you would be sailing forth into some stability.
If you really look at your situation, chances are it is more predictable than the initial predicament. You are dealing with other issues. You have landed on your feet and now take that for granted. You probably aren’t ranting, raving, yelling, or crying 24/7 (and you may never have been—outwardly), but you still find yourself wrestling with deep grief. Perhaps, a holiday triggers a flood of tears, or there’s a family celebration and you are excluded because it’s your former family. It could simply be you only see those who appear to be happily ensconced in a relationship while you feel lonely. Or, everyone seems to have meaningful work but you. It’s anything that pushes your buttons and triggers feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt or self-downing.
Whatever the trigger, you can resist awfulizing. Awfulizing is a word coined by my late mentor, Dr. Albert Ellis. It is the habit of making something worse than it is. The antidote to awfulizing, i.e.. thinking things are terrible, horrible, awful, and you can’t stand them, is to look at the evidence. If you are able to breathe, you can stand whatever is happening. You may not like it, you may even hate it, but you can stand it. We all have some low frustration tolerance (LFT), another phrase Dr. Ellis used frequently. It refers to thinking we must have everything we want when we want it. Of course, we all want what we want, but that is different from leaping to the conclusion we MUST have it, or life is just unbearable. If you have been through any challenge, you may have thought you couldn’t stand it, but you did. No one said everything will be just peachy all the time.
If you want to lessen your suffering, you can practice some anti-awfulizing thoughts, like:
I don’t like this but I can stand it.
Just because I think it’s awful doesn’t make it so.
It won’t last.
I can live with not getting what I want all the time.
I may feel stuck, but that doesn’t mean I am.
Everyone suffers, why should I be exempt?
Sometimes, life is difficult, and that’s just as it should be.
I am here to experience everything, not only the puppies and rainbows.
If you want to take it further, try being happy you can feel anything. Then, invite the demons to tea. Cozy up to them. Discover their wiles so you can recognize when they are toying with you.
In the midst of your most miserable moments learn to be present. Breathe; sometimes, it’s all you can do. You are alive. Dead people don’t feel anything. Your job is to experience exactly what you’re living through right now.
A number of months ago, I was having acupuncture and the needle really hurt. As I was complaining, my sage practitioner said, “What does it feel like?” That got me to really get inside the pain. What was that sensation? Burning? Pressure? By investigating it, and changing my focus away from awfulizing, I gained some measure of control. The same is true with emotional pain. Go inside. Be the witness. Do something radical. Instead of pushing against what is, embrace it. Yes, this goes against your instinct to avoid pain. By doing what feels awkward, new, and scary, you increase your frustration tolerance and enter realms of awareness and acceptance you never knew existed. Shift your perspective and give yourself the gift of loving what is.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang