When I am upset, the whole world looks different. Before, I would react to my perceptions and try and fix things from a place of disturbance. If my relationship looked like a problem, I would work on that. This usually resulted in fireworks and not of the sexual kind. If work was looking like a challenge, I would consume myself with trying to figure it out. This left me feeling stressed, discouraged, and hopeless, as I would mentally wear myself out from the unproductive spinning of my negative thoughts.
In the past, I have been overly focused on the shifting experience of my emotions and would find myself wrestling with my ever changing moods. Since, feelings are so visceral, it is easy for them to become the front and center focus of our lives when we are experiencing emotional distress. The trouble with that is, rather than having perspective, we tend to get pulled in more deeply to the distorted thinking that is causing the emotional upset. It is amazing how real our negative thoughts can look.
What I didn’t see previously was that whenever I was upset, I was incapable of doing my best work or figuring things out. I thought my painful emotions were a call to action. Especially when I learned that my feelings were the result of my thinking and not outside circumstances. Rather than focusing on trying to change the world around me, I shifted the energy of my self-improvement to trying to fix my negative thoughts. If I felt upset, I thought I needed to stop the thoughts and change my thinking. What this resulted in, was me spending a significant amount of time embroiled in trying to change my unproductive thinking. All this did was me get me more and more enmeshed in the content of my low quality thoughts, and I would bring them to life more fully.
What I didn’t know was that negative feelings are a normal part of human life, and not anything to be scared or disturbed by. I had become a hypochondriac over my uncomfortable feeling states. The slightest drop in my mood would cause alarm bells to ring in my consciousness, and I would going into fixing myself mode. This created more misery, not less.
The first insight I had related to the Three Principles was seeing how I could leave myself and my thinking alone when I am in a bad mood, and I will stabilize naturally and far more quickly than if I tried to change my experience or improve myself. When I saw this, I experienced an earth shattering amount of relief! All the energy I had been expending trying to improve myself came back to me. I saw clearly that my negative emotional experience was normal and not an indicator of me being unworthy and defective. I had not realized the extreme amount of pressure I had been putting on myself to be different than I was. I was trying to achieve the impossible goal of always feeling good.
With the release of pressure, my mood soared! Rather than needing to do something to create a good feeling, taking the pressure off of myself allowed the natural buoyancy of my mood to float up. I had never felt so good in my life!
What I see now is the less I try to manage my emotions, the happier I am. I also stopped caring so much about being happy. I became less phobic of feeling badly. As I took the pressure off of myself having to feel good, I got perspective on my thoughts and feelings. I saw how free flowing and ever changing they are and always will be. I also noticed there is a deeper part of myself that is unchanging. Another aspect of myself that is always whole and complete.
I started to feel more anchored in this deeper part of myself that feels vast and infinite. With this experience, I became less self-absorbed and hyper-focused on how I was feeling. This allows me to have so much more energy available for life.
There are still times, much less frequent and shorter, when my feelings of upset are intense, and they consume me. This happened a few days ago when I woke up in a low mood. I immediately started thinking about the Trump cabinet appointments. Then I started worrying about how much school my daughter had missed because of illness. I finally moved on to ruminating about a difficult email I needed to respond to. By the time my husband, Angus, got back from dropping our daughter off at school, I was in the throws of negativity. I immediately shared all my concerns with him. When he didn’t respond. I asked him what was going on, and he got mad at me for asking him that question. I got more destabilized and felt abandoned by him. This resulted in an argument.
However, what was different this time, was that after a few barbed comments, the argument fizzled out. This would have been the kind of situation that, in the past, would have escalated and left Angus and I angry with each other for hours or days. This time, neither one of us could keep the energy going. I felt the pressure of anger inside of me, but I couldn’t take it that seriously. I knew my perspective was distorted. I knew my thinking would fizzle out, and I would feel fine. Even Angus didn’t have his heart in it. Yes, he did make some below the belt comments about my parenting. I took them seriously. My feelings were hurt, and I shed some tears. And even then, it still wasn’t a big deal. I did a client session, and then we both took the dog for a walk. There was no residual resentment. There wasn’t even anything to work out. It had all been ridiculous.
It wasn’t a communication technique that helped us to weather the storm. It was the simple understanding of knowing that upset feelings result from distorted thoughts. We both had some perspective. We knew our thinking would stabilize and that when this happened things would look differently. Once we each settled, we were able to reconnect without resentment. I was able to see that Angus took my question to be a criticism even though I hadn’t meant it that way. He saw that I felt rejected by him. We both had room for each others negative experience and behavior. It doesn’t mean that we condone each other’s bad behavior, but we do have an ability to accept each others imperfections when we don’t take them personally, and we can accept that we are going to take them personally from time to time.
I understand that my mood goes up and down without rhyme or reason, and when my mood is low, my thinking is distorted. It is easy for me to get caught up in my negative thought patterns. By seeing this is a normal part of psychological functioning, I am less concerned with my emotional upset or with Angus’s emotional upset. In psychological terms, I have more distress tolerance. This results in me being more resilient and better able to bounce back from conflict in our relationship. Also, I am happier overall. Consequently, there is less conflict to contend with between us.
The biggest mistake I made in the past was processing my arguments with Angus. This would usually result in more hurt feelings and continued conflict. I never would have thought that peace, love, and understanding were the natural state of our relationship. I thought they were qualities we needed to work at to create. Now I see, that these qualities are simply who we are. As long as we are not caught up in our insecure thinking that is how we are going to be with each other, and the best thing Angus and I can do when either one, or both of us, is caught up in our insecure thinking, is to not take ourselves or each other seriously. We are getting better at running for the hills if either of us decide it is a good idea to talk when we are upset.
Rohini Ross is a psychotherapist, a leadership consultant, and an executive coach. She helps individuals, couples, and professionals to connect more fully with their true nature so they can experience greater levels of wellbeing, resiliency, and success. Rohini co-facilitates three-day, couple relationship retreats with her husband, Angus Ross. You can find out more about Rohini’s work on her website, rohiniross.com.