There is an essential resiliency skill that will help you not only take it, but bounce back from the really tough emotional times in your life. It has to do with perspective.
Let me illustrate by telling the following story.
My stepsister, Lori, has a teenage daughter who has Asperger’s Syndrome. A few months ago, Lori and I were emailing back and forth when suddenly I received this from her:
Today is a day in the trenches! It’s a battle and I’m bawling in my coffee. This journey is joy and pain in every aspect of those words. My knees are bloody on this life path. My guilt over wanting my life (before it was chucked under the special needs bus) back is outweighing my good will today. A special needs child “needs” almost all of the time. There is also the alienation aspect of this life in the foreground today. It’s very hard for me to relate to neuro-typical people. I hear people gripe and moan about “normal” problems and I want to cause them bodily harm! Some days are frustration!
My heart went out to Lori even as I smiled at some of the humor in her message. But the thing that struck me the most was how she referred to “today.” Three times she mentioned how today was a day in the trenches, today she felt guilty, and today she was feeling alienated.
The essential skill that Lori modeled is that of being in the moment and understanding that things can change. Notice that she didn’t say “My life is in the trenches” or “I always feel guilty and alienated.”
Instead, she wisely recognized the transient nature of emotions. She knew that although today was a bad day for her, it didn’t necessarily follow that tomorrow would be bad or that her life was always a struggle. She was limiting her experience to just that day rather than assuming the worst about all of her future days.
After my partner died, it took me awhile, but I learned this lesson as well. I found that if I could just tolerate the most agonizing moments of emotional pain, they eventually ebbed away enough for me to get my breath back if not actually feel better.
As time went on, the moments of feeling better turned into hours and then days. But I had to take the raw emotional experiences in very, very small chunks at first. I hung on to the knowledge that my emotions were in flux and I wouldn’t feel pain forever.
So, the next time you are feeling bad, remember these four things:
1. Emotions are often short-lived and transitory.
2. Think about your experience in the present moment rather than falling prey to words like always and forever.
3. Take a deep breath and tolerate the painful emotion, holding on to the certainty that it won’t last forever.
4. Make sure to be present and actually notice when your emotions change. Sometimes the difference is subtle, but once you begin to see the transitions, you will have more confidence that your pain will eventually change, too.
As a matter of fact, the pain you’re feeling might just be for today.
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