Most people have multiple ways of judging themselves, and often that involves comparing themselves to others. Maybe you have a role-model in mind, a person you think has it all together. Maybe you choose the best of several other people to compare yourself to–the role model for your professional life is different than the person you look up to in your personal life, and the person you admire for her mothering skills may not be the same person you want to look like in a swimsuit.
Most people don’t consider themselves good enough. We’re not good enough at work, as a parent, or as a spouse. Our bodies don’t look good enough at a pool party and we aren’t pretty enough or successful enough at the high school reunion. We don’t have enough friends and we don’t have the right car.
Emotionally sensitive people are more likely to judge themselves harshly. We live life as if it were a competition.
Living a values-based life is not an easy goal. You get up in the morning, you’ve got tasks to do. Sometimes you just do tasks without considering how you are allocating your time. Sometimes you just keep going all day until you are done, then fall into bed exhausted. Often it seems there isn’t enough time to think about living your life with meaning or putting your energy into what you believe in.
You may believe in family, contributing to those less fortunate, friendships or making positive difference in your community. Many times though, people don’t put their values into action. They don’t live their beliefs.
Paying Attention to Who You Are
Your values are an important part of your identity. What are your top five values? How much of your life do you spend consistent with those values?
Understanding emotions, being able to observe them in ourselves, and knowing the information they give us is an important part of living effectively. For example, fear tells us to take action or freeze to protect ourselves. When fear is based on true facts versus imagined or misinterpreted information, that message to self-protect can be lifesaving. That message is perfectly clear — you are in danger.
Sometimes, though, the message our emotions are giving us is more difficult to understand. That’s true of shame.
Webster defines shame as the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable, improper, and ridiculous done by oneself or another. It is a kind of injury to one’s pride or self-respect.
Most people have experienced ”knowing” that they are in danger, that someone is lying, that someone they’ve met will be the love of their life, or that they should turn left at the next stop light to get to where they are going.
They also “know” a situation will work out okay or that they shouldn’t accept a proposal. All without being able to explain the logic of their decision or the reasons they “know.”
You “know” things. You don’t even know how you know them. Yet you have a sense of certainty. Intuitive thinking, which used to be discounted as hocus pocus, is now recognized by scientists as the mind working in ways we aren’t aware of and often don’t understand.
Marsha Linehan, the creator of Dialectical Behavior Therapy, includes intuitive thinking as part of “wise mind.” Emotionally sensitive people are believed to be more aware of their intuition than those who are not emotionally sensitive.
In the book, “Why We Make Mistakes,” Joseph Hallinan relates an amazing story about a 1972 airplane crash. When Captain Robert Lofe, the pilot of Eastern Airlines Flight 401, was making his final approach to Miami International Airport, he noticed something was wrong. He had put the landing gear down, but the indicator light didn’t come on.
He circled around and decided to level off to determine what the problem was.
He didn’t have a clue, so he called in the first officer. The first officer didn’t know either so they called in the flight engineer. Pretty soon no one was flying the plane, which was going lower and lower. The captain’s last words reportedly were “Hey! What’s happening here?”
The plane crashed into the Everglades and burst into flames, killing ninety-nine people, including Captain Loft. The reason for the crash was because the crew became so engrossed in a task that they lost awareness of their situation–all because of a $12 light bulb.
Many of us might wish there weren’t so many problems in life. “If only” keeps us stuck, just like, “Why me?” We’d rather have a life that flows effortlessly. Given that life is full of problems, maybe the best option is to get really good at solving them.
Sometimes problems come because we make bad decisions. Some come because of our relationships with others and some come through the thoughtlessness of others. Some of our problems come from our own feelings and ways of looking at life.
Effective problem-solving improve your sense of well-being, your mood, your hope and self-confidence. Learning how to solve problems can improve your overall health. Moreover, problem-solving skills can be taught. People aren’t born knowing how to solve problems.
“He’s a stupid idiot,” “I’m a total loser,” or “I’ve just had a horrible day” are common statements we make when we are frustrated, tired, overwhelmed or embarrassed. Such statements often serve to express intense feelings after difficult events. So what’s the harm?
In general, the main issue is that judgmental statements tend to increase our emotional upset. But there are other concerns as well.
Judgements Hide Consequences
We label events and actions as good or bad as a shorthand way of talking. We say getting a traffic ticket is bad or not paying the rent is bad. We say getting a raise is good. But we forget that we’re using shorthand. What we’re really saying is that events and actions have consequences that are desirable or not desirable.
Describing the experience of emptiness to individuals who have never experienced it is difficult. How is it that some emotionally sensitive people, who feel so many emotions so intensely, also struggle with emptiness? I asked for wisdom from those who have experienced emptiness*.
Kendra said emptiness feels like a cold shell. Imagine feeling like a shell of a person with no insides, nothing there.
Lynn said, “[experiencing emptiness makes me feel like] I cannot breathe. And I have no where to go for refuge. Suffocating.”
Emptiness doesn’t seem to be about loneliness, though it is an alone feeling. Emptiness seems to be the absence of you. Not knowing who you are, what you feel, or what you want. It’s a hollow, nothingness feeling. Like a puppet just responding to what is expected or what string is pulled. And then not responding at all in any real sense. Feeling blank and then hiding the blankness until you can’t.
We all have certain beliefs about ourselves. We may believe that we are athletic, smart, good at English, or that we are terrible at math. We believe that we are good at making friends, shy, or outgoing. Most of the time our beliefs about ourselves work to help our lives flow more easily. We don’t have to re-decide who we are in every situation.
Sometimes though, the emotionally sensitive don’t consider or lose awareness of what their ideas, preferences and values are. By paying attention mainly to what other people seem to prefer and changing themselves to fit what those people want, they can lose awareness of their beliefs.
Changing to fit what others believe and think can be a way to avoid conflict and rejection but can create anxiety and depression, not to mention feelings of alienation and emptiness. By changing to fit what others seem to want them to be, the emotionally sensitive lose the opportunity for true intimacy.
Self-control or willpower is the ability to effectively manage your attention, emotions and desires. Understanding how willpower works can help you better manage your emotions and make the changes you want to make in your life.
When you are working to build more effective coping skills, you may find that no matter how strong your commitment to practicing new ways of soothing yourself, solving problems effectively, or managing your intense emotions in healthier ways, you fall back into old patterns.
Falling back can be discouraging and you may blame yourself for not having enough willpower or stick-to-it-ness. As we noted in the last post, self-control has nothing to do with your character. It’s a limited resource for everyone. We have to practice and keep going, recognizing that having lapses is just part of developing new behaviors and skills.
If we know some of the ways to enhance our self-control while we are practicing new behaviors, that can help too.