Creating interesting stories is a time-honored skill and entertainment for many. A good storyteller can keep the attention of small children as well as antsy, busy businessmen. Unfortunately, your mind is also a great storyteller. Sometimes you may not realize what is truth and what is fiction created by your mind.
Your mind is always creating explanations and possibilities about the world you live in. It will interpret and make assumptions in creating its stories, about the past and the future as well as the present. It rattles on and on and is rarely even close to quiet. Your mind may have a favorite genre–suspense, drama or horror. It may also have favorite themes such as victims, persecutors or helplessness. The mind’s stories are about how you see the world.
There’s a lot of talk about happiness these days. In some ways, the message from the media in general is that happiness is the goal of life and that attaining happiness is the ultimate success. We look around at our friends and wonder what’s wrong with us that we can’t find happiness. We seek that golden emotion through whatever means we can. We use drugs, we drink, and we buy lots of possessions that we often can’t afford. Sometimes we fake being happy, “All is wonderful, couldn’t be better.” In the current push for happiness, some truths about the downside of happiness may be overlooked. In other words, there’s a down side.
We often act consistent with how we feel. If you wake up in the morning and you don’t feel like talking with people, maybe you don’t answer the phone. If you don’t feel like going to the grocery store, then you don’t go. If you don’t feel like networking then you cancel the luncheon. If you don’t feel like being kind, you may talk gruffly to your friends and co-workers. Perhaps you even justify your actions, or attempt to, by saying, “I’m just in a bad mood.”
We all have days that everything seems to go wrong. We get a speeding ticket, the dishwasher stops working and your zippers splits when you’re already late for a dinner engagement. Sometimes what goes wrong is bigger and more difficult. Maybe your best friend is moving away or someone you love is diagnosed with cancer. Those times are particularly tough and may lead you to wonder what life’s all about.
Actually, what is your life all about? One of the most effective ways of coping with daily ups and down is to know your purpose, your contribution to the world. What is it that you contribute to the human race or to our world? Knowing your part in the world can help you see the forest when the trees all seem negative. Every contribution to a better world counts. Every person can make a difference. Do you know what your purpose is?
How do you see yourself and your world? The way you view both affects the way you live your life. You may be quite secure about who you are and your safety in the world. Or not. Let’s call the basic way you look at yourself and the world on an everyday basis your self-scape. It’s like your emotional landscape. Do you wake up in the morning and see a full, lush emotional world? Do you focus on the people who support you? Or do you tend to see a barren world? Or perhaps even a landscape full of aggression and hostility, with people ready to destroy you when actually you are safe, it just doesn’t feel that way?
If you are in a situation that is physically dangerous, your situation is different. Your self-scape of fear is based on reality. A distorted self-scape is when someone feels undue fear of daily life events that most people experience.
Having friendships and/or family members you feel close to is often a primary part of living the life you want to live and is one of your biggest challenges. Interactions with others are often the most emotional experiences you have, both in rewarding and painful ways. If relationships are part of your life worth living, determining how to make this work for you will be important.
Keep Your Priorities in Mind
Relationships are naturally full of ups and downs. There are so many times you will have urges to break off a relationship and to never speak to a person again. In many cases though, that’s using avoidance and/or abandonment as a way of responding to a problem. You avoid the immediate pain of hurt and vulnerability but in the long run your relationship is damaged.
Emotionally sensitive people experience more intense emotions that are more easily aroused and that last longer than those who are not emotionally sensitive. You react faster with greater emotional intensity that lasts longer. Your emotional reactions can be triggered by television shows, magazine articles, places that trigger memories, anniversaries and other events. Interpersonal issues are one of the most challenging areas for you.
With a strong fear and sensitivity to rejection, even routine events such as a friend canceling lunch plans can bring on a tornado of emotions that are difficult to manage. With this difficulty in relationships, so much of life becomes stressful, such as attending classes, dating, participating in friendships, interacting in group activities, having roommates, and working with others. Some of you withdraw and become isolated as a way of avoiding the pain of relationships. Others experience anguish and suffering on a regular basis with little relief. Working on interpersonal skills and ways to manage emotions in relationships can help you reduce the suffering you experience on a daily basis. Improving your interpersonal resiliency and skills is complicated. Four options for getting started (based on the work of Marsha Linehan, 1993) include the following:
Validation is the acknowledgement of your own or someone else’s inner experience (feelings, thoughts, urges) and behaviors as understandable. Validation helps you improve communication with those you love. When you validate others, you create a safe context for them to express their fears, worries, and issues that make them uncomfortable. When you have open, accurate communication, then you can problem solve.
John comes home from work and his wife Amy meets him at the door holding the credit card bill. She has an angry look on her face. In a loud voice she says, “You know we are trying to cut the credit card bill. We agreed to discuss any charges. It’s not even two weeks later and you’ve already broken that promise. How dare you! How can I ever trust you?”
How will John respond? Of course he will say something like, “You are always on my case. I can’t do anything right. You’re the reason we’re in this credit card mess anyway, so don’t go blaming me.” Communication then becomes an argument. John responded to his wife’s anger with his own anger. While that is understandable and natural, it doesn’t help either of them have a helpful discussion.
John’s first emotional reaction to his wife’s upset was likely one of shame or guilt, because he had broken their agreement not to use the credit card. Instead of expressing his guilt, he defends himself with anger. That makes him less vulnerable, and it also makes effective communication more difficult. If he had accurately expressed his feelings, John might have said, “Oh, honey, you are right. I can understand how you would be so hurt. I did use the credit card and then I felt guilty about it. I meant to tell you and I kept putting it off.” That would be a more accurate expression of his thoughts and emotions. In turn, Amy would likely …
When something goes wrong, one of the first responses many people have is to blame someone. Being at fault may bring up many fears. If you can blame someone else, you can avoid the painful feelings of guilt and shame. You can avoid the fear of not being good enough and perhaps the resulting fear of abandonment. Maybe you panic when you may have done something wrong or taken action that didn’t work out because in the past others have rejected you or perhaps punished you for making a mistake. Blaming is the way you attempt to protect yourself. Whatever the reason, blame usually leads to conflict and damaged relationships in addition to blocking problem solving. Time spent blaming only delays finding a solution to whatever happened.
Do you have a secret you are keeping? Perhaps a secret about something that is extremely emotionally upsetting to you? Events you experience that are shameful, traumatic, or embarrassing are often kept secret. Yet any major upheaval that you keep hidden from others can compromise your physical and mental health.
There are many reasons that emotional secrets can be so damaging. When you don’t talk about an upsetting event, you may ruminate and have difficulty letting go and moving on. Ruminating usually brings intense misery. Keeping a secret about a major event changes your relationships. You can no longer talk as openly with friends and family as you did before the secret. The secret builds a wall between you. You are always on guard, careful to not say anything that would give your secret away. You may hold yourself back too, not wanting to get too close with anyone for fear you might want to share what happened to you. You may not feel worthy of close relationships, feeling that you are tainted or flawed as a person. Perhaps you see yourself separate and different from others and have lost the sense of belonging you once had.