Imagine that two cavemen sit in the grass on a warm summer day. One is a problem-solver, like us. His skin is broken out and he worries and frowns a lot. Hyper alert, he is often agitated and jumpy. He thinks about the noises outside the cave last night andwhat the rumbling in his stomach means. He walks around, looking for fruit and keeps his eye out for tigers. The other guy sits quietly, counting his breath and feeling the breeze on his face. He’s easy-going and popular among other cavemen. He doesn’t react to what others say and is accepting of different ideas and personalities.
If you are working on developing new coping skills, you may find that understanding the skills and how they work is much easier than actually using the skills. You may be able to tell someone else about the skill, write out the steps involved, and answer questions about it but find you do not use it in your life. You may find that you keep going back to familiar ways of dealing with emotions and stress, even when those old ways are not good for you in the long run.
Soon large crowds will gather in hotel rooms and toast the New Year. Others will party in Times Square and still others will ring in 2013 with a small group of friends. New Year’s Eve is generally viewed as a time for celebrating with friends and can be a particularly lonely time for those who struggle with relationships.
Your survey responses show that for some people loneliness (which is different from being alone) can be static and chronic, a heaviness that doesn’t lift. For others, loneliness varies in intensity and is triggered by certain situations, such as holidays, can make the aloneness worse. When others are making plans with friends or family and you are not, you may feel left out. Television shows emphasizing activities for families and friends can remind you of what you wish for and don’t have.
Jessica has a great memory for details and enjoyed sharing adventures with her husband. She was shocked when he asked for a divorce–she had no idea how unhappy he was. Only after he filed the papers did she understand that there was no big event that changed their relationship, but a series of small episodes. For example, when out with friends, her husband enjoyed sharing stories about the trips he and Jessica had taken. Jessica often corrected the small mistakes he made and she was usually right. When he complained, she explained she was just helping him get it right. She didn’t see that as a problem.
One day in second grade I raised my hand to read aloud certain paragraphs of a story. I loved to read. I skimmed ahead and found a dramatic section that would allow for varying voice tones. The teacher selected a different section for me to read. I protested that I wanted to read the section I had chosen. She skipped me and I didn’t get to read at all. I was being willful.
We may think of willful behavior as typical of children. Picture the child in the store who is having a temper tantrum, refusing to leave without a wanted toy. That is willfulness. Another example would be when a young child is chosen by a team he didn’t want to play on. Going home or sitting by the sidelines refusing to play was most likely not effective behavior. It probably didn’t solve the problem and in addition he didn’t get to play a game he enjoyed. Even the child who doesn’t want the bubbles he blew to float away is showing willfulness. While we tend to think of children exhibiting such behaviors, adults can be just as willful.
Marsha Linehan, Ph.D. includes dialectical thinking as part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy. One component of dialectical thinking is to find the middle path. When you think or feel in extremes, that usually leads to misery.
In The Mindful Child, Susan Greenland tells a fable about an old man who lived with his son on a farm near a tiny village. One day the farmer’s horse ran away. The neighbors told him how sorry they were to hear about his misfortune. The farmer said, “We’ll see.”
The next day the farmer’s horse came home, accompanied by two strong, wild horses. The neighbors said, “How wonderful!” The farmer again said, “We’ll see.”
Sometimes people who are emotionally sensitive are controlled by their emotions. When they are feeling happy and joyful, they think positive thoughts and all may seem right with the world. When they are upset, they may not remember how good they felt before and be unable to believe that they may feel good again. During those times their thoughts are often pessimistic and they may see all as hopeless.
Emotionally sensitive people may also experience mood dependent behavior. When they are happy or content, they are active with their friends and interested in the events of the day. When they are depressed, sad, or scared they may withdraw and isolate. Their behavior depends on their mood, more so than for people who are not emotionally sensitive. In addition, the way they see themselves may be controlled by their mood. They may hate themselves when they are angry, sad or disappointed. When they are content or happy, they may accept themselves or at least not feel such intense self-dislike.
Emotionally sensitive people are often affected strongly by their environment and different people are soothed by different types of settings. Maybe a loft in an artsy area of town or a house in the country or a townhome in a busy area of the city fits with the environment you love. But maybe you are living in suburbia when you are a city person at heart or a nature lover living in a big city. While it may not be feasible to change your address to fit your personality, you can work on the interior of your home being more reflective of your personality.
Having a home that is a personal refuge means paying attention to what is soothing to you and arranging your habitat in ways that fit your personality. Sometimes out of fear of criticism, rejection from others, or not taking time to focus on their own needs, emotionally sensitive people may not venture from a tried and true decor. Such an atmosphere might not be upsetting but it also not likely to be comforting.
In The Mindful Child, Susan Kaiser Greenland gives an example of mindfulness as being like a cylinder of clear water. You can look through the cylinder and see the other side. If you pour a cup of baking soda into the water and shake or stir it, the soda clouds the water and obscures your vision. Just like the baking soda in water, thought and emotions can create uproar in our heads and cloud our minds. When you let it rest and don’t take action, the soda settles and the water becomes clear again. The longer you rest in steady breathing and mindfulness, the more your thoughts and emotions settle and the clearer your mind.
Regulating strong emotions is a difficult task for everyone. Actions that result in negative outcomes can seem so right when you’re angry, hurt or sad. When your boyfriend breaks up with you unexpectedly the day before Valentine’s Day, saying that he’s interested in your best friend, understandably, you may want to rip up every one of his prized and valuable baseball cards (not to mention what you might want to say to your ex-best friend). When your boss dictates that you have to work late on the evening you’ve planned your beloved grandmother’s 70th birthday celebration, you may want to give him a piece of your mind, even though you know you can’t afford to lose your job. Remembering and obsessing over all the ways your boss has been unfair to you will only fuel your anger.