In 1965 Martin Seligman “discovered” learned helplessness. He found that when animals are subjected to difficult situations they cannot control, they stop trying to escape. They become passive. Human beings are the same. If you have experienced devastating defeats, a persistent situation that you couldn’t change, or experienced terror and been out of control of escape from that terror, then you may have lost hope for your ability to change your life or to change painful situations.
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.
There are many ways of connecting with people. An emotionally safe, equal, and emotionally intimate relationship is likely the scariest and most challenging relationship to build, yet is also the most likely to decrease your sense of loneliness and help with your well-being. Let’s call it a Soul-Fulfilling relationship. This type of connection may be a romantic but doesn’t have to be. In a Soul-Fullfilling connection, you share your deepest emotions with someone in an honest, accurate way and your experiences are accepted without judgment. You can count on honest, loving feedback and give and take. You support and love in equal ways over time. Soul-Fulfilling relationships take time and nurturing to build.
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.
When you are emotionally sensitive your emotions can rule your life. The more painful emotions exhaust and drain you, sometimes to the point that your days are about avoiding hurt rather than living your life. You may dread the mornings and crave isolation though at the same time you are lonely and hate that you think you don’t belong. You may be sad or constantly tired. You may decide there is something wrong with you that you can’t deal with issues and be content like others seem to be able to do, so why try? At some point you may find that you have focused on emotions such as hurt, resentment, grief, and fear that you no longer think about the life you want to lead. You get lost in the pain and lose sight of your goals and dreams.
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: