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.
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.
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:
When you are emotionally sensitive, your feelings are quicker to come about, more intense and last longer than those of other people. When you’re seen as being different, particularly in a way that others don’t understand, then relationships are difficult to maintain. Others often don’t understand your emotional reactions.
Emotionally sensitive people have many ways of putting on armor to protect themselves from the painful judgments and rejections of others. You’ve learned that when you show your emotional sensitivity you’ll be labeled as flawed or broken or at least not understood. The heightened fear of being rejected that many of you fear is often based in reality.
I’ve just completed several months of intense work, all by my choice. Today I do not have any deadlines that are pressing and nothing that I have to do. There is much I could do, but nothing I have to do. I can just breathe, enjoy the moments of the day, and be grateful.
Emotionally sensitive people are among the most compassionate and passionate people in the world. Often creative, you have talents as artists, writers, and musicians. You add to the caring and beauty of the world. Many times you also struggle with self-hatred, depression, anxiety, and horrible feelings of alienation. Those struggles are likely not due to your being emotionally sensitive. Much of your suffering may come from self-doubt and from an agonizing experience of being broken. That likely comes from what you are told and experience as a child.
Urgency means requiring swift action and seems to include a nuance of importance. If something is urgent, it is important and needs to be done quickly. Somehow my urgency sensor is stuck in the “on” position. I perceive urgency and react as if my activity is critically urgent when all I’m doing is going to the grocery store or taking a shower. I feel pressure that time is passing and I’m not going to get it all done, or won’t get it done on time. What “all” is and why it has to be done is not clear, if I even consider it. When I drive to the office, there’s an urgency to get there on time. When I’m going through my day, there’s an urgency keep to the schedule. When I’m at the gym, I am focused on getting the workout done so I can get on to the next activity.