Eve da Silva Msc, PgDip
Managing bad days.
Updated: May 26, 2020
Pain is no small matter, it rips through us, cripples us, it aches and it stabs. Emotions can be exhilarating but they can also be unbearably painful. Isabel Clarke, author of Third Wave CBT Integration for Individuals and Teams, puts that pain at the centre of her formulation (an agreed sense making between therapist and client) of what drives some of our helpful and not so helpful ways of behaving. What is helpful anyway? Helpful is the thing that makes you feel better and we all know that sometimes the thing that makes us feel better short term is simply not what makes us feel better in the long term.
There is a feeling that you get, in the pit of your stomach, thundering in your ears, weakening your arms, breaking in your heart which can completely swamp your ability to breathe, communicate and even think.
Anyone who has felt this feeling knows that they have found ways to distract from it, soothe it, tolerate it and even heal it. Dr Gabor Mate reminds us that whatever the addiction, be it food, exercise, alcohol, work, drugs or shopping, that addiction has in some way aided us in #surviving circumstances that we were not equipped to overcome in the past. Isabel Clarke also teaches how realising that something about a particular coping strategy is actually very helpful, and acknowledging that, is the first step to making sense of what or how we would like to change or alter. Often, the sense of using a certain behaviour to survive, makes us feel, deep down, horribly sad, angry, fearful or helpless, it can affect our self esteem and our sense of ourselves in the eyes of the people who matter to us. This hurts. We can become numb to the pain and shame of this cycle, we may feel it momentarily but, as it overwhelms us, our brains and bodies drown and numb it, lest we become too distressed or unable to cope. We barely notice it but it still lingers, waiting for an additional painful moment, a loss, an embarrassment, a sense of failure or breakdown of relationship, to bubble to the surface, overwhelming us once more with shame and heartache. Dr Brene Brown teaches that shame affects our bodies in the same way as trauma, we are under the same flight/fight response and we can find ourselves acting accordingly. We can run away, avoid or drown out our feelings or we can fight, react quickly to those around us and seek to influence the way they see us. Since inside we can sometimes feel like we have many different sides to our own self, often all of this running away and fighting is happening in our own hearts and minds. On the outside perhaps all someone else can see is us pouring ourselves a glass of wine or lighting a cigarette. Others may find us being low in tolerance, snappy or unkind. Or we may be noticed to be stressed and perfectionistic, making our anxiety worth the final, perfect product. Ultimately, it is perfectly possible to be a crying heap or a well put together archetype of success and find that the former is more in control of their wellbeing than the latter. How is that possible? Sometimes tolerating the horrible feeling means being able to acknowledge it and then behave in ways which soothe it.
Where do we learn how to tolerate and heal the horrible feeling?
Learning to tolerate the horrible feeling, learn from it and heal it is something which, like all of our skills, develops from the moment we start developing. In this dated but reassuring video about being there for a baby, we are reminded how to let someone small who is distressed; know that they have someone on their side.
Sometimes we haven't always had someone on our side in that way, someone who speaks to us softly, watches for our signals and responds to them, gives us appropriate physical contact or respects our wishes not to engage in physical contact and who ultimately is patient with us and who cares about making us feel safe and secure. We are not babies, but these needs do not change as we develop year by year. We still need, both from those around us, but also within our own minds and hearts, to have a sense that we are patient with ourselves when we are distressed, that we speak softly and kindly to ourselves and that we make sure our physical needs are met in a way that actually makes sense to our wellbeing.
You may not remember when you started letting a punishing voice dominate when you are overcome with horrible feelings, the voice that says:
You are not good enough. If you don't do x then terrible things may happen. You have failed again. You don't deserve love. You were born to be hurt. You are simply stupid and incompetent.
That voice is the voice which doesn't serve you any longer. Susan Jeffers helped many people struggling with that voice to remind themselves that
No one has to live with enemies. Don't make an enemy of yourself.
Become Assertive with your inner critic and start advocating for yourself
Assertiveness isn't just for other people, it is for our inner dialogue too.
Compassion isn't just for a baby, puppy or stranger, it is for you too.