written by: Kathy Best, CNT, CRRC, ACCR, PSDC, August 12, 2019
This is another one that I have personal experience with. I was able to overcome addictions to alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, and food. I had a lot of false starts and several relapses before I was able to finally confront, accept, own, and overcome the core issues that triggered my “overindulgences”. Compassionate acceptance, forgiveness, and a spiritual foundation based on unconditional love, connection to all life, and our innate divinity were the big shifts that enabled me to release self-destructive habits. This is when the practice of self-awareness and mindfulness really pay off. When you start making an effort to become aware of the triggers that activate certain self-destructive or purely emotional behaviors you can address the root cause instead of trying to nurse the wound. Think about when you feel the need to overindulge. What emotions trigger that response? Your feelings are a compass and a guide meant to steer you away from pain and suffering and toward joy and love. The problem arises when you begin to identify your feelings as who you are, or you become lost in a downward emotional spiral that overwhelms your ability to navigate through, and process completely, the events or experiences associated with negative emotions. It’s healthy to acknowledge your emotions and to understand what your emotions are trying to tell you. Feel them, but do not become them. Once you recognize or uncover the root of your anger, stress, anxiety, fear it’s time to take action and deal with the issue.
If it’s a person that’s pushing your buttons you can imagine having a conversation with that person and asking them why they do the things they do. Imagine what they might tell you if you asked them that question. If it’s someone you feel comfortable talking to, you may want to have this actual conversation with them, but make sure you do it when you are not emotional as this will cause them to feel attacked and respond in kind. If this is someone you cannot confront or speak to in person, do this in your mind only. Have a whole conversation with the person telling them how their behavior makes you feel, why it makes you feel that way and ask them what causes them to act that way toward you. If you can’t think of what might cause it, imagine yourself as them and ask yourself what would cause you to behave like that. Maybe you had a rough childhood. Maybe you were abused or neglected as a child. Maybe you are in a loveless marriage and working a job you hate because you feel trapped, so you lash out at others that remind you of how miserable your life is or how good your life could be if you could do what you truly wanted to do. Maybe you don’t know how to have healthy relationships with people because you fear rejection so you reject others before they can reject you. Do this exercise until you feel some compassion or empathy for the person that has offended or hurt you and recognize that you do not know what anyone else has experienced or been through or how you would behave if you were living their life. If this is an event, work problem, financial problem, or marital problem find someone with expertise or someone who seems to be doing what you are trying to do and ask them for advice or help. There is no shame in needing support or admitting that we don’t know how to do something. No one is an expert at everything and we can’t learn how to fix something if we don’t admit that we don’t know how to do it and ask for help.
A good practice, I have adapted from Christian Mickelsen’s “peace process,” to deal with strong negative emotions is sitting quietly and thinking about the problem, situation, or event that is triggering the emotion. Try to notice if there is a place in your body where you can feel the emotion. Then see if you can pinpoint where in your body you feel that emotion the most. Now just focus your attention on that place where the emotion is strongest. Don’t try to stop the emotion, fix it, judge it, or question it. Just observe it and the feelings in your body it stimulates. Allow the emotion and feelings to run their course simply observing them, accepting them and if possible sending them love. Emotions and feelings are you internal guidance system that let you know when you’re focusing your attention on unbeneficial, negative thoughts and when you’re focusing on worthwhile, positive thoughts. For now just keep your attention on the place in your body where the emotion is creating the greatest intensity and try to send it love and appreciation for trying to warn, protect, and guide you. The emotion and feelings in your body may move around your body or shift in level of intensity – just keep your focus and attention on them and let them run their course. It won’t last forever. The more you can relax into the emotion and the feelings in your body, breathe with them, accept and observe them without adding mental fuel to them, the faster they will run their course. Stay focused and neutrally observant – sending love from your heart center if possible. When you get to a point where you no longer feel the emotion or any painful feelings in your body move your attention into your heart center, think of something or someone that makes your heart expand with love and joy – then send you body love and gratitude for taking you through this connection process and showing you a kinder, gentler way to handle negative, overwhelming emotions. To confirm that you have indeed dealt with and neutralized the person, problem, or event that triggers you, try thinking about it again and notice any emotions that come up. If you still feel a negative response you may need to repeat the process until all negative emotional charges have been neutralized. When you can think about it without the emotional response you know you are now free of the trigger, fear, or anxiety that held you prisoner and you can make confident, healthy, empowering decisions from this place of calm compassion and confident understanding.