Sometimes it isn’t easy to try and figure out what is going on your head or why you are feeling so bad. You don’t even know how you got here, and you’re having a harder time figuring out how to get out of here.
I’m going to share some tips and tricks from Taoism that may help you.
Most of what we learned about survival happened by the time we were five years old. And not all of us got to grow up in that perfect family. Some of us got to grow-up with alcoholics, heroin addicts, narcissists, bi-polar, single-parent families, loss of a parent. There are so many things that play a part in our life.
Maybe if we were six, we could identify what was causing us to feel so horrible. But six was a long time ago and much has happened since then. Maybe you were six and just learned to jump a puddle and were so proud of yourself you wanted to show your dad. Instead of reflecting back on your pride, he laughed at you reflecting shame and humiliation. Your confusion over what you had done that made you a source of amusement instead of a source of admiration makes you more cautious the next time you want to show off a new skill. You’re not sure why, but you know what you did wasn’t as neat as you thought it was. If this happens over and over, you might stop sharing things with your dad because you feel awful about yourself when he laughs at you. Or, you might get caught up in the need to be accepted and start joining in on your dad’s behaviors, humiliating others with him to be accepted. Either way, as life goes on, this shame takes a larger and larger piece of your mental health. Suddenly you’re living in an overgrown shame forest. And you have to make a choice. You can live there, stuck in the past, or hack your way out.
So, a piece of your emotional health are things that happen to you that cause a change in your mental health. And not all our emotional reactions happen from people. An example is a car accident. You may be surprised to think that even the smallest car accident has a component of shock and psychological trauma. The accident changes how you interact with the world, emotionally or physically. If you’ve ever been in a car accident, afterward, were you nervous when driving or uncomfortable when driving? Did you change your driving behavior after having a car accident? That is an example of how things happen to us that can impact our emotional health.
Life happens and has happened and is impacting the way you think and feel about yourself every day. And life is chaotic. Billions of people vie for attention every day. And this chaos can create an overwhelming amount of noise you have to process. And all this processing can increase the confusion.
That simple experience you knew was wrong when you were six has happened over and over again. Each time it happened, that emotional wound you suffered on the first experience gets bigger. It gets rawer and rawer. And suddenly emotions are just a knee jerk reaction and you can’t even figure out why anymore. Looking at the example of the dad laughing at the son, you can’t figure out why because you grew up in a family where you were told their behavior was fine. You were denied that it was a problem and may have been bullied into accepting the behavior. You might have a whole boatload of friends around you who are the first to laugh when you accidentally trip and fall in public instead of asking if you are o.k. and helping you up. We have a tendency to hang out with what we know.
How many times can you feel awful about yourself before you are feeling bad a lot of the time?
When it is negative, you can be in a crowd of your friends and still feel alone and hopelessly disconnected from everything that seems to be good and meaningful in your life. You may feel like you are on the outside looking in. What if you stop looking forward to things?
In Taoism, part of crawling back out of this hole is about disentangling yourself from the chaos. Instead of turning outwards to your friends and family, you turns inwards. The problem is the forest can be so deep, sometimes you can’t even find the path. So, how do you find yourself? How do you take one step forward?
Take some time to use and explore this great worksheet to start pulling apart what is driving your mental attitude. You don’t just have to use the worksheet one time. Maybe more than one thing is bugging you. Use as many worksheets as you need. There are no limits or right answers.
The goal is to see your emotions through your physical symptoms. There can be so many emotions, they all crash in on each other. It is easier to identify the physical symptoms.
Take some time to identify one physical symptom that is disrupting your life. A symptom may happen as one symptom such as a stomach ache. Or the symptoms may come in a cluster such as sweating, dry mouth, and noticing your heartbeat. When these symptoms happen what does it mean? Are you on your way to a migraine, an anxiety attack, insomnia? Do you know? Can you identify what started the symptom?
A symptom could be some type of self-criticism that makes you feel awful. Your symptom may be that you feel “awful”. Take some time to think about why you are feeling awful. What is the story you are telling yourself. Maybe you say things like you can’t get anything done when everyone else can get things done. Many times what you say to yourself is much harsher than that. But the idea is start giving yourself room to explore the depths of your feelings.
When you start shining a light on your inner world, there is so much feedback, it can be hard to get a clear answer when filling out the worksheet. It doesn’t matter, because clarity comes with time just as tending a garden begins with time. So, take your time. You are going to move at the pace that works for you.
When people are starting this work in the clinic, I strongly encourage them to have a sounding board to bounce feelings off because the first time digging into what may be causing you to feel the way you do can be scary. It’s scary for many reasons. Here are some of the reasons it was scary for me.
It’s scary because you worry that what you are saying about yourself is true. It’s not.
There is another reason why it gets scary. You worry that you are the problem because you picked up, in this example, your dad’s behaviors. It doesn’t work like that. With each opportunity, you actually grow in understanding and acceptance of yourself and others. You actually become a bigger and better person who is more comfortable in their skin even with all their blemishes.
Another reason why this may become scary is you may be put in a very scary position of having to set boundaries with your family. Setting boundaries can be scary because they bullied you out of the boundaries in the past. They are going to try and bully twice as hard now. In the example I’ve been using, you may have to ask your dad to stop laughing at your accomplishments. You might say something like, “You know, it always made me feel awful about myself when you would laugh at me. It still does that today. Do you think you can stop doing that?” You actually have to plan your response before you are in the situation because you’ll get triggered and forget what you were trying to accomplish.
There can be another reason why this gets scary. It can be scary because you are not ready to forgive yourself. I don’t have an answer for this one because you are going to forgive yourself whenever you are going to forgive yourself.
Digging into your psyche is not for the faint of heart. This is really hard work, and it’s o.k. to get scared and quit. Some people quit forever and some people quit until they are strong enough to get back up again. This is your life.
The thing is you’ve been living this your whole life. Like a fish in water, you have no idea a place exists with only air until someone pulls you out of the water. The same thing happens with our emotions. We’ve lived them our whole life and have only heard stories and rumors about a better life. The emotions can be so complex and so overwhelming, it is easier to start with a physical symptom and start meditating and thinking about one physical symptom. And you’re going to second guess yourself the whole time through this until you make it to the other side of the fear.
After you’ve spent some time with this exercise, try this exercise for another exercise on remembering who you are.