The Importance of Invisible Friends
Episode One: Dealing with Overwhelming Emotions
Or what do you do whenever you feel overwhelmed by an emotion.
I closed my eyes and thought to myself, “I need you,” I didn’t even have to click my shoes together and call three times. They were there instantly.
“Tell us,” I heard from deep inside.
“Before I tell you, I just want to make sure,” I said to the voices. “I know you said that I could call on you guys any time, but doesn’t talking to myself make me kinda crazy?”
“Nah,” came the answer. “Kids do it all the time, but adults learn to grow out of it because their culture demands it of them. Talking to yourself can actually be extraordinarily healthy. It allow you to give yourself some much needed Psychological Air.“
“Like when you are suddenly overwhelmed by an emotion like you are now.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, you can’t talk yourself out of feeling what you feel, just as you can’t talk someone else out of feeling what they feel. Instead, you need to dig into that emotion and uncover what the emotion is trying to tell you. You need to bring the emotion into the light and give it air. Talking to yourself can help you give it that air.”
“So how does that work?”
“You know that listening process we talked about in your book? The one that helps people to understand and process their emotions better?”
“Yeah, it’s where instead of offering advice that might not be needed, you use questions to reflect and understand their emotions.”
“Well, talking to yourself does the same thing, except that you are actually giving the physiological air to yourself. By happy coincidence, it also makes for a much better read. So why did you call?”
I took a deep breath and began. “Someone, who shall remain nameless, just said something to me that hurts so much; it makes me want to throw something. I know that what people say about me is not about me. Belief and Reflection taught me that. I am trying to take responsibility for my emotions like Responsibility suggests. I tried to refocus my thoughts like Focus recommends, but what do you do when someone says something so deliberately hurtful that none of that other stuff works?”
“Tell us what this person said.”
“Well she said, ‘I am really disappointing in you.’ Then she listed a whole bunch of thing that I had done when I was half asleep, and then she finished by saying, ‘It’s like you do it on purpose‘.”
“And her words hurt you?”
“Yes, they were unfair. I didn’t do it on purpose. I admit that I was still half asleep when she needed my help. I also admit that when I get woken up like that, I purposefully try to stay groggy because it is easier for me to get back to sleep, but after all, someone else was awake. I got called to help them help her. I was on back up. I assumed that everything was taken care of, and I went back to bed. But I shouldn’t have assumed that. I should have woken up more. I should made made sure that her mugs were filled with water, that I’d turn the fan back on, that I hadn’t left the phone on the table. But I didn’t do it on purpose.”
“Is that why are you so angry?”
“I can usually let statements like that slide. But this time it just hit me. I don’t know why I feel so angry. That’s why I have come to you.”
“Your feelings are trying to tell you something. What are they trying to tell you?”
“They are telling me that what she said was thoughtless and unfair.”
“No, what is the physical feeling?”
“A pit in my stomach,” I struggled to explain. “Like this dark ball of energy pulling me down and destroying my focus. It’s all bottled down and needs to go somewhere.”
“Why do you think that she said what she did?”
“It’s her way of getting me to shape up.”
“Flesh the thought the out.”
“She’s always done that, even when we were kids. She’d blow up, tell us how unhappy we made her, and then withdraw into herself, while we all went around on egg shells trying to make up for our faults. Eventually it would blow over. I know that she does it as a form of discipline. It is her way of asking for a change, or getting her way.”
“When she does this, how do you react?”
“I shut down, and don’t say anything because I know that anything I say will only make it worse.”
“You mean that you let it sit in the pit of your stomach?”
“You already know what to do when people say something hurtful. We wrote an entire book about it together. You place them into context. You turn the other cheek. You try to understand what they are really attempting to communicate. You already know all the logical tools needed to deal with limiting behavior. So you need to rephrase your question. What you really are trying to figure out is what do you do when you have a dark ball of energy pulling you down, destroying your focus, and needing to go somewhere so much that you want to throw something. For that you don’t need logic, you need reflection.”
“So what do I do?”
“Listen to that pit in your stomach. Explore it. When you understand it, it will go away.”
“I’m not sure I know what you mean.”
“What are the specific words that feel unfair and create that pit in your stomach?”
“That I disappoint her, and that I did it on purpose.”
“Are you sure that you didn’t do it on purpose?”
“Yes! She doesn’t even really think that I did it on purpose. She just said that to twist the knife.”
“So your really angry that she said you have disappointed her?”
“Yes,” I replied. The dark mass in my stomach grunted in agreement. “And it is just not fair that she should say such a thing.”
“Because it shouldn’t be my job to live up to her expectations, even if I do care about her.”
“A logical answer,” came a voice. “However, emotions are seldom logical.”
Reflection’s face came into view. “Listen to what you just said. Use the tools we have learned, and reflect your words so that you can hear yourselves clearly.”
Responsibility joined her. “Look first to see whether the though is empowering, or limiting.”
I furrowed my brows. “Shouldn’t is a limiting words, so the thought is probably limiting.”
I spotted the Explorer just behind them. “Ask yourself how the thought might be limiting?” he suggested. “Ask the question and let me fly away with it.”
“Okay,” I took a deep breath. The dark mass in my stomach made a gurgle. “So I said, ‘It shouldn’t be my job to live up to her expectations, even if I do care about her.’ When I look at the word shouldn’t, the word is hard to replace, so I suppose it belongs there. I must have a belief that has been limiting me. I seem to have a conflict between what I feel should be and what I think should be. I seem to think that it shouldn’t be my responsibility to live up to her expectations, but I also seem to feel that it is my responsibility to live up to her expectations. I suppose what I am really upset about is that I have made it my job to live up to her expectations, and I don’t like the job.” As I put my discovery into words, I felt the knot in my stomach give a sigh of relief.
“So now that we have defined the problem,” smiled the Navigator stepping forward. “Shall we design a strategy for the future?”
A voice yelled out, “They need to clarify expectations.”
The Navigator nodded, “Your use of the word fair,” he said to me. “Seems to imply that you feel things are out of balance. Would you agree?”
“Yes,” I nodded back.
“Have you made your expectations clear to her?”
“No,” I admitted.
“Are your expectations even clear to you?”
“Not really,” I thought about it. “Not in this case.”
“So the first step in our strategy, should be for you to clarify your expectations. Do you expect her to change?”
“No,” I snorted.
“Do you expect the people who help you care for her to change?”
“No,” I snorted again.
“Do you expect it will happen again?”
“Well since I am not her idea of perfect, it probably will.”
“Do you want to be her idea of perfect?”
“Not really. But I don’t want to disappoint her either.”
“So I guess that my anger,” I said thoughtfully. “Has less to do with what she said, and more to do with my inner conflict. Does that sound right?”
“Sounds right,” he replied. “Solve the conflict, remove the emotional trigger.”
“So how do I resolve the conflict?”
“Redefine the job,” said called a voice.
Belief stepped forward. “You said, ‘I suppose what I am really upset about is that I have made it my job to live up to her expectations, and I don’t like the job.’ You need to clarify your expectations of yourself. Redefine the job into one that you want it to be, and then learn to live up to your own expectations. That way, her words will lose their power to hurt you., and you can get back to loving her as much as you do.”
I smiled. “You know I think you’re right.” My face scrunched with thought, and I added, “You know, I also think that you’ve answered my other question.”
“The one about what I can do whenever I find myself overwhelmed by an emotion.”
“What was our answer?”
My smiled turned into a laugh, “I summon you guys and give myself a little Psychological Air.“