conflict

3 Essential Questions to Ask Yourself When Big Feelings Happen

3 Essential Questions to Ask Yourself When Big Feelings Happen

(#3 is the real kicker!)

If you’re looking for a way to keep from losing your mind when big feelings happen, I’m going to suggest these 3 essential questions to ask yourself.

First let’s define “Big Feelings”. These are feelings that swell up and burst in a nanosecond. It happens as quickly as a reflex (because they usually *are* reflexes, not choices!).   A sudden, very intense feeling of anger, offense, rejection, hurt, or other similar powerful emotions.   Often you may be able to recognize that the intensity you are feeling seems out of proportion to the thing that seems to have caused it.

Avenues Counseling

 

The Big Feeling is generally accompanied by a strong reaction of some kind: you erupt in anger, you run and hide, or maybe you shut down and withdraw. Whatever you do, it seems automatic.

So the three questions are a tool you can use to get underneath the reflex and understand what is pushing you around. The end goal is to gain enough understanding and distance from the feeling that you can intelligently choose what you are going to do next, rather than letting the feeling dictate your actions.

Question #1: What is the feeling? This seems simple at first: “I’m ANGRY, you idiot!! Isn’t that obvious?!”   Not so fast. Usually with an emotion like anger or offense, there is a softer feeling that comes first. Think of a parent that sees their child playing in the street. They react in anger: “What have I told you about playing in the street??” But the first feeling is fear: “I’m afraid you are going to get hurt or killed!!”

The key to mastering Question #1 is volume: wrap *a lot* of words around the feeling. Go into as much detail as you can. What does it physically feel like? Where do I feel it in my body? Is there motion to it? Does it rise or fall? Move forward or retreat? Burst or crush? It’s probably more than just one feeling, so what else is there? How many synonyms or clarifying words can you come up with to describe this feeling? These are just some examples, but hopefully it’s enough to get started.

Question #2: Why is it there? This question moves from what’s happening inside you to your immediate surroundings. What just happened to trigger this feeling?   Again, it seems obvious at first. “I’m pissed because you’re a jerk.” This part may be true, but let’s go a bit deeper, shall we? Get into the layer of meaning. What is it about that word, that action, that tone of voice that makes it so intense? Does it tell you they think you’re worthless? That they don’t respect you? That they’re not going to hear anything you have to say no matter what? Again, get into as much detail as you can.

Question #3: Where does it come from? We’re still dealing with the feeling that you named in question #1. Answering this question can be extremely informative, as well as kind of scary. The goal of this question is to discover where in your story, as far back as you can remember, have you felt this feeling before? Often, as you think about the physical sensation of the feeling, the answer comes quickly. It may be a specific story or event. A moment that, though it happened 10 years ago or 30 years ago, is crystallized in your mind so clearly you can remember what you were wearing.

It may not be a specific moment, but rather a type of moment. The feeling might be connected to something that happened often enough that specific moments are lost in the sheer number of them. What remains is the impression of “always”. “We always had to… He always said… It was always like this… Whenever I saw/heard/felt this, I knew…”.

Discovering your answer to Question #3 can sometimes be like a bomb going off in your mind and heart. All of a sudden you realize that you are connecting two different stories together, and that the old story is what you’re really angry at (or afraid of). Maybe the two stories are similar enough that they feel the same, and it’s the kind of story you never want to be a part of ever again.

Gaining this understanding is absolutely essential to developing the capacity to thoughtfully respond to the triggering situation rather than reacting out of the power of your emotions. Please don’t misunderstand: I’m not suggesting you ignore what you feel, but that you seek to understand what you feel clearly so that you can deal with it intelligently.

Big Feelings are tough to handle. They always will be. But you don’t have to blow up or disappear when they happen. The Three Questions are intended to help you be able to stand up, speak your peace, and seek resolution in a healthier way. Rather than getting lost in the fog of confusion, fear, or anger, you can engage with openness, clarity, and self-control.

-by Jonathan Hart, LPC

Different Isn’t Bad, It’s Just Not the Same

By: Andy Gear

A trip my wife and I took to Massachusetts reminded me of something I had learned as a kid from a man who had lived in Sierra Leone: “Different isn’t bad, it’s just not the same.”

 

Recently, my wife and I visited the town in Massachusetts where we spent our honeymoon. It’s just a little fisherman’s village, but it brought back so many memories of our first year together. One might assume that it made me nostalgic for that “honeymoon period” when we had no kids, no problems, and our whole life ahead of us. And it did.  But I also remembered how difficult that first year was.

No one ever told me that learning to live with another person would be so difficult. And if they did I ignored them, because we were young and in love. Why would we ever argue? We’re soul mates.

Different Isn't Bad

So I was surprised to learn during that first year that my wife is very different than me. We have different interests, different values, different ways of thinking, feeling, communicating, different views of money and conflict, and different ways of eating cereal.  Because she was different than what I grew up with, I assumed that her differences were wrong, bad, or illogical.  I remember going for walks with her in some of the old neighborhoods in U. City, talking about the things a young seminarian thinks important. I’d be in the middle of what I thought a life-changing idea, when she would stop me and make me observe a bed of flowers, an idyllic home, or the sun descending with the most beautiful shade of orange. I was so frustrated. Why didn’t she think like me? What was wrong with her? I tried to convince her to be more like me. That did not go over well at all. Then I remembered the saying I shared with you earlier, “Different isn’t bad, it’s just not the same.” I dwelt on this thought.

What if the things that are different about my wife are not only acceptable but are very good? What if my wife and I are custom made for each other and our individual qualities are meant to shape us into more whole, balanced, and fully functioning human beings?

I developed a new assumption: who my wife is now is very good.

With this new assumption in mind, I began to act upon it. I slowly began to receive my wife’s differences not as trials to bear but as gifts to be enjoyed. I tried to allow that person to shine through, to learn from her.

The result has been life changing.

I’m not convinced that I’m any better at marriage, but I appreciate who my wife is.  And in a small way I am becoming a more balanced, whole, and fully functioning human being. I believe that learning to embrace the beauty of who she is right now helped make my second trip to Massachusetts even better than the first.

The Holidays are Coming

by Jonathan Hart

If this phrase fills you with a sense of foreboding, you’re not alone. For many, the holidays can be a time of guilt and frustration in which the traditional family gatherings are fraught with conflict, tension, and heartache. Family gatherings can be confusing. “Why is this so hard?  Is it supposed to be like this?  That’s just how they are, I need to get over it… but I can’t!”

Families are rarely perfect.  We often feel pressures and expectations when we are among our closest relatives that we don’t feel anywhere else or at any other time of year.  I’ve heard more than one person complain, “Mom (or Dad) treats me like I’m still twelve years old!  They don’t seem to understand that I’m an adult now,” or “I just go along with it!  I can’t seem to stand my ground with them.”

While these pressures and conflicts are not unusual, they are painful and difficult to handle for many people.  We feel the power of these relationships and expectations deeply, and we aren’t sure what we have the right to challenge and what we don’t.  All too often we avoid confronting what is painful because the consequences are just too great.  “I can’t say that to my Mother!  It would crush her! It would ruin the whole trip!”

If you are among those who need help sorting out the expectations and learning how to relate in a healthier way when you’re at home, I’d encourage you to sign up for the “Surviving the Holidays” seminar that we are presenting at Rooftop Church in Affton on Friday, November 9th from 5:30-9:00 PM.  We will discuss how relationships are designed to function, how they get off track, and how to change the pattern in a healthy direction.  For details on how to register for this event CLICK HERE!

Fiction, Hollywood, and Real Relationship

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

SPOILER ALERT:  for those who haven’t read the Harry Potter or Hunger Games series, there may be plot spoilers in the following paragraphs, though I will try hard not to reveal too much.

My wife and I were discussing some of our thoughts about how the books The Deathly Hallows and Mockingjay ended, and how they served to wrap up their respective series.  We were thoroughly disappointed in each and for similar reasons.  The core of our disappointment was the principle of “putting a bow on ugly”.

The Harry Potter series ended with an epilogue titled “19 years later”, that (we felt) too neatly and agreeably attempted to wrap up all the threads from the series.  The fact that Harry named a child after the person who most utterly despised him and treated him viciously even behind closed doors was just too much.  I can see coming to respect him, but one simply does not name a child after an abuser of this magnitude.  All the ugliness seemed to have inexplicably vanished.

The Hunger Games series tried to do the same thing, though the attempt at closure was somewhat better.  The author at least attempted to acknowledge that ugly existed in the post-story world, but it was still resolved too simplistically and without the flesh to make it believable for me.

Hollywood and fiction train us to expect that all the loose ends can be resolved, that resolution equals “happily ever after” or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof.  They train us to need things to work out that way.  This is most plainly true in the (despicable and utterly useless) genre known as “Romantic Comedy”.  I cannot say more without using profanity.

Think of the sense of disappointment or unease when you watch a movie in which resolution is not clean or neat. We recently watched the movie Moneyball, which does not conclude with a “Hollywood Ending”.  I can only say that the events depicted happened within the recent lifetimes of many, and as such could not be modified to fit the pattern described above.  I feel that if they were more ancient history they would likely have been changed into something completely victorious.

This is fine, and even necessary (to a degree) for celluloid.  The unfortunate side effect is that because reality is very much different, many people are left with a sense of disappointment and even despair when real life does not work that way.  The truth is that human beings are generally a broken, selfish lot that is capable of both great goodness and great evil, often within a single breath.

The fact is that intimacy, real relationship, and engaging responsibly with another human being is often like a wrestling match.  The very best relationship in the world experiences conflict and disagreement, hurt and offense, misunderstanding and tension on an ongoing basis.  The couple who tells you that “never a harsh word is spoken” is either whitewashing, outright lying, or they are not experiencing real, deep intimacy.

If you are going to really do deep, intimate relationship with another person, you’d better know how to fight.  I don’t mean knowing how to eviscerate your opponent in the shortest period of time.  I mean knowing how to hold in tension the following two truths: 1. This other person and I are on the same side,  and 2. There is pain and friction between us.

When I talk about knowing how to fight, I mean knowing how to understand and express my own feelings and thoughts in a way that does not accuse or attack the other, even when it is plainly and wholly their fault.  I mean learning how to uphold their honor and dignity while feeling the painfully powerful desire to rip their eyes out.  I mean knowing how to view conflict as a necessary part of doing relationship, and not as a threat to relationship.

It is often one of the hardest lessons to learn in relationship that resolution is not about coming to agreement, but rather it is about coming to a deeper understanding of the other person, and thereby learning how to craft a unique relationship between the two of you.  No part of that process is clean, neat, or simple.  It is ugly, and to expect or demand otherwise only leads to disappointment.  You can put a bow on it if you like, but that doesn’t make it easier to look at.  It takes patience, forgiveness, grace, mercy, and love.  When you’ve come to the other side of it, it will still be ugly, but there is a beauty in what has been created by moving through it that will last a lifetime.

It’s OK to be Angry

by Jonathan Hart, LPC
Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Psalm 4:4

The first two words here may be startling to many, especially among those who have spent their lives in church or religious circles.  The message many of us have received is “do not be angry”, or “to be angry is to be selfish”. We take the good message of peace and forgiveness to mean that confrontation and boundaries are excluded.

But the command here is to “be angry”. Anger is not of itself an evil, nor is it universally inappropriate. If it were, God himself would never become angry. But there are things that make God angry: injustice, ruthlessness, arrogance, taking advantage of the weak and powerless.  These are things that rightly inspire our own anger.

Anger is a powerful emotion, and humans are prone to abusing power. The expression and communication of anger is regulated in this verse and in other places as well.  Talking about those limitations is another post altogether.  For many, it will be enough for now to consider that to feel and express anger is sometimes a perfectly appropriate response.