Difficult times come to us all… grief, frustration, disappointment, sadness are at times the natural consequences of life. We try, amongst this chaos to keep some semblance of order (or at least one foot in order while we cope with the madness). My own losses, disappointments and frustrations are no different to most other people, the death of a loved one, disappointment, personally or professionally and sometimes just sadness or frustration at what is going on around me. A key difficulty in coping with such emotions is that they are so uncomfortable at times that it is natural to try and self-soothe. At different times in my life, booze, food, and other distractions have all served to temporarily calm the chaos, yet there is an inherent discomfort and self-berating that goes on after I have done something to self soothe which is unhelpful and even damaging.
Initially, besides self-soothing, I would also ruminate over problems and lose sleep, continue feeling distracted/distressed for protracted periods of time, and here’s the thing, feeling bad when you suffer loss or have problems is of course, natural, we don’t always have to move away from feelings, distract ourselves as sometimes its ok to sit with those feelings and accept them for what they are, in fact pushing them away and trying to distract almost certainly means the thoughts/feelings will come back with full force later on. I want to feel my feelings, not pretend they are not happening… and we seem to have collectively come to the point where we feel we should never feel bad and do whatever it takes to stop any distress. Actually, we are able to cope with occasional negative feelings and just sit with them for a while. If this negative mood is continuous then problems ensue, and we need a way out.
As I suggest, nowadays my consideration of poor or dysregulated feelings is that I should sit with feelings, even very negative ones, for a while and accept there is a reason for such a feeling. When, for example, that thought continues into the night and affects my sleep or means I am constantly ‘in my head’ I might then try some form of technique to aid my thinking, chief amongst these techniques are: cultivating positive self-talk, the 2-thought technique and ‘defusion’.
#1 Cultivate good quality self-talk.
Let us take a look at each in turn: starting with cultivating good quality self-talk I.e., self-talk that is accepting, compassionate and reasonable, as you read this, how compassionate, accepting, and reasonable is your own self-talk? Mine is often, naturally critical and I have to take the time to ask myself what I am saying to myself… how kind am I being? How well does what I am saying match what I would verbalise to a friend who was having similar difficulties to my own? We spend a lot of time talking to ourselves and so we should get good at it! see the self-talk blog for more on this: https://www.counsellingwithdrtrevor.net/post/i-am-going-to-be-kinder-to-myself.
#2 Use the two-thought technique.
The two-thought technique is a great way to quickly get out of a negative spiral in the sense that sometimes we might feel a generalised dark cloud, poor mood without knowing why, the two-thought technique involves asking: 1) that thought I am having now… is it helpful? And 2) what is it doing to me? In truth you are unlikely to call on the technique if you are in the midst of a happy period, so it will often come up when we a dysregulated, a key aspect here is not engaging into a conversation with the thought or trying to reason, answer, explain or fix anything just ask the two questions and listen to the answers. This kind if cognitive technique brings us neatly to defusion.
# 3 Learn and practice Defusion.
Defusion, defusion is really where we notice our thoughts instead of just having them. It is a way of separating the ‘thinking-self’ from the ‘observing-self’. In my thinking self I am having thoughts, or I am caught up in thinking, perhaps even ruminating over something from the past or fanatisizing about what is/might (and might not!) happen in the future. Essentially following the approach of Acceptance Commitment Therapy, I am ‘fused’ in my thinking and defusion is where I notice my thoughts for what they are, images, ideas, some of which are true, and some are blatantly not and by saying ‘I Notice I am having the thought that…’ I am separating the thinking and observing-selves and noticing that they are not the same, I am not my thoughts, they are just thoughts, and I am me. Note again here there is no attempt to solve, fix, address your thinking, just like the two thoughts idea, we are accepting and seeing them for what they are, images, words, ideas but not instructions we need to obey.