Well people, thank you for your comments, we have had some good suggestions! If I am delayed in publishing comments, I apologize. My filter catches some of them as spam, and I sometimes overlook those, I will try and make a better attempt and looking through those as well.
So, we have discussed in detail some of the finer points of how emotions may manifest themselves, especially anger. Which, judging from the response I have received on this topic, it is something a lot of us struggle with.
There is a phrase I learned along the way, "Feelings Follow Focus" this term was used in ADEPT classes that I was thankfully able to take through Community Services Northwest. The concept to that phrase though, is heavy. It truly has a lot of power behind them. Notice it doesn't say, Focus follows feelings, which in a milder term is also true, but the idea that our feelings come secondary to our focus, or attention. Not the other way around. Although I give you, it feels like our emotion comes first, then our focus or attention, like in the case of rumination. - It is very important to remember, those of you who suffer the pesky ghost of rumination, it is a by-product or symptom of mental illness. In fact, it is a learned behavior. But rumination is not something that is part of our processing of events, rather it is a behavior, one that is ineffective and would likely be targeted as something you are attempting to be rid of. Being a behavior, not a processing tool, it does not classify as "focus" or attention. -
How can we benefit from understanding the principle of Feelings follow Focus? Well, that leads me to another term that I picked up at the Portland DBT Clinic, the Emotion Mill. The idea here is that we have an event, say you are out getting your mail at the curb, you have a box that you share with your neighbors, and a certain neighbor that you have had an awkward time getting along with is also getting her mail. She arrives at the box exactly at the same time you do, she says to you, "By all means, you first" OK, so here is your event. Now, the way you interpret this event will set in motion your feelings. From your feelings you will then set your attention.
It goes like this:
Interpretation of the event, leads to an awareness of your surroundings, what chemical changes occurred in your brain? Physical body sensations, facial expressions... in this case, you no doubt will immediately start to have these body sensations and hopefully you will be getting better at recognizing what those are. Your muscles may tense, heart accelerates, maybe your body temperature increases. What do you want to do? Do you want to smile nicely back at your neighbor and thank her for her politeness? Or did you interpret her comment to be snide, and you want to lash something snotty back at her? No doubt, whether you took her comment to be kindly or back biting, did she say "Hey I want to offer a peace offering, so please go first" or did she say, "Hey you jerk, you are pushy anyways, so you may as well go first" all depends on how you interpreted the event. Either way, you probably had your body sensations as mentioned above simply out of learned response, automatic due to your interactions with her in the past. The tricky thing here is, you two have not had any formal disagreement or incident, it is just an awkwardness about your interactions. So, the question that begs to be asked is this, is your interpretations off? Or are you rightfully picking up on some "issue" between you and her? So, NEXT:
Your mind names the emotion you are having, your conscience may not be able to put a word to it, but your sub-conscience has and is set in motion to tell the brain what action is required. NEXT:
Your action leads to event #2, this is immediate, or considered to be the aftereffects of your interpretation of event #1, your meeting her at the mailbox. Then of course you interpret that second event.
This is the natural processing we as humans have. When you break it down this way, you can clearly see the dangers of a faulty interpretation. The only way to get off of the emotion mill, is to have an effective series of events, leading into the next thing that you are doing, something else entirely. Even in this event, the next thing that you do, you will either be filled with satisfaction or frustration, depending on how well you navigated that emotion mill. You can see the variety of outcomes.
Say, you took her comment to rude and insinuating that you wanted to be first, then of course your emotion is close to anger, frustration, and you responded rudely, what happens next? Now, she is involved in her own emotion mill, how will she interpret your response? What if she didn't mean her comment rude at all, now she senses your rudeness, and in her case her interpretation is dead on, what happens then? See the mess that can be made? Of course we do, we have all been there. Too many times before, right? There is nothing more that negative emotions like more than more negative emotions. Enter: Rumination.
Alright, how to get off? We talked already about one skill to use, identify your body sensations. It will give you insight onto what your habits are, are you feeling something that you usually do when you are being ineffective? This should clue you into whether you are interpreting wrong or not. Another skill is to take note of your expression of words, but as most of us are painfully aware of, we cannot take note of those words unless we have learned how to give us a moment, a split second between event and interpretation. All you need is a split second, then you can learn new skills to gain more time, to open up more options. In that moment, take note of what you are saying, ask yourself is it wise mind justified. If you determine it is not, you still have the ability to save the interaction, by kind words, back tracking or apologizing. Of course a lot of what I am talking about are skills that take hard work, but the most effective skill is to CHALLENGE your interpretation. This skill takes humility foremost. A prideful person will not be willing to really challenge that interpretation.They will often times, justify their interpretation whether it is accurate or not.
Whereas a humble person will make sure to take care in really analyzing the event, and seriously challenge their interpretation. Again, there can be many outcomes of this, and once again, this challenge of interpretation won't happen right in the moment, at least not without a lot of practice anyways. The good thing to remember is, anything is fixable. If you have totally fouled up an event and you recognize you were totally off base, you can revisit the situation and make it better, it just takes mindfulness, practice and a lot of humility to FAIL WELL!!
Your neighbor very well might have reservations about contact with you and you falsely interpreting her comment to be a snide remark has only increased her tension or reservations of you, when in reality she wants to get to know you, she really was attempting a peace offering by asking for you to go first.
Next week, we will discuss some distress tolerance skills. We have touched on how helpful a journal is, and some of us out there find it very healing to write in more formal ways. I have a submission of a letter that one of our readers wrote, and I want to share it with everyone next week. I ask that if anyone else finds this form of distraction and healing to be useful and would like to share, please send your piece to us.