Continuing and expanding off last week's post on Improving Self Talk in Running with NVC, I'm going to focus on how we can use "negative" emotions and self-talk as cues to get ourselves back on track. This is my biggest point today: "bad feelings" are really homing beacons designed to help us get back on track.
They are telling us we are not in harmony with ourselves, with who we really are and who we really want to be.
So I propose an approach to emotions that is very different from what our culture programs us to do with them. I propose we view our emotions as simply information. When we look at them we can discover what we need to know in order to get into harmony with what we want.
In identifying our emotions, it is crucial to understand what is a feeling and what is not. Statements beginning with "I feel that", "I feel like", or "I feel I/you/he/she" are not leading into a feeling. Words like betrayed, unimportant and misunderstood are interpretations of how other people may feel about us as opposed to feelings we have.
We also need to distinguish between what we think we are versus what we feel: feeling inadequate as a guitar player versus feeling disappointed in myself as a guitar player.The first connects our identity and self worth to something and the second is pointing to how we feel.
There are also several considerations to keep in mind while working with needs. Watch out for the use of impersonal pronouns: "It really bugs me that there are spelling mistakes in the brochure". Watch out for finishing out the sentence "I feel ___ because ___" with any pronoun other than I. Watch out for needs being declared only in terms of the actions of others.
Instead, connect your feeling with your need. "I feel really infuriated when spelling mistakes like that appear in the brochure because I want our company to project a professional image." Instead of "I feel angry because you didn't take out the trash.", try " When you didn't take out the trash, I felt upset because its really important to me that we share in household chores equally. Will you agree to take out the trash every other week?"
In the process of looking at our feelings and needs, we discover what unmet needs are overlooked. And because feelings are caused by needs, we can resolve the feelings by resolving the needs. Identifying the needs is a crucial step. Once they are known, we can move forward and find ways to work with them.
These feelings and needs often have several layers. They can start out simply as a desire to do a task or see something done a certain way. And sometimes that is as far as they need to be taken. At other times, these feelings and needs will unearth additional ones. Sometimes all the way to a core value. One can ultimately discover that they are upset with themselves because they are not supporting their own core value of integrity, for example.
Our needs are one of those sad, overlooked pieces of ourselves. We tend not to understand our own needs. They are often ignored because they can be socially bad, culturally not ok, or rejected for a variety of reasons.
But unfortunately, if we don't look our feelings and needs in the eye, they will control us. We forget the needs and just notice the hard feelings. We feel anxious, avoidant, upset, frustrated, angry. We feel guilt, and blame, and shame. We feel stuck and lost and confused. So we compensate, avoiding those feelings. Sometimes we act out, taking it out on other people. Sometimes we take it out on ourselves- through eating, drugs, alcohol, self-sabotage or other means.
But there is some good news too: when we do acknowledge our needs by understanding what our feelings are telling us, we are able to come from a place of love and connectivity with ourselves and other people. As the need is addressed, the feeling will naturally transform into something else. The fear will dissolve, the avoidance or anxiety will shift into motivation, the fear or doubt will shift into confidence or assurance.
To do so, it can help to treat ourselves as kindly and lovingly as we can. It can help to treat ourselves much like a child in need of empathy and guidance. We can think of our response as one using Dan Siegel's mindfulness acronym (COAL): approaching our experience with curiosity, openness, acceptance, and love.
The child cries out, upset. And then we ask in this new spirit of loving curiosity, what is it? What is this upset?
And the child responds, I'm so hungry! As adults, we can see this and smile, asking ourselves what we would like to eat. Or if we cannot eat at that moment, understanding that and planning for when and what we may eat if that is needed. And then the need of hunger is addressed, and the upset inner child is no longer upset. The need is acknowledged, understood, and addressed to the extent possible.
It is much easier to do this with something like hunger, and much harder to do this with the feelings we habitually fight against, dislike, and even judge, blame, or avoid. Which feelings these are and what they mean is unique to each individual.
For example, I might be feeling anxious and worried. In examining this, I realize I am worried that I won't be able to take care of everything I should do today. Watching out for should language, I replace that with " I choose to because ____". I choose to do the tasks today because my profession matters to me and creates both meaning and many types of external and internal support in my life. Then my motivations are clear and I am not fighting against myself in the underlying desire to take action. At this point, I can look at the needs I have named and begin to clarify it and see what I will and will not be able to take care of. I can create a plan, or whatever is needed to address the concern that I won't be able to take care of everything today. As the need is addressed, the anxiety subsides and I feel ready for the day.
In doing this type of work, we can imagine our own desires, our own selves, as a flow. This flow is like a river. The river is already there, but fighting our emotions and leaving unmet needs unaddressed creates blockages. Using feelings as information pointing to our unmet needs and then choosing to address them is the process to discover and release these blockages. In our river metaphor, I imagine this process as locating the rocks and watching them dissolve in my hands.
And then the river flows more freely. Rumi sums this up nicely: "Search not for love, but merely seek and destroy all the barriers within yourself that you have erected against it."
One final note, entering into a more spiritual understanding: needs are not just things that have to be addressed externally. Many core needs are more like values pining after something we feel we don't have enough of: strength, love, power, connection, attunement, compassion, harmony, and so on.
In the Diamond Approach, these are understood as essential attributes of who we really are. In fully feeling our lack in these areas and understanding our need for them, we come to realize that we are these things fundamentally. We are far more resourced than we could possibly imagine, and the way through is by discovering, feeling, and working with that apparent lack.
The personality or ego feels separated from anything greater, and in doing so cuts itself off from these essential attributes. It then tries vainly to make up for it, trying to be strong, or secure, or comfortable or happy. But we already are those things, and the way through is by feeling the lack, feeling the delusion of isolation from the rest of the universe. And then through that pain, a world of connection and truly resourced living emerges naturally.
And with that I leave you with one last Rumi quote: "The wound is the place where the Light enters you."
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