As promised, I would like to offer some ideas about how to better deal with yourself when you get your buttons pushed. Like I described in my last post, when we get our buttons pushed, our emotions run very hot and color our view of what is going on. We are projecting. When baby level feelings get activated intensely in this way, we cannot tell the difference between past and present, between inside and outside, between emotions and reality.
As I often describe it, we confuse feelings with facts. We feel like we are in a life-or-death situation when, in reality, it is most likely just another ordinary challenge to be faced.
The key to handling ourselves in these provocative situations is to do our best to step back and try to get objective. We need to cool off a bit and think more like a scientist. We should ask ourselves, What is the data? What is really going on here? What did my boss or partner or child actually say or do?
We need to bring the facts into consideration. My feelings may be registering a 10 out of 10 on the hotness scale, but what about the data? Is it really as dangerous, threatening or offensive as I feel it to be?
With this shift, things tend to change inside. Pay attention to the shift.
If I take a deep breath and begin to be run more by my rational mind, what happens to the feelings?
If I give myself time to cool off, how does my perspective change?
The familiar strategies of counting to ten, sleeping on it, and calling a friend are all rooted in giving our emotions time and space to recede so that more reasonable thinking can come into the picture.
Marsha Linehan, a psychologist who has developed a program for helping people whose intense feelings chronically disrupt their lives, proposed a concept for this process which she called “wise mind.” Wise mind is the partnering of–what she aptly calls–emotional mind and reasonable mind. The passions of the emotions are harnessed with the scientific advantages of thinking so that a wiser state of mind can be found. From that more comprehensive vantage point, a wiser path can be chosen.
Feelings are neither good nor bad. As Marsha Linehan says, they just are. They are vital to a passionate, motivated, and sensitive psychological life. They can provide useful information to guide us along our way. But they tend to be better servants than masters, better navigators than drivers. Disconnected from more rational, objective thinking, they can lead us into acting unwisely.
So when your buttons are pushed, give yourself time and space to bring your reasonable mind into the equation. Try to think about the facts of what is going on–inside you and around you. If you are so overtaken by your feelings that you can’t see clearly, talk about it with someone you trust to have a reasonable mind. In a way, that is essentially what good therapy is all about. It is the regular, disciplined practice of putting yourself in a state of mind and in a relationship with a reasonable minded-other, so that you can chill out, develop a better capacity for thinking, and find a more measured, wise approach to your life that honors both your feelings and the facts.
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