If you’re feeling you’re healing. Conversely, if you’re not feeling you’re not healing. I know I constantly harp on this, but only because it is so important. Making it safe to feel your feelings will get you through all the emotional detritus surrounding divorce, or any other life transition. In addition, by moving through your grief, rather than trying to circumvent it, you will hone your intuition. Those indescribable gut feelings, born of experience and understanding, will help you make better decisions in all aspects of your life.
We’re still burdened by our Calvinist past, it’s in the air we breathe. Deep down most of us have a little voice in our head saying: keep a stiff upper lip, pull yourself up by your bootstraps, and other aphorisms meant to keep us out of touch with our feelings. They might have been useful in the past when people didn’t have the time to explore their emotions, and died young, but we’re living in a different age with a far longer life span. We have all the time we need to plumb our depths.
One good way to do this is to write a journal entry on the emotion du jour with your non-dominant hand. So if you’re a “rightie” write with your left hand, and vice-versa. This allows you to access your unconscious mind more easily, and find out what you are really feeling.
Feelings are a conduit to understanding what you are telling yourself. Once you are in touch with them you can ask yourself: “What could I be thinking to create that feeling?” Then, you can change your thoughts through Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy (the original Cognitive-Behavior Therapy) which will replace negative emotions with more positive ones.
For example, if you are depressed your inner dialogue might be:
I’ll never feel better, and that would be terrible.
I’ll always be alone, and that would be awful.
I’ll never find anyone to love and who will love me; life won’t be worth living.
You get the idea. There’s typically an overgeneralization with an extremely negative assessment. Actually, it’s often the pessimistic evaluation that really sinks our emotional boat, as we can then move directly to I-can’t-stand-it-itis (as Albert Ellis used to say). Once we’ve landed there, we will undoubtedly feel lower than a snake’s wiggle.
The answer is to vigorously dispute the litany of negative thoughts that give rise to disturbing feelings, like: guilt, depression, anxiety, worthlessness, and anger. (See Annotated Bibliography for books by Ellis.)
It’s a common misperception that Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy is all about the rational and leaves emotions in the dust. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is by acknowledging your feelings that you can figure out what you’re telling yourself. Then, ask yourself: “Just because I think this is it really true?” Once upon a time, people thought the world was flat and blood-letting cured all ills. We think unhelpful and unrealistic thoughts all the time. That’s fine, it’s human nature, and there’s no need for self-denigration. Just replace your unhelpful ruminations with new ones, and let yourself feel better.
How about thinking:
I may feel lousy right now, but I’ve felt bad before and that didn’t last. One thing I know for sure is everything changes. Even if I do feel depressed it isn’t the end of the world. I may not like it, but I certainly can stand it. If I couldn’t, I’d be dead. (I literally can’t stand being without oxygen and food, but I can stand feeling rotten.)
Just because I am flying solo now doesn’t mean I will be alone for the rest of my life. Actually, this is an opportunity to learn to love my own company. If I ended up without a mate, I could still enjoy life. Plenty of people are partner-less and don’t view it negatively; many actually prefer it. Mother Theresa didn’t need a mate to find meaning, love and fulfillment in life. I may prefer someone by my side, but that’s who I am today. As a constantly changing and growing person I have no idea who I’ll be tomorrow or a year from now, so why torture myself with assumptions?
Am I the ruler of the universe? Am I clairvoyant? If not, how can I possibly know what the future holds. With 7 billion people on the face of the earth it’s far more likely I will meet someone than not. If I loved before I know I am capable of loving again; similarly, if someone loved me I will only be more lovable as I move towards being my truest self.
Another thing to remember is that emotions usually come in clusters, so when you feel one ask yourself: “What other feelings might be lurking around?” When you ferret something out ask yourself what thoughts might be creating it and dispute those with as much vigor as you did the last batch.
Introduce more helpful, positive thoughts by using affirmations, Robyn Posin’s cards (see Annotated Bibliography), and the Litany of Love (see Litany of Love). Read them all regularly until they’re second nature. There’s no such thing as overkill when it comes to thinking optimistically, practicing unconditional self-acceptance, and larding on tons of gentleness to counteract residual negative self-talk.
Copyright Nicole S. Urdang