‘If you’re going through hell, keep going.’Winston Churchill
There are those moments when I’m in a bad way. In those times I notice just how much the negative side of my personality comes out.
Some of these I can’t seem to stop boiling upwards into my thoughts and feelings.
It manifests in the imagery that pops into my mind.
When I get angry I imagine picking a fight, I want to lash out.When I’m depressed I imagine failure and defeat. Here I don’t lash out as much as I mentally curl up, as a mode of self-protection.
I search for the worst humanity has to offer in the news on Youtube. I read the comments to remind me just how awful people can be. I think it’s ‘like seeking like’.
That way I can sit back and feel justified in my hatred or despair etc. (Even though this attitude is a distortion of the reality ).
In these dark moments, it feels so right to hate, despair or be angry. So right that it’s hard to resist, to see beyond it. My world shrinks to become just that negative feeling.
Also, such negative states often leave me tense and tired. Because emotion causes me to go into a fight or protection mode. Which for me is tense muscles, especially in the back and neck.
I have been known to wallow in self-pity during such these moments too and I hate it. ‘Poor me, how wretched my existence!!’. ‘The world is out to get me’. It’s like I chew over my own vomit.
I used to do this much more than now, but I don’t want to anymore. It affects my health, it feeds my negative side, it dis-empowers me and makes me turn away from life. Breaking out of this mindset is difficult, I’m often not aware of doing it.
I can’t stop feeling such feelings, but I want to break the habit of just following them, feeding them.
I want newer, better habits. To remind myself that people can be good, the world is beautiful despite all the ugliness, suffering and mendacity.
The point here is that in those dark places we have behavioural habits. Some make the hurt fester like lashing or blaming others.
Other habits help heal the open wounds in our soul.
What I try to do is remind myself of the better things in life. Going outdoors, nature, works of art.Anything that makes me laugh.Inspiring reminders that remind, I do matter. I can make a difference.
I try to avoid self-pity and instead do something. Or I try to remember that others suffering far more than myself, or I remind me myself that one day I will die.
Further still I focus on work. To create, sometimes solely for my own enjoyment, or put out into the world.
Another good habit is to reach out to others, which for me is something I find hard to do.
These healing habits are forgiving, connecting, calming, the opposite of how I feel. They help me let go of pain I feel I need to hold onto.
It’s not about denying such feelings. But rather to stop dwelling on them in a vicious circle that causes real harm to yourself and the people around you. (In Buddhism this cycle of hurt is the meaning of Samsara).
Instead, walk a different circle. Finding hope in hopelessness, compassion in hatred, peace in anger and so transform your mind.
It’s applying an antidote to your suffering, just as you might a bandage to a wound. It’s not a substitute for prevention. But sometimes you just need something to soothe the pain and start the healing process.
Another important point is to choose the right antidotes. Some like drink and drugs may make you feel better in the short term. But you will pay the price of such toxins in the long run.
Instead create some art, or enjoy some. Watch an enjoyable TV or film. Read a book. Go for a walk, or a run. Seek inspiration in literature, history and art. Stories that are uplifting and motivating.
Choose habits that are soothing and transforming.Have these treatments close to hand. The key point is that we all suffer, but we do have a choice about what to do when we are.
Amongst all this is self compassion. Something I find difficult and like society often thought self indulgent.Somehow we got it into our heads that life should be easy. When we encounter difficulty we blame ourselves using a scathing critical voice to motivate us to do better. Such self harm, (and it is self harm), kept me isolated alone and afraid.
But a book, Self Compassion by Kristin Neff helped me to realise just how important such kind self-regard is. The book shows that self-criticism not only doesn’t work, but it can backfire. Preventing growth, connections and fostering anxiety which can sap motivation.
By soothing our agitation and letting ourselves off the hook when we make a mistake we can gather the courage to try again. Knowing that we can accept ourselves as imperfect beings helps us find the courage to keep trying and learn.
Such an attitude fosters humility, kindness, the recognition of shared humanity, and a desire to help others.
We have have such grand expectations for ourselves and when we don’t live up to them we can doubt our worthiness.
Self-compassion is one of the biggest lessons I had to learn and one of the most useful.
It’s not self indulgence or self pity, but the acknowledging a fact. That we are hurting.
Like a wound in your flesh, recognise it, accept it, attend to it. I gradually moved away from feeding my pain to accepting it. Spending time to care for myself.
Self compassion is the recognition of our suffering, our pain, and the application of a soothing balm to help us cope with it.
During those dark times when it all gets too much, when we wonder how we can go on.We can get so caught up in the problems and suffering that we forget ourselves and the vital tranquillity, the potential that still exists within.
We have to remember that there are steps we can take to ameliorate our suffering.By being kinder to ourselves, and acknowledging our pain without running from it.
We accept the truth of our precarious and vulnerable existence, and the suffering it inevitably causes.
The ideas I have come across in my journey have helped me deal with the suffering I’ve had to face. For more on those ideas subscribe to my newsletter