The Wrong Side of the Bed – Make Use of a Bad Day
You may be feeling good enough about life that you don’t need psychotherapy, yet you might occasionally feel really badly without knowing why. Perhaps you know that it will soon pass, or by the next day, and so you wait it out. But it doesn’t feel good.
I would like to suggest using those negative emotions to actually change the causes of them.
This is an approach that can make your life feel so much better. And, it is one of the skills that will allow you and your future mate to be transparent with each other, and accepting of the other. It is one of the major areas for preparation for love.
You may assume that the intense feelings are coming from somewhere other than your present life if they aren’t in direct response to something you are addressing. Or even if they are about the present, the intensity may come from “memory” of the past.
If you feel strongly about something your date or partner has done, or not done, check to see how much of the emotion is relevant to the present and how much really comes from somewhere else.
A widow from a long and comfortable marriage fell in love with a man who leans toward Avoidant Attachment (see Create New Love for more about this). He flirted with other women. He talked with women he was attracted to about what was wrong with his lover. This brought up great pain for this widow. Of course it did. But the extent of her panic went way beyond the current situation. As we explored his childhood, she accessed her feelings about her father, who was very loving, yet abandoned her regularly. He was one of those fathers who just didn’t show up when he was scheduled to be with his three year old child.
A good way to look at situations like this is the 90/10 rule. Assume that 90% of the emotion comes from the past, and only about 10% is from the present. This gives you a chance to take a look at what is really causing your feelings.
This old expression is perfect for this purpose. Take a look inside. Notice the nature of the emotions. Ask yourself if they make any sense now. Notice how you may want to blame someone else, as the widow wanted to blame her lover. Be curious about what is going on in your body as these emotions flood through. The widow felt mostly panic, interspersed with rage and wanting to break up.
Once you have identified what is going on inside of you, see if you can step back and take a broader view. Ask yourself, if you were two or four or six or ten and you felt this way, what would have brought this about?
The widow studied all the times she could remember when her father didn’t come to save her from her mother’s abuses. All the times when he didn’t proclaim his special love for her. She could cry over sitting by the front door waiting, and finally knowing that he wasn’t coming. She needed his loyalty along with his love.
Now she wants her lover’s loyalty along with his love. She doesn’t doubt the love of either man. But her lover’s lack of inside-out monogamous caring triggers off the intense need and devastation related to her father.
The more she is able to grieve out the past, the better position she will be in to decide if she is willing to tolerate her lover’s behaviors. Now it can be more of an intellectual, objective decision instead of a panic-driven need to be out of relationship with him.
This doesn’t happen quickly, and needs to become a practice that you return to as needed. This couple have wonderful times together, and seem to be moving toward living together and permanence. But she doesn’t know yet. Each encounter with the panic, observing it as coming from the past, and crying through it give her more and more freedom. But patience is needed as only one layer of the onion comes off at a time.
WRITING IT ALL DOWN
As you embark on learning about the 10% 90% question regarding your questions, it can be helpful to make a list of the experiences from childhood (and early adult life) that are showing up in the present. It is never only one thing. It is also never only one relationship issue (such as a shaming father). You may also have been subjected to trauma that you managed to grieve your way through, and is not showing up now. This can happen if you had good witnessing and acceptance of your anger and grief. Children are able to remove the effects of a great deal of trauma if they are allowed to do so. Our culture interferes with natural course of trauma release, and of course those who caused it aren’t likely to assist in the release of the effects. Peter Levine tells his own story of avoiding carried trauma after a car accident by using his own trauma healing methods. (Read In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.)
Having your list of emotion-causers can have the tremendous benefit of helping you not react as if the pain-causers are going on in the present.
Another woman left the house upset and sure that she had to end her relationship. All her lover did was vanish into himself, unable to talk about what was going on. She took it personally – and maybe it was about her – but the intense feelings and being sure that she couldn’t be with him were from her difficult past. Once she could see this, she apologized, and they are still in relationship years later.
1. Observe your feelings and reactions
2. Ask yourself when these emotions make sense.
3. Make a list of childhood deprivation and trauma that is showing up now.
4. Practice talking with others so you can explain and ask for support each time it happens.