Recently I had a negative emotional spiral to the level I have not experienced in a very long time. An emotional spiral can be caused by many different circumstances, but they always lead to the same place. Something happens. I interpret the event to mean I messed up or someone doesn’t care about me. Which leads me to the thought that I am worthless. The initial incident may change, but my story that situations always mean, deep down, that I am worthless and have no reason to live, always ends in the same place.
We all have our emotional stories. Our deep-seated beliefs that color how we interpret the world. In the midst of an emotional story, it is easy to be overcome with the emotions. We can’t think. We can’t reason. We can’t see the reality of the situation. All we feel is the emotion. The emotion drowns out all other feelings and rational thoughts. The emotion overtakes our minds and bodies. It is hard to believe, think, or act in ways contrary to the emotion. It is uncomfortable at least, and for me it can be devastating and reduce me to a desperate sack of tears.
The emotion I feel is real. I feel the emotion. I experience it physically. I am in the emotion. It exists.
The emotion, however, is not true. The basis for the emotion never truly justifies the extent of the emotion. The emotional logic is usually all-or-nothing thinking. It is not the truth that work is slowing down, the thought is that I don’t have a job. It is not the truth that one person is upset with me, the thought is that everyone in the entire world hates me. In this state, it is impossible to break out of these irrational thoughts. As Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” We can not break through the lies of our story with the same mind that created the lies.
Hopefully you do not experience negative emotional spirals, but if and when you do, here are a few ideas that may help.
Awareness and Detachment
Before things become bad, practice being aware of your feelings and thoughts. It is necessary to be aware that you are experiencing the spiral to do anything about it. If some part of you can separate or detach from the experience of the emotion, then you are able work through it. It is like being in a pool. If you are underwater and it feels like everything is water, there is no escape. If you can see the edges of the pool and can see that there is a space without water, you can now detach from the feeling that everything is water.
Phone a Friend
If you try to think your way out of things, you will end up replaying the same story again and again. By calling a trusted friend, who wants to help you detach versus feeding your story, you can use their perspective to unsnarl yourself from your dishonest thinking.
Get to the Facts
Working with your friend or a sheet of paper, get to the facts, the real facts. Take away the all-or-nothing thinking. Take away the assumptions. Take away the dishonest beliefs. When we can escape our misleading story, we are relieved of our emotions and can take tangible steps where needed.
Next time you have a heavy bout of emotions, don’t fight them. Don’t pretend you shouldn’t have them. Acknowledge them as the truth of your experience. Then, work with a friend to release yourself from the false story you created. This too shall pass.