By Anne B
Anytime that we experience something painful in our lives our intuitive reaction is to avoid it. If a surface is hot, we instinctively remove our hand before we get burned. We might even avoid approaching a potential love interest because of the anxiety we feel about starting that initial ice breaker conversation. However psychologists are saying that some problems just “are” and trying to make them disappear might not be the answer.
I feel confident saying most of us try to avoid pain when it comes our way. Our natural response to any kind of unpleasant thought or feeling is to resist even having those thoughts or feelings to begin with. For example, you’ve just broken up with someone. The thoughts and feelings you are faced with are by no means happy ones. In fact, you’d like to avoid having them altogether. So you stop going to the bar where you first met. You stop eating chicken parmesan, because it was your lost lover’s favorite dish. It hurts to be reminded, so you take a small detour when these things cross your path. If you are honest with yourself, you know that many times negative situations and the negative feelings they bring about cannot be avoided.
Nobody enjoys feelings of loneliness, but what do you do about it? You could try to fight the feelings. You could do whatever it takes to make them go away. These feelings are coming from somewhere though. So if you try to make them go away, you might just be providing yourself with a momentary distraction. It feels good and it helps for a while, but the root of it is still there.
What most people don’t realize is that we have primary and secondary emotions. I’ll use an example to illustrate what these are. Let’s say you have a million things to do and you are getting pretty stressed out about it. That’s the primary emotion. The secondary emotion would be that now you are getting upset because you hate feeling stressed out. But by focusing on the painful part of the situation, your stress level, it prolongs the stress.
What if, brace yourselves now, you just accepted the primary emotion for what it is? If you’ve broken up with someone your primary emotion might be some form of heartache. It’s normal to have feelings of loneliness, sadness, or longing, but you tell yourself you need to make those feelings go away. This puts all of the focus on the negative feelings. Why not just accept them, and remind yourself that these feelings are a normal and natural part of life? Everyone experiences similar ups and downs at some point and, as strange as it may sound, it’s ok to feel that way.
This doesn’t mean that you have to like what is happening, and it doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be looking for ways to improve the current situation and move past it. It means that you have control of the impact that this emotion is going to have on your life. You can isolate it for what it is. Kabat-Zinn is a scientist, author, and meditation thought leader, who teaches that when you are mindful of these feelings, you can label them for what they are, and then focus your energy on other things. It’s a practice of identifying the negative situation, but ending your emotional involvement with it there. After all these are just thoughts and they don’t need to dictate your next move.
My friends, I’m no moth. I see the flame for what it is. I can’t change it. I can’t make it go away, but I won’t get burned.