It is a mystery how we can have so many thoughts and feelings existing inside of us at one time. Sometimes it is overwhelming and sometimes we can laugh at our selves once we see the humor in our mad scramble to decide which emotion or thought to deal with first. The reality is, every one is different in addressing which one is first. Those thoughts which produce fear in us causes some of us to tackle it last. We call that avoidance. Yet there are others who tackle it first because they cannot tolerate waiting for the other shoe to drop. When we think negative thoughts, we can either feel justified and therefore relish in them, we can hide from them, or cover them up because we are ashamed for thinking such thoughts, or we can choose to look at them and decide what we want to do with them next. We can mindfully observe them, come to accept them, or change them. If we decide to embrace negative thoughts for long periods of time, it can become a habit which is hard to break.
For example, being a mother in labor brings a flood of negative thoughts and produces many different kinds of emotions all at the same time. We feel impatient and irritable when hours go by and the baby still isn’t here. We are happy going to the hospital because the baby is coming. We get into the labor room and the long wait begins. We wonder if we know enough to keep the baby alive when it does come. For example:
I took several books to the labor room to read when I had my son. I thought, if it took 12 hours to have a baby, I could learn a lot in twelve hours. I was having contractions every hour and then more often for 13 hours Boy, was I wrong. I hurt too damn much to have the peace of mind to read. I kept throwing up most of the time. The nurses kept telling me to stop doing it. That infuriated me. Did they think it was fun for me to throw up? After the sixth throw-up, you stop being nice. The contractions were about two minutes apart. My pain was becoming unbearable. I started talking to my husband with a snarl. I told the nurse if they couldn’t get it out, I was going home. I kept trying to crawl over the bed rails which drove the nurses nuts trying to hold me down. I was so angry. I thought if I could walk some, maybe that would make the delivery quicker. They finally gave me laughing gas to calm me down. I was thinking, “Why is it taking forever when I work out at the gym so much? I don’t know anything about putting on diapers. What if it falls off, or the safety pins stick the baby? Oh, I’m sick again. Damn, that hurts a lot! I don’t care what it takes, it needs to come out now! Don’t tell me to shut up, you are supposed to help me. I am happy about the baby, but it hurts. Finally, thank you God! sweet relief. He’s so little. Isn’t he the prettiest baby? ” I recite to myself Kahlil Gibran’s writing on children. I feel better somehow. During these hours I felt eagerness, joy,hurt,angry, frustrated, anxious, impatient, relief, humbled, and loving. Most of all, I felt pride in bringing such a sweet child into the world. So many thoughts and emotions were experienced that day. yet, I survived and so did the baby.
Dealing With Many Emotions and Thoughts At The Same Time. (Part Two).
Thoughts come and go. Emotions generally don’t last forever. We learn to observe what we are feeling, even the feelings we are not particularly proud of. It helps to describe them as well so we can tease out the different emotions tangled up together. It makes it easier to decide later what to do with them. It’s important to let yourself feel the emotion. It can be for a few minutes before it is let go. It can be for a certain period of time, but to let the emotion go on indefinitely can turn into a habit of obsessing, which can turn into depression, anxiety, or impulsive actions we later regret. If we do not feel our emotions, we cut them off from ourselves and refuse to admit we are part of the human race. We need to accept that feelings just are. Just because you feel an emotion, that emotion does not mean you will act on it nor does it define you. If you stuff it or bury it, the chances are good that it will resurface again at a later time when it is less convenient to deal with it.
Once we own an emotion, we can decide how to deal with it. We look at our thoughts about it. What opinions do we have about the emotion or thought? Is there evidence to prove our emotions or thoughts are on target? Some times we decide to let it go because we do not have the facts to support our opinion. If there is evidence, what do we want to do with it? We can agree to shelf it until time has passed and we have more information or resources to deal with it. We can accept it, but not act because it is not wise to do so at this time. We can let it go. We can also try to problem solve it or resolve it by acting if we have the time, resources, and skills to do so effectively.1
1 Linehan, Marsha, M. DBT Skills Training: Handouts and Worksheets. Second Edition. The Guilford Press. New York, London. 2015.