If you’ve been following me for any length of time, I think you’ve probably gleaned that I am an optimist. I always have this idea that things are going to work out, and MOST of the time I can find positives in situations that others would perceive as inherently negative.
When it comes to dealing with very personal painful experiences though, I tend to lose my optimistic view. It’s as if I’ve taken off my prescription glasses; my vision becomes fuzzy, I can’t make sense of things and I stumble all over the place.
We all deal with negative experiences differently when they sideswipe or collide with us head-on in life. When it comes to coping, I think we can all likely be placed into one of the following three categories:
1. Warriors face things head on. They are skilled in dealing with painful experiences.
2. Bottlers suppress their emotions and continue on with life thinking that if they ignore their emotions, they will just go away. The trouble with this one (IMHO) is it’s like shaking a can of Coke: Each time you suppress your emotions, the can is shaken a little more and eventually it’ll EXPLODE.
3. Turtles withdraw into themselves and allow their pain to stop them dead in their tracks. The trouble with turtles (again, IMHO) is that they dwell on their pain and allow depression to set in and control their life.
Which one are you?
I’m a bottler. Just ask my husband. (Ha!) My standard answer to “Honey, what’s wrong?” is: “Nothing.”
I realize (and will readily admit) that I’ve never learned how to properly deal with negative events and emotions. For example, for whatever reason, I have always felt like it was “bad” to be angry, sad or depressed. Therefore, I’ve always tried to hide these emotions.
While pondering the act of resisting emotions, I’ve found that this passage sums things up beautifully:
“Pain is a relatively objective, physical phenomenon; suffering is our psychological resistance to what happens. Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is. … The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds.” – Dan Millman, author of “The Way of the Peaceful Warrior.”
With this in mind, it isn’t a question of IF we will have painful experiences in our life; it’s a CERTAINTY. So when we do, how can we deal in a way that will serve us well instead of creating suffering for ourselves?
Transform Bad Experiences Into Positive Ones
It sounds like a daunting task but, as I’m learning, if we will practice these steps, we CAN learn to transform any bad experience into a positive one that results in personal growth:
1. Label Your Emotions – When you begin to feel an emotion that you’re inclined to avoid, suppress or obliterate, allow yourself to sit with it. Let yourself feel the emotion and then label what you are feeling. For example, “Okay, nauseating wave of anxiety. I feel you, and I acknowledge your presence. Now, if you don’t mind, I have some work to do.”
The key here is not to get stuck. Don’t dwell on it. Try to just feel it, label it and move on.
We have the ability to change our view of painful experiences. The way we “file” these memories makes a huge difference in our personal growth. For example, rather than viewing the painful experiences of my life as “stupid mistakes” or “horrible times,” I view them as “learning experiences” and “opportunities for growth.”
This definitely takes effort and work. However, as with any new skill or habit, the more you practice, the easier it will become and the more it will be like “muscle memory” for your brain.
What are some tips that you have found helpful in dealing with and processing painful experiences? Have you had a painful experience that you have been able to reframe and see in a different light?