In my last blog, The Power to Heal in One Simple Concept, I addressed how weaknesses, flaws, and mistakes often lead people to feel inadequate and alone. Sometimes people have a similar sense of themselves when they feel overwhelmed by problems. Events can seem to conspire against them, creating a sense of helplessness to ever overcome their struggles.
This dilemma is expressed well in Judith Viorst’s long-standing popular children’s book, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (Antheneum Books for Young Readers, 1999) In the story, our little hero (Alexander) is having an exceedingly bad day. He yearns to escape to Australia. But in the end, he learns that “some days are just like that.” This book has connected many young readers (and, no doubt, their doting parents) to a visceral sense that difficult circumstances and painful emotions are temporary experiences that all people share.
The very nature of emotions is that while they might be jolted into existence by external circumstances, they can then develop a life of their own and feel all-encompassing. When squarely in the midst of powerful emotions, you might feel as though they will never end. If you are deliriously happy about your new love, the world can look rosy and hold only the brightest prospects. But if you are miserably depressed about a break-up, you might feel as though there is nothing worth living for…nor will there ever be.
The truth is that positive and negative emotions — just like “good” and “bad” circumstances — are transient. No matter how powerful or permanent they seem, they are destined to change. Their intensity will naturally rise and fall according to some inner rhythm… if you allow them the space to do this. When you are aware of this rhythm and can accept it, your emotions will fail to have the same grip on you. In times of distress, this awareness will enable you to be more aware of your negative bias — even if you can’t seem to connect with positives in the moment. And in times of great joy, you can be more aware of your tendency to overlook problems or signs of difficult things to come.
This “meta” awareness that your current experience is just a moment in time is powerful. It can help you feel a deep sense of being grounded and of inner peace. With it, you are more likely to treasure life’s joys as precious moments that will end and, similarly, to tolerate life’s pains as moments that will also end.
Without a connection to the truth of emotions as self-limiting, they are likely to overwhelm you and skew your view of reality. But seeing these experiences as transient can change this whole perspective. You can transcend even the utter hopelessness or aloneness of your darkest moments if, at those times, you remember that everyone has days like that… even in Australia.
If this article has piqued your interest, you may be interested in seeing this related video:
Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice and is on the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Somerset in Somerville, NJ. She is also a regular contributor for the WebMD blog Relationships and is the relationship expert on WebMD’s Relationships Message Board.
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Making Change blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional assistance.
Personal change through compassionate awareness