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Compulsive Behaviors

How NOT to Abandon Yourself

In the privacy of your heart, always take your own side

lady sitting on suitcase

As part of my local library system’s emotional literacy program, I’ve been giving a series of talks about constructive wallowing to the general public.

During these talks I introduce the audience to what I call the T-R-U-T-H Technique, a five-part process outlined in my book, Constructive Wallowing: How to Beat Bad Feelings by Letting Yourself Have Them.

The T-R-U-T-H Technique is a way to let feelings move through you as quickly as possible so you can get back to feeling calm after an upset.

It also allows you to head off compulsive behavior before strong feelings make you do or say something you'll regret.

During these talks I've been giving, I explain to the audience that each letter of the word T-R-U-T-H stands for a part of the constructive wallowing process, and the first T stands for “Tell yourself the situation.”

Here’s the whole thing:

Tell yourself the situation

Realize what you’re feeling

Uncover self-criticism

Try to understand yourself

Have the feeling.

“When you’re having strong feelings about something,” I explain, “see if you can define what it is you’re reacting to.”

This is because sometimes when there's a lot going on or there are old feelings weighing us down, it’s hard to know why we feel bad.

Hence, Tell yourself the situation.

I want people to keep it simple when doing this part of the process -- just try momentarily to focus your thoughts on the source of the current pain if you can.

The examples I give for “Tell yourself the situation” are circumstances like

“I failed my driving test,”

“My spouse forgot our anniversary,” or

“I want to make a cake but there are no eggs.”

I always include something fairly mundane like the last one, because I want people to know it’s okay to have big feelings about seemingly small things.

Little did I know that the no-egg scenario above would lead to an interesting conversation that would deepen my own understanding of the process...

At a recent talk when I mentioned the I-don’t-have-any-eggs-to-make-a-cake situation, one member of the audience spoke up.

“What if there are no eggs and you want to make a cake, but instead of telling yourself that there aren’t any eggs, you tell yourself, ‘Stupid Matthew failed to buy eggs again, and that’s why I can’t make a cake!’? Isn’t that more than just telling yourself the situation? Isn’t that more like your perception of the situation?”

Indeed.

Before I could respond, a second person contributed another angle. “What if you say, ‘I forgot to get eggs for the cake and now I've completely ruined Matthew’s birthday'?”

Both of these are, of course, more than just observations of a neutral situation in which there are no eggs.

There’s a definite spin on it, and the spin is this: Someone screwed up!

If you can’t be objective about a situation because of strong feelings, can the T-R-U-T-H Technique still work?

Let's find out.

Notice that the second part of the technique is “Realize what you’re feeling.” That means putting a word to your emotion(s) in this moment.

If you’re saying “stupid Matthew failed to get eggs again,” that’s a clue that you’re likely feeling frustrated, resentful, angry or something like that.

The idea, on the other hand, that you totally ruined his birthday by forgetting the eggs yourself is a clue that you might be feeling inadequate, sad, hopeless, or something along those lines.

So in telling yourself the situation, if you end up putting a particular spin on it, you haven’t in any way ruined the process. All you’ve done is underlined your own feelings.

You’re primed for the R: Realize what you’re feeling.

But a good question was raised: If I go with my feeling of having ruined his birthday, and I wallow in that feeling, aren’t I wallowing in something that’s not necessarily true?

The simple answer is that it doesn’t matter.

If you’re feeling inadequate, that feeling is what’s true for you right now.

Your truth in this moment is whatever you feel.

It doesn’t matter if it’s based on misinformation; you’re not going to act on it, you’re just letting it play itself out in the privacy of your own psyche.

So if, in practicing the T-R-U-T-H Technique, you tell yourself the situation as it feels to you, instead of how it objectively IS, don’t worry.

The key is to wallow in the emotions you have, not to discover the “right” feelings.

You can only wallow in the feelings you have.

No one gets hurt if you feel your feelings (because remember, you’re not necessarily going to act on what you feel).

So go for it!

Once you’re done, you can make a cool-headed decision about what, if anything, to do about the situation.

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