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Are You Tired of Unraveling?

There may be another way of looking at the situation.

Key points

  • Emotional unraveling, which often involves fierce emotions that overwhelm people, can be a frustrating and humiliating experience.
  • Reframing unraveling as "unfolding" may help when people are feeling overwhelmed. Unfolding can be an opportunity to get to know oneself better.
  • Unraveling rarely happens out of the blue. Paying attention to one's feelings, wants and needs may allow unraveling to feel more peaceful.
Amirali Mirhashemian/Unsplash
Source: Amirali Mirhashemian/Unsplash

When I ask clients what they want, they frequently say, “I want to stop falling apart. I want to stop unraveling when something difficult happens.”

Emotional unraveling follows strong emotions that seem to come quickly and overwhelm us. It seems to come out of the blue and hijacks our nervous system and serenity. It presents differently for each of us, but breakdowns are frequently frustrating, exhausting, and can feel humiliating and even hopeless. We feel out of control.

Could I once and for all stop unraveling?

If we don’t want to keep unraveling, what is it that we do want? What is the opposite of unraveling?

We want to ravel, of course. It's a real word — I checked. The bad news is that to ravel also means to unravel. Ravel and unravel are contranyms,1 which means both words are synonyms and antonyms. Raveled means tangled or untangled2 — either one — which makes it seem impossible then to avoid this unraveling since raveling could lead to just more unraveling and now it's murky which direction we are even going: Am I knotting up or coming apart? Or both?

Nicoletta Zanella/Pixabay
Source: Nicoletta Zanella/Pixabay

Ravel, and thus, unravel have yet another meaning, and that is to unfold. Reframing our unraveling as unfolding may help when we are confused and overwhelmed. When we are coming apart at the seams, we are also at the same time unfolding. We can unfold to ourselves, our story in the moment to whatever is next. Our stories are being woven and while we don’t always get to choose the thread of the loom, we can determine the meaning we make of each event, how we weave it into our stories, and sometimes even the pattern we are repeating. The threads keep coming, the loom keeps moving. Each moment that the ball of yarn is unraveling is also a moment of beautiful tapestry being created. It is another opportunity to get to know ourselves and truly welcome whatever is already here.

Unraveling seems to hit out of nowhere, but there is usually an early sign.

Although emotional unraveling seems to hit out of nowhere, there is often something further upstream that we have tried to ignore. Somewhere before the breakdown, we dismissed ourselves — our feelings, wants, or needs when they were a soft whisper. We felt unsure or unsafe but tried to convince ourselves that whatever it was really didn’t bother us: It’s really okay, no, really I'm fine. We ignore the too loose or too tight thread until it becomes a bigger problem, contorting ourselves with how we think we should feel.

An alternative is to honor these softer concerns with acknowledgment and kindness, asking early in the process: How do I feel about this? While it may or may not change our choices going forward, the honesty with ourselves will allow the unraveling to feel more peaceful.

John Hain/Pixabay
Source: John Hain/Pixabay



2. Merriam-Webster Dictionary

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