The challenges of today seem greater than ever. Emotions are running high and we can become triggered easily.
What do you do with all this pent up energy?
If you’re not using it to fight for a cause or help you out of a dangerous situation, it may be festering inside you causing you to feel pretty rotten.
In this episode, I give you questions you can ask yourself to get out of the whirlwind of negativity and into a calmer space inside you.
(the following transcript of this episode has been edited for readability)
It is an interesting time, especially in the US as the COVID cases rise. People are behaving in different ways. People are responding in different ways. The US is experiencing a rising number of cases and some people are really stressed out about it. Some people still don’t have any work. Some people are worried about what’s going to happen.
I don’t mean to discount any other country in the world, it just seems like we are going through our second wave pretty early. The second wave might be coming your way and I don’t mean to make your day any worse than it is but that’s what we’re dealing with.
I haven’t covered COVID too much. I have I’ve talked about it here and there. This isn’t going to be a COVID show, but with a pandemic, with this situation that’s unfolding and has been unfolding for months now comes emotions. With any type of major life change, there are emotions. Because of that, this is what… we need to deal with it. We need to deal with these emotions that come up.
What happens when you are in a situation that everybody is experiencing?
This is something that I, and probably almost everyone listening, I would guess, hasn’t experienced, where everyone’s going through the same thing. We all have different circumstances, absolutely. Some of us are luckier than others. Some of us don’t have to worry about money (I do), but some of us don’t have to worry about a lot of things.
Being in lockdown might not be a big problem for some people. For others it is. What about not being able to see your friends, your family, and just feeling isolated? How is everyone feeling about that?
Of course, there are some places that have loosened their restrictions and you can go out and be among people. Some people wear masks, some people don’t. Some people think it’s a hoax, and some people don’t. I’m not here to fight or talk about that battle, no way.
But I am here to at least give a perspective on what to do in your mind, with your emotions, where to go. I will say this upfront:
I’ve never experienced this before. I’m not the expert on it. I might not have the best advice for you on this. I might not give you the best thoughts or processes on this, except to ask yourself questions.
This is where I usually go when there’s something big happening in my life and it’s an emotional trigger or a stress, something that I just don’t know how to handle. I can’t process it. I just ask myself questions.
I think questions are always a good way to help yourself to get into a better space. Because if you’re not asking questions, you’re probably stuck in some sort of thought loop. You’re thinking in a certain way, you’re feeling a certain way, and you might be replaying some old tapes (or new tapes) inside your mind that keep repeating things like “Oh my god, what am I gonna do? Oh, no, July is coming, my unemployment is gonna get cut off…” (I know that’s a real thing for people). “Oh, no, what if I don’t get a second stimulus check? Oh no, what if I get COVID? Oh no, what if I die?”
This is the inner dialogue that can happen. That, yes, they are questions but they are more like unanswerable questions. “What am I gonna do?” You can explore that. That is definitely recommended.
Okay, what if your unemployment does go away? What are you going to do? Your immediate answer might be, “I don’t know, what am I going to do? I don’t know. I can’t get hired back” or “I can’t find a job” or a lot of people are going through this. “What am I going to do?”
That might not be an answerable question, or maybe you’ll have to think outside the box or something else. But it is good to explore that stuff. Try to plan ahead, even though you may have no idea what you’re going to do.
If you’re thinking along those lines, like “I have no idea what I’m going to do,” play it out. Visualize it happening.
I think about the times when I was married, I lost my job. She lost her job. The mortgage crisis was happening. 2008, 2009… I lost my condo in Florida. We were renting, and suddenly we couldn’t afford to rent the condo that we were in California. Then we ended up at her mom’s house, which is really a 600 square foot apartment. We ended up going to the soup kitchen every morning.
We were broke. Completely broke. I remember having all the fearful thoughts before that happened. “What are we going to do? What if we have no money? What are we going to do then?” If I had had this exercise back then I think I would have maybe survived it better before we both hit bottom. Because I’ve said this before, when you hit bottom, and there’s nowhere else to go, then what you were fearing, or what you were anxious about, doesn’t exist anymore. It’s gone.
That’s what’s nice about the bottom, believe it or not, there’s a nice comforting feeling about hitting bottom because all the anticipation, all the anxiety working up to the bottom disappears. It just goes away.
I’ve experienced this two, three, or maybe four times in my life. Certainly, one time I broke down in the desert and I was 1000 miles from home. I had no money, or at least not enough money for a bus ticket.
That was a time I hit bottom. I was in mid-panic. It was the worst. I felt like I was going to die. I knew there was no way out. I had no options. I was going to lose my car and my possessions. Because it was happening, there was nothing else to fear. The anxiety of losing everything disappeared when I lost everything.
When it happened, the fear and anxiety disappeared, and a wave of peace washed over me.
I don’t want you to be afraid of the bottom because… as a morbid way I look at this but either you’re not going to know because you’re dead, or you’re going to be in a space that “Yes, it sucks, but here I am, and I have nothing else to fear about this because I’m in it. All the fear that I had leading up to this is gone because now it’s happening. I guess I’ll just have to Deal with it.”
I make it sound so easy and I know it’s not. I know that one person’s bottom is different from another person’s bottom. That didn’t sound right but you know what I mean. You might be suffering at the bottom. Yes, there’s a big possibility that there will be suffering at the bottom.
What I’m talking about is that we can build up all this anxiety, all this fear, about something happening. I still do it. It’s not like it goes away. It’s not like I have the magic pill for this but I have tools now I’m going to teach you today. You may know some of this stuff, but having all this anxiety, and all this anticipation, and all these emotions, and all these fearful thoughts building up and building up, then finally something happens that frees you from all these thoughts…
Something usually has to happen for you to just suddenly feel free, and that is either hitting bottom or a huge solution comes along. For example, you might think “I’m afraid to get COVID. If I get it, I might die because I have asthma, or I’m in that age group, or I have some weird complication, because I have COVID, and now suddenly, I’m dead.” That could be a very real fear, a real thought process that you’re going through.
If there was a vaccine created, suddenly, the fear could disappear. You might think, “Oh, finally, I can just take the vaccine and I won’t get it. I don’t have that worry anymore.” That’s a big solution that comes along. That could happen or you could hit bottom. You could get COVID. You could get sick. You might be in ICU. Then you might survive and you might be okay, and everything will be fine.
Hopefully, we develop antibodies and we don’t catch it again (they’re still studying that). You might hit bottom and, yeah, you might suffer but you get through it, and everything that you were thinking up to that point is no longer in you. It’s released.
The solution comes or the bottom comes. Either way, it’s a release. Again, I have maybe a different perspective on this than a lot of people. Because I’ve hit bottom in different areas of my life. I’m sure you have too. I’m sure there are people listening right now that have hit bottom in different ways. “Oh, no, I got an F on a test.” That might be the bottom for someone.
The other bottom might be “Oh, no, the love of my life left.” That could be the bottom two. That could be a surprise, or that could be a fear that you carried with you. Then you might think of that, “Well, yeah, but that’s still a loss,” but the thought of them leaving is no longer in you.
I’m not saying there aren’t new thoughts, and new emotions, and new fears that come out. When you hit bottom. That is definitely true. That happens. There can be new thoughts, new fears, new feelings about hitting bottom, or even the solution. You get the solution: “Hey, great, there’s a vaccine for COVID now I’m cured! But now, I have to deal with this”, whatever the next thing is, whatever this is, and now that occupies your mind.
Yet you can look at it and go,”Well, if the solution comes, then I don’t have to worry about it anymore.” Or, “If the bottom comes, then I don’t have to worry about it anymore, because these particular worries won’t apply anymore.”
Is there another way? Is there another way to stop worrying, stop being anxious, stop anticipating? Well, like I said, this is where you ask yourself questions. Not the kind of questions like I was saying earlier, like, “What will happen if I get COVID? What will happen if I don’t get my job back? What will happen this? What will happen that?” Not those kind of questions because those are hard to answer. You don’t know those are future-based questions that you really don’t know the answer to.
Yes, of course, you can certainly visualize and pretend it’s happening in your mind now so that you can perhaps plan for it. But today’s questions are about today and what you’re thinking and feeling today.
I wrote an article called Stupid Questions That Lead To Healing. This is something I do when I’m in any type of stress mode and I can’t get out of it. That’s usually because I’m emotionally triggered for some reason, or I’m stressing about something that I just can’t stop stressing about. I like to ask myself what I call stupid questions.
I’m going to explain stupid questions in a moment, but I think asking yourself really pointed questions, but obvious questions, are really helpful for you to break down what you feel so negative about. Whether it’s you feel sad, whether you feel angry, whether you feel afraid.
What you feel negative about should be explored and shouldn’t be what I like to look at as “generalized”. You shouldn’t generalize these feelings. What I mean by that is, let’s just say that your pet died. If your pet died, I’m sorry, I know it’s tough. I lost mine a couple of years ago. It’s sad, and it’s hard. A member of the family dying.
If your pet died, the general consensus is that people are sad that their pet died. That’s the general consensus. That’s what I look at as generalizing. I am generalizing the feeling of sadness to everyone to everyone. I’m putting that on everyone who loses a pet because I’m going to assume that they would be sad that their pet died too.
When somebody comes along, and asks me a “stupid question”, like, “Are you sad that your pet died?” I’m going to answer “Of course, I’m sad. Wouldn’t you be sad? Wouldn’t you be sad if your beloved pet, your beloved family member died?”
I’m going to feel like it’s a patronizing question or condescending question. Like, “Are you being sarcastic? Of course, I’m sad.” This is what I call stupid questions. When other people ask you these stupid questions, outside of a coaching or therapeutic environment, you’re going to look at them funny, or you’re going to get angry with them. I think these are very valid questions to ask yourself.
Again, these may be difficult to hear from someone else unless you prepare them. Let’s just say that you’re the coach and you’re going to coach someone else. You need to prepare these people, “Look, I’m going to ask you some questions that sound very obvious, very stupid, and I don’t want you to think I don’t care. I’m just going to ask these questions to explore where you are inside of you.”
A question like, “Are you sad that your pet died?” Or even something more generic? Like, “How do you feel about your pet dying?” That could be a somewhat stupid question, because you might answer “Well, how do you think I feel? I’m sad, I’m upset. I’m angry at myself because I should have done something about it. I should have known what to do.” I had those feelings, like “I should have done something sooner. So I’m angry and I’m sad and I don’t know what to think. I’m confused. Now I’m also irritated because you asked me such a stupid question.”
I’m going to do this with you. I’m going to ask you stupid questions to help you connect with something inside of you, even though the answers may be obvious. I don’t if you’ve ever read Mad Magazine, they had this section called, Stupid Answers to Stupid Questions or Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions, or something like that. It was how people responded to obvious questions.
An example might be someone standing in line at a convenience store and somebody walks up behind them and says, “Are you in line?” The person would then turn around and say, “No, I’m getting an oil change. Of course I’m in line!”
They would say some smart-alecky answer that would be funny to the reader and insulting to the person asking. I’m not talking about those kinds of questions.
The questions will feel like that, however. You’ll feel like answering one of these stupid questions like, “It’s obvious why I’d feel that way. Why are you asking me that, that’s ridiculous.”
What’s good about this is that a lot of people don’t ask you stupid questions. They don’t explore what is, generally speaking, the way most people would feel. Like the question, “How do you feel about not having any money in your account?”
“How do you think I feel?” That’s the “snappy” answer.
If I were to explore that with you by asking you, “How would you feel about that?”
If you dove in a little and reflected, you might say, “Well, jeez… I would be afraid.”
Then my next question might be, “Why would you be afraid?”
You might look at that as a stupid question. But often these stupid questions will lead to some deep insights about yourself. That’s where I want to take you today. I want to ask you some stupid questions that will lead you to some deep insights about yourself, just so you can get into a better understanding of why you might feel how you feel even though it seems obvious.
Like if you’re scared about the future, and you’re saying, “Of course, I’m scared about the future, because who wouldn’t be?” Then maybe you haven’t explored enough to the point where you might be able to get past this fear.
Imagine that. Imagine being able to ask yourself enough questions where that fear wasn’t prevalent anymore, and your inner dialogue changed. It wasn’t all about “What am I going to do? What’s going to happen?”
If your inner dialogue wasn’t full of negativity, it might change how you approach things. This is what I do. Having had no money in my account and having to go to the soup kitchen every morning has certainly changed my perspective. I hit bottom and knowing that bottom wasn’t the end, it was just a springboard to lead to the next chapter in life, it really changed my perspective.
Here I am a homeowner in a great relationship, and I know that something could happen at any time to take it all away. As much as I would hate for anything to happen, along with experiencing all the fear surrounding that, thinking I could be homeless, having been there, knowing I could survive, knowing that it’s going to be okay no matter what helps me get through it.
If you haven’t been there (and there are places I haven’t been. There are bottoms I haven’t hit), you’d certainly have an entirely different perspective. There could be fear in there.
If somebody came along and said, “There’s going to be an alien invasion.” There would be fear in me. I wouldn’t know what’s going to happen. And I would have to explore that in me and figure out why I’d be afraid of that. Somebody might say “What do you mean why? It’s obvious.”
As I said earlier, I’ve got some stupid questions to ask you. I’m going to read this email before we get into these stupid questions because this email is kind of what inspired me to talk about this today. It’s a really quick one.
This person wrote:
“I recently started listening to your podcast. I’ve also listened to some older episodes, and it’s really helpful and also enjoyable. Thanks for doing it.” You’re welcome!
“As someone who struggles with anxiety, I’ve noticed something about myself that I’ve not heard talked about on your show or others. I found one blog post somewhere where somebody with anxiety discussed it, so maybe it isn’t common. One of my issues is that I overreact and become upset when people change plans. Most recently, my boyfriend has said he was coming over in the afternoon but then texted, it would be early evening. I thought we had a plan and he didn’t think we agreed on a time.”
It was a simple misunderstanding. And we also handle plans and time very differently. But I felt angry and upset. And I spiraled down into a funk that I could barely pull myself out of. But I have been doing better since I realized this happens to me. But I think it’s linked to anxiety.”
“Like a lot of anxious people, I try to control my outside circumstances in order to control my anxiety, which never works. Thanks for listening, and thanks for the podcast.”
I’m just going to call her Wendy.
Wendy, thank you so much for writing and thank you for sharing this and I’m sorry, you’re dealing with I’m sure that there are people listening right now that can absolutely relate, if not to the anger that you get when somebody changes plans, at least to the anxiety part.
If you haven’t heard my show on anxiety, definitely tune into that. You can search for anxiety on this site, or go directly to one episode I created called When Panic Attacks, The Anxiety Episode.
I love that title because it has a double meaning, but you can listen to that and I think it’ll be helpful to you because I approach anxiety probably differently than most people. Just like I approach this with these stupid questions.
I brought up the stupid questions in the last segment, in the sense that you can use it for almost anything that you feel negative about. For Wendy, she feels negative about somebody changing plans on her and she’s not sure why: “Why do I get angry? Why do I get upset when somebody changes their plans?”
I’m going to talk to Wendy through this podcast. At the same time, I want you to think about something that is on your mind. I don’t know if you’re stressed out about what’s happening in the world today. There are also protests going on. There’s also the police shooting people of color. There are all kinds of things going on that can totally stress us out.
The questions that I’m going to ask you aren’t meant to minimize anything you’re going through. They aren’t meant to take away what you need to do in your life for you. They’re just meant to address the emotions if you want to.
Like if you’re angry about the Black Lives Matter movement, and you want things to change in this country and the anger is fueling you, then I’m not telling you you have to get rid of it. If the emotion is working for you. if it’s serving you, then don’t do this exercise. Keep what serves you.
If it doesn’t serve you, if it’s working against you, if it’s causing you to stay up at night, and you’re getting really irritated because you’re losing sleep, or you’re losing family members, because you can’t stop being angry, and I’m just talking about emotions, and the thoughts and the feelings that don’t serve you.
If the emotions serve a purpose, absolutely, continue utilizing them. Let them fuel your cause. Let them feel the thing you need to do for you, whatever that is. But if it’s not serving you, and it’s causing a problem in your life, let’s go through the questions.
Wendy, or anyone else listening that has a problem, or a stress, or some concern, or some negative emotion in their mind regarding a specific thing, My first question is:
Why do you feel that way?
You may have to pause between these questions because some people will need more time to answer them. That’s okay. Pause if you need to. That’s the first question: Why do you feel this way?
Some people will say, “Well, I feel this way because XYZ is happening.” It’ll be something happening outside yourself. For Wendy, it might be, “Well, he shouldn’t have changed plans. I’m really angry he changes plans when he knows we were supposed to meet at this time.”
The first answer to the question is usually something outside yourself. Not always, but a lot of the times it’s outside yourself. Answer these honestly. You might respond, “Okay, that’s why it happens. Because I’m angry about something he or she did.”
Even though I’m talking to Wendy, follow along and try this on yourself too. The next question would be:
“Why does that make you feel that way?”
This could be anger. This could be sadness. It could be a number of things, but why does that make you feel anger or sadness or whatever you feel?
Now in Wendy’s case, she might think to herself or say out loud, “Why does it make me angry? Because he was late, or he said he was going to be here.”
Now there’s the point where you’re either going to go internal or stay external. You can stay external if you want. External is, “I’m thinking about something outside myself, that I didn’t have control over. That something happened that upset me.”
That’s the external. The internal is “It upset me because when it happened, I thought of, or I felt, or I remembered something that happened to me, something that’s inside of me, a thought process that I’m experiencing, an emotion that I am experiencing.”
This is something internal. You’re either going to go external or internal. Depending on where you go is how fast you’ll get to what I like to call “the origin” of the emotion. Because this is where it’s leading, we’re trying to get to the origin of this emotion, even though it might be obvious why we’re having the emotion.
Getting to the origin, really helps you break apart its hold on you. If you have an emotion that’s going on that doesn’t serve you, feels awful, then why don’t we find out where that came from? When you do, it can help release its hold on you so that you can move on, so you can get past it.
You may still have it you may still have these feelings, but maybe they won’t be so powerful. Or maybe they’ll disappear altogether. That would be nice. We asked, “Why do you feel that way?” Then we asked, “Why does that make you feel that way?”
With Wendy, it’s “Why does him changing the plans make you feel angry?” That would be my question to Wendy. She might respond well, he changes plans, and that makes me upset because I’m ready to go. I’m ready to do this at two o’clock, and he wants to show up at six o’clock. There’s something affecting her that’s causing her to be angry.
My next stupid question would be, whatever answer she gives me whatever story she has, I’m going to ask her this:
“How is that a problem?
That might be a stupid question, but in order to answer it, you really have to break apart why you have these feelings or these emotions or these thoughts. This is really where you start to go inward, you start to go inside you, instead of focusing your energy outside of you.
“How is that a problem? Well, it’s a problem because…” What is it?
With Wendy, it might be “It’s a problem because if I’m ready to go and he’s not, then it really messes up my day.” It might be that for her. “How is that a problem?” Whatever story that you have that whatever story that you told yourself, “How is that a problem?”
Hopefully, you’re starting to go inward now. Hopefully, you are having these internal things. Like Wendy might say, “It messes up my day.” That is now something direct with her that, whether her boyfriend is involved or not, she doesn’t like when her day’s messed up.
Now we’re starting to change focus off of him, and onto the problem. At least her problem. When I ask “How is that a problem?”, hopefully, you’re starting to take the focus off of what you think the real problem is, and starting to go internal to figure out how it’s a problem for you.
You could look at someone and say, “How is their behavior a problem for me?” With Wendy, and I’m just putting words in her mouth, she might say, “It messes up my day.”
This is where we go to the next question. We ask, “Why do you feel that way? Why does that make you feel that way?” The next question is, “How is that a problem?”
Whatever answer you get to that, you apply it to the next question. If Wendy says, “It messes up my day,” I would ask the next question, “Well, why is that a problem?”
What I mean to Wendy is, “Why is your day getting messed up a problem?” That’s the fourth question, “Why is that a problem?” Meaning, why is the answer to the last question a problem?
This is now really starting to go inward. If you haven’t gone inward, yet you need to. This is the point where it’s all internal now, has nothing to do with the external circumstances. It gets caused by that, yes, but the internal feelings and thoughts and emotions that you’re experiencing are now being addressed, they’re now being highlighted.
I say, “Well, why is him changing plans and showing up late a problem?”
“Well, I get angry because if my day gets messed up, then…” and Wendy’s gonna have an answer to that.
I’m going to make something up. Let’s just say that Wendy said, “I get angry because my day’s messed up. I feel like he’s disrespecting my time.”
There’s a different answer. There’s something very internal with that answer. Yes, she’s still sort of pointing outside herself, but now she’s addressing something maybe a little deeper inside of her. Somebody is disrespecting her and she does not like that feeling of being disrespected.
How about this: “I don’t feel I’m being valued. I feel like I’m important to this person.”
“Why is that a problem?” should lead to some deeper reveal inside of you? Why is that a problem?
Let’s just say that Wendy said, “Well, I feel like he doesn’t respect my time. I feel like I’m being disrespected or devalued in some way.”
My next question is going to be another stupid one. I’m going to ask, “Well, how is that a problem?” We’re back to that same question, but it’s a really good one at this point.
“How is being devalued, how is being disrespected a problem?” It’s a stupid question, but a good one. Because now you’re challenging yourself about your own values, your own beliefs, about how being either devalued in her case or feeling disrespected or feeling unimportant, is important to her.
Like, let’s challenge these beliefs that we have that we shouldn’t be disrespected or you shouldn’t feel disrespected. I’m not saying that it’s okay to be disrespected. I’m just asking you to explore why that’s a problem for you. Or in this case, how is that a problem for you?
With Wendy, “How is that a problem that you’re being disrespected? How is that a problem?”
Now she’s gonna dive in a little further, this is going down the rabbit hole, I call it the drill-down technique where you keep drilling down and drilling in, and getting closer and closer to the origin of why you feel the way you do.
When you get into these deeper states, and you’re really starting to uncover some stuff, you’re going to feel that grip these emotions have on you start to change, they start to shift, they start to loosen a little bit.
I hope that’s happening with you, as you go through this, but having that question, “How is that a problem?” Or “How is that a problem for you?” might even be a better way to ask it.
I would ask Wendy “How is being disrespected a problem for you?”
Now she has to dig deeper. How deep can we go with this? We can go pretty deep. Wherever you are with this, how is that a problem for you?
Now you’re going to come up with an answer. You’re going to come up with your story, your narrative, and I don’t mean to minimize it by calling it your story, but this is what we do we have a story. Our words create the narrative for what’s happening inside of us. What story do you come up with? How is that a problem for you?
With Wendy, she might say, “Being disrespected means that that person doesn’t really care about me. And if they don’t care about me, then I don’t feel like I’m important.” and she might repeat some stuff, “I don’t feel respected.” That’s okay if you repeat stuff, but we’re looking for other words too because she’s now she’s drilling even deeper: “I don’t feel loved. I don’t feel like I’m part of a family.”
Wow. Talk about some deep stuff. I mean, this started off as “I get angry when he changes his plans.” That’s how it started off but the origin is so much deeper. It’s so much more, maybe painful.
On the surface, it’s all about “Why are you doing this? I get angry when you change plans.” That’s the surface talk that most of us go through. Like we talk about this stuff, and we argue about this stuff, but really when we start drilling down and asking ourselves these questions, we find out there’s an origin of a deeper feeling that we don’t want to feel.
“I don’t want to feel unloved. I don’t want to feel like I’m not part of a family.”
This is the scenario I’m creating for Wendy. It may be that way for you too. There may be something very deep in there. This is why it’s important to explore it because once you realize what it’s about, it starts to break apart the surface-level talk that we do.
Most of our conversations are along the surface: “You made me angry because you changed plans.” That’s a very surface thing to say. when you discover that it’s all about not feeling loved and feeling maybe left out, maybe abandoned, that’s where Wendy might go with this.
It’s pretty deep stuff. She might have some healing to do with that. But I will say this once you discover some of this deeper stuff, the healing tends to start on its own. Because we’re not aware of this stuff. We’re not digging deep enough typically. We don’t ask ourselves stupid questions, we just say something like, “It’s obvious anyone would be angry.”
When we ask ourselves these stupid questions, we get to discover what’s really going on under the surface, and what’s really driving our emotions. We figure out exactly why we get upset, why we’re emotionally triggered, and why there’s so much energy behind the way we feel.
This is a journey of discovery. Let’s go to one of the final questions. This isn’t really final, you can continue doing it, but one of the last questions I like to ask (which usually leads to another conversation) is:
“When was the first time you felt that?”
With Wendy, she’s gonna think, “What do you mean the first time I felt unloved? The first time I felt like I was abandoned or disrespected? I would say “Yes. When was the first time you felt that? How long ago was it? How old were you?” Let’s discover that. Because there’s an origin there as well.”
She might say “I remember when I was six, and my mom said she was going to the store and she never came home.”
Whoa, that’s some pretty deep stuff. Imagine discovering that. Imagine figuring out that this conversation about someone changing plans has to do with something her mom did six years ago, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Or maybe there was an accident. Or maybe she left the family. Or maybe she came back a few days later. It stuck in Wendy’s head that her reactions today could have to do with what happened a long time ago, and she still carries this incident with her throughout the years, and she brings them to everyday conversations.
She could be bringing her childhood traumas into her relationships. All of her relationships could be affected. She’s emotionally triggered by things, all because of this layer after layer of buffering that has happened over the years that has covered the true source of the emotion.
When you get into those deepest layers, the closest raw layer of where this started, this will help the healing process because as you grow older, and the things you never processed and healed from never get addressed again. Then they turn into little tiny destructive ways to communicate in your relationship (but the origins are never addressed). Then those get forgotten and you are stuck feeling this way and behaving in a way that others might find a little strange.
“You get upset because I change plans? Why does that upset you so much?”
“I don’t know, it just upsets me!”
She might go into that state of mind. But what I’m saying is once you discover the origin, once you really drill down and allow yourself to connect at that deepest level, what’s going to happen is that all those layers that were protecting that origin (that original emotion when it started), will break away. Those layers will no longer be that heavy cover over the emotion anymore. The layers will break apart. When they do that, the emotion is able to be free. It’s able to be released and processed.
I’m not saying this happens every time. Sometimes you need help. Sometimes you need therapy. Sometimes you need someone to walk you through this process. When you’re able to discover this and get through all the layers that have covered it over the years, you can lighten the emotional load and feel so much better. That’s a different feeling for sure.
Those are the general questions that I typically ask when we’re drilling down into emotion. You can also ask yourself, for example, in the article, I talk about these other questions. I used fear as an example.
Let’s bring it back to COVID, and stress, and the protests, and everything else that’s going on today like I talked about in the beginning. These could be things that are causing you stress and fear. I might ask you questions like:
Okay, what exactly do you fear?
Why do you fear that?
Here’s another question:
What’s so bad about that?
You might say, “There’s a lot bad about this. It’s injustice. It’s this, it’s that.” or “I’m afraid to get a disease.”
How is that a problem? What could that lead to? How about this, what’s worse than that? That’s another way to drill down, what’s worse than that?
Or change the trajectory of the thought by answering:
What else could happen?
Now we’re expanding it into other things that could happen, which could go one way or the other. You could get more upset, or you can just stop being so laser-focused on what you think is the problem.
Check out that article if you want. It’s called Stupid Questions That Lead To Healing.
I hope you got something from today’s episode because there is a lot of stress in the world. And yes, I am asking you to address your real fears and real concerns. Not because I think they’ll go away and not because I’m trying to say that you won’t get COVID, or you won’t be upset about white cops killing black people.
I’m not going in that direction at all. I’m saying let’s explore the emotions that don’t seem to serve you. Let’s explore the emotions that seem to hold you back and keep you upset, the ones that keep you up at night – those you just can’t get through or past them but want to.
This is a process you can use. This is something that I do for myself. Even if you don’t want to explore your stress or worry, it’s still an interesting journey to figure out where those emotions come from, because some of this stuff is really deeply rooted.
I used to get upset when the romantic person in my life, all of my romantic partners over the years, wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do. That used to be me. I wanted them to do certain things or act a certain way. If they didn’t, I would get upset. I talk about that at Love and Abuse where I discuss emotionally abusive situations.
That’s how I was showing up. I wanted my partner to be a certain way so I became judgmental and made her feel guilty. I figured as long as she was complying with the way I wanted her to be, then everyone would be happy.
Of course, she wasn’t happy. All of my relationships failed until I decided to do this drill-down process on myself.
I finally started asking myself questions like, “Why am I so damn judgmental?” I became enlightened only after my wife wanted to separate and get a divorce. That’s what finally kicked me in the butt and made me realize that I was the common denominator for all my problems. So I knew I needed to fix myself.
I asked myself questions like:
Why am I so judgmental?
How is her not behaving the way I want a problem?
Why is that a problem?
How is that really a problem for me?
I drilled in and drilled down, and I discovered that underneath all my judgments and bad behavior, I did not want my stepfather to drink.
That’s where my drill down led. I did not want my stepfather to drink! I wanted him to love me. I wanted him to treat me better like he treated his real kids.
I made all these discoveries when I started drilling down, and I cried about what I learned. It was an awful feeling. At the same time, it was starting to liberate me. It was starting to make me realize I was holding on to old childhood beliefs, fears, and insecurities that I really wanted to change, but I never let them go.
Then I took all these childhood beliefs into my adult relationships and tried to control them. I became judgmental because I didn’t want my stepfather to drink. I generalized that into anyone that did anything that I didn’t want them to do. Because “I’m an adult, now I can control the situation.”
I’m sort of being sarcastic, but that’s what I was doing. I put my judgments on them and I tried to control them. That’s why everyone broke up with me in my life. Once I learned that lesson, the breaking up stopped. People stopped feeling judged. People stopped feeling controlled. The people in my life finally felt safe around me. Because I was no longer applying my old childhood beliefs to our relationship. I was no longer introducing the dysfunction of those old childhood insecurities.
This can happen too. You can heal. You can get through it. You can be in a better space with it This may not be the cure-all, end-all, but it sure as heck helped me a lot, and I hope this process helps you too.
In conclusion, I’m going to read you a couple of quick emails. The first person wrote:
“I recently ended a verbally abusive relationship that lasted two years. He was very complex, loving and so cruel, verbally to me. I have read so many books to help me out. I feel awful, but still, your podcast has helped me out in ways that I can’t even describe. I have so much guilt and shame in the end as he crossed a huge boundary for me. He swore at me a lot and called me horrible names, such as (and she names all the names. I won’t say them here), and he called me the C word on several occasions.”
“I told him to leave and he is now blaming me for the end of our relationship and apologized, but he told me to get over it. He refuses to speak to me after I told him to leave and move out. He is shifting blame, which I know means that it will be hard to see any change. He constantly nitpicked me and would rage text me etc. Your podcast has helped me in so many ways. I really can’t thank you enough.”
Whoa, what a story! I’m so sorry you dealt with that. And I am so very proud of you to be able to stand up and say “No more. No more. I don’t want it.” Maybe you feel something because he’s blaming you. Let me tell you the tactic that people use. Some emotionally abusive people, when they leave the relationship, will yes, shift the blame.
They will make you focus on yourself. They will try to make you think about what you did wrong and what you could have done better. They will keep you in that constant state of wonder if you are actually to blame for this.
You’re not. Yes, you had a conversation, and it takes two, I know all that stuff. But from what you just told me, you’re not to blame. You did the right thing. You have to stand up for yourself. Your integrity is on the line. Your character’s on the line. You are on the line sometimes. Sometimes it can get physical.
I need you to be proud that you did this and confident that you did the right thing because I’m backing you up right now. I want you to feel confident that you did the right thing because you did. There are going to be people like this that play on your emotions and take advantage of your compassion, take advantage of your ability to give the benefit of the doubt, and ability to see that maybe there’s more than meets the eye.
People take advantage of that stuff. They know that you’re a compassionate person so they’re going to take advantage of that. When that happens, you have to remind yourself that that’s the game they play.
The game he’s playing, or it sounds like he’s playing, is that he wants you to reach back out to him. He’s gonna hold on to the anger because as long as he feels right, then he’ll never be in a vulnerable place. People like this hate to be vulnerable. They hate feeling like they’re wrong. They hate feeling like they could have done better.
Because that highlights an insecurity or a weakness in them. This is what they think. They think it’s a weakness. And by saying, “Oh my god, I should have done better, I could have done better, I should have treated you better. I shouldn’t have called you all those words,” That feels like a weakness to them, so they would rather be proud in their righteousness than have a supportive, loving, reciprocating relationship with someone who actually gives a damn. About someone who actually wants to love them.
It’s like they won’t allow themselves to be vulnerable enough to be loved or to love in a healthy way. So I am congratulating you and I am telling you, don’t fall for the game. Just disconnect and move on. Hopefully, someday he’ll figure out what he did to lose the relationship and what he can do better next time. But that involves healing on his part.
If he’s still doing the same behaviors and shifting blame, and constantly rage texting you, you need to block him. You need to just move on with your life.
Thank you for sharing this, and you are welcome. I don’t know how much I helped you. You said, “Your podcast has helped in so many ways.” But you did all the work! I just gave you some tips. You had to do the hard work.
It’s easier for me to sit behind the microphone and tell you my experience, and tell you the processes you can do, and give you some tips, but you still have to do the work. That is the hard part.
I get it. I know it’s the hard part. I’ve had to do a lot of this work myself. I know what it takes to do this. Congratulations! You are amazing. Great job. Thank you for sharing that.
I’m gonna read you one more email before we leave here. This person wrote, “I just found your podcast, I listened to the one about ‘the turnaround game’ and I completely related to the gentleman who emailed you.
He’s talking about an episode on Love and Abuse, I must have called it The Turn-around Game or something like that. It’s when the emotional abuser turns the conversation back on you, putting you on the defense so they can get away with their bad behavior and so they don’t have to explain themselves. As long as you’re in defense mode, you’re no longer focused on them.
It’s a clever game that some people play on you and it’s a really good episode that can be helpful if you find yourself constantly defending yourself.
In the email, he said, “I listened to the turnaround and completely related to the gentleman who emailed you. During your explanation on The M.E.A.N. Workbook. I completely fell apart. I had been abused like this for two years. I truly wanted to hear something that I couldn’t relate to, but it became more familiar as you went on.”
“So I want to thank you so much for what you’re doing, and let you know that you are helping me get through the toughest stage of my life. Your words have been more useful to me than my own therapist. I feel comforted that there is someone who can explain my situation, and help teach me the rights and wrongs in behavior.”
“Fortunately, I was able to end the relationship and she has been gone for about two months now. It is truly scarred me to love someone who treated me this way. I’m still dealing with the damage, of course, although now I can do it all with a clean head and know that I’m not worthless. Thank you for your work.”
Oh, what an amazing email. I’m just touched by this message. Thank you so much for sharing this. I also understand it’s tough for you. It’s so hard getting out of the emotionally abusive relationship. There’s a lot of what they called traumatic bonding, where you feel love and you feel abused. Then you start to equate love with abuse and you don’t think that you can get love without the abuse. It’s really, really tough stuff and difficult to go through. I’m so grateful that you’re out of that relationship.
It’s going to take a little while to heal, you’re understanding that. And yes, you’re probably hearing a lot of stuff that’s very familiar to you on the show. I’m sorry you had to have that breakdown, but what’d I say earlier? It’s like when you hit the bottom, you kind of have that springboard to rebound and go an entirely new direction in life.
The breakup might have been the bottom for you. Now you’re dealing with something else. You’re single and you realize you went through all this abuse and now you have a new perspective, but you still have the old trauma.
It’s really like PTSD. You go through this emotional abuse and you feel so traumatized by it. You’re not even sure which way is up, and you’re not even sure if you can trust your own decisions.
I totally get it! I just want to thank you for writing this. It sounds like you have a great start to your life now and you’re probably learning all the red flags that you need to look for in a new relationship when you’re ready for a new one.
Of course, the emotional scars that you feel now will heal. You’re going to get through it. And I really want you to believe that you are definitely not worthless. I think people who don’t feel worthy treat other people as worthless.
Whatever your partner was doing to you at that time, they have to have it in them in order to treat somebody else like that. We have a tendency as human beings to look at the one that we are in a relationship with as the one and only assessor of our worth.
Sometimes we do that. There are a lot of us that look at our parents thinking, “I don’t feel worthy, because my parents never loved me.” But a lot of the times we’re in these relationships and we look to our partner as the assessor of our worth And sometimes they’re wrong.
When you’re mistreated, they are wrong.
When you are disrespected, they’re wrong about your worth.
They’re wrong about your significance.
They’re wrong about your lovability.
They’re definitely wrong about the amazing person you are. Because no one deserves to be disrespected or mistreated, or especially abused in any way. No one deserves it. Because you’re worthy.
If the person you’re with thinks you deserve it, then there’s something going on inside of them that needs help. They need healing. Because a person has a choice to abuse or get out of the relationship.
For example, let’s say that your partner didn’t like you anymore and didn’t want to be with you. Whatever their reason is, it doesn’t matter. This person should follow their own path. They should come to the conclusion: “I don’t want to be in this relationship anymore so I’m leaving.” This is, of course, in hopes that they would have at least tried to work things out with you. But let’s just say they are ready to move on.
This would hurt, of course! You’re going to feel pretty crappy if something like that happened. You might think “What? What’s wrong with me?”
I get that. But them leaving you is a lot better than them abusing you. When there’s abuse, there’s really something going on inside of them.
There’s the person who chooses to leave because they want to leave. They want to follow their own path (and everyone has a right to do that), then there’s the person who decides to abuse because they want to control you and make you conform to who they want you to be.
When that happens, there’s something not right in them. There’s something that needs healing. Some people get it and some people don’t.
I hope your ex-partner whoever that was, gets it. I hope they understand what they did and they learn from what they did. And I hope they are able to heal and become an improved version of themselves.
A lot of emotional abusers are great people but underneath have these really crappy behaviors that try to control the people and the environment.
Sometimes you just can’t get past those behaviors to see only the great person underneath. That’s the world we live in. Sometimes people are not so great underneath, and sometimes they are.
We can’t stay with people waiting for the great parts to come out, especially when we’re getting all this abuse. That really hides all the greatness and making them undesirable.
We also can’t stay in a situation thinking that they’re simply going to get better. You have to remember that trend line. If it’s going up and to the right then everything’s great. If it’s going to the right and it’s pretty steady with some ups and downs, that’s great too.
If it’s going down and to the right, where the relationship just seems to be getting worse and worse, that’s the trend. That’s the pattern. We have to watch for that to make sure that we realize tomorrow is going to happen just like yesterday did.
What’s going to happen next year is going to be the same thing that happened last year. When the trend line’s going down, we just have to make our decision, knowing that the future holds the same fate.
For the person who wrote to me, thank you so much for writing. Thank you for your words. I am humbled and I am grateful. And I’m so proud of you as well for getting through this and realizing that you are not worthless.
Nobody deserves to be disrespected, devalued, or made to feel unlovable. Sure, there may be jerks out there that may think do not deserve your respect but someone who “deserves” disrespect is a lot different than someone who might need “a talking to”.
It’s also a lot different than someone who committed a crime and might need justice. In general, in relationships, nobody deserves that. If that’s happening to you, you don’t deserve that. You are worthy. You deserve more than that.
If you’re not being treated with kindness and respect, then some serious thoughts have to be made about your next steps. They might involve a difficult conversation about the truth and what’s happening in the relationship. A conversation is a good start.