Monday, May 08, 2006

COPING WITH STRESS: Canceling-out Painful Emotions

4.1: Six best ways of canceling-out painful emotions are: changing perception, putting things in proper perspective, neutralizing emotions, reasoning, insight and humor.

[We learn these coping skills from our parents, relatives, teachers, mentors, religious leaders, books and Holy Scriptures and from life experiences. These techniques require one to function at a fairly high intellectual level. People who grew up without much interaction with mature people often lack these skills. People with good attitude and spiritual bent of mind are good at canceling-out emotions.]

4.2: Before canceling-out a painful emotion one must be fully aware of it.

[Canceling-out is like shooting down one target at a time. So one must be aware of what painful emotions he is feeling in his mind. For example, for one to tackle a feeling of helplessness, he must first be aware that he feels terribly helpless about a certain situation. For one to cancel-out fear, he must first admit to himself that he is scared about something. People who deny they have any painful emotion in mind are unable to use this technique.]

4.3: By changing perception of an upsetting life-situation painful emotions could be gotten rid of.

[Perceiving a cup as half-full instead of half-empty is an example. When a hypercritical boss is perceived as insecure and not evil, he appears less threatening. When sudden decline in the value of a good stock is perceived as an opportunity to buy more stocks rather than as loss of wealth, one does not become upset. When being fired from one’s dead-end job is perceived as an opportunity to change career or begin a new career, one does not get upset.
A student, bored by his professor’s mediocre lectures missed several classes. When the professor took him to task the student became very upset. However, his wise friend calmed him down by saying, “Well, he is not mad at you. He likes you. He simply misses you in his class!” The student felt better.]

4.4: Inherently negativistic, cynical, pessimistic and closed-minded are not able to change perception.

[There are people who are inherently negativistic in nature. No matter what the problem is, they see only the negative side of it. There are others who are habitually cynical. They would react to everything by saying, “Oh, it is all a fraud.” The pessimistic would say such things as, “I don’t think it is even worth a try. I can tell you right now, it would give no results.” Then there are closed-minded or narrow minded people who would not let a new idea enter their mind. It is impossible to convince them of anything other than what they believe. These people are totally incapable of thinking “outside the box.”]

4.5: Putting a life-situation in proper perspective lessens painful emotions in mind.

[“We might have lost a battle but we are winning the war.” We look at the overall picture instead of a specific event or problem. Loss in one stock is made up by gains in other stocks. Counting one’s blessings in the face of personal losses, or those of others, is another example. Suddenly the bad event does not seem that bad after all. People who are “short-sighted” by nature; who can not get the “big picture;” and who are “bogged down” by their everyday mundane problems have difficulty in putting this technique in practice. One should recall the familiar saying, “I complained about not having shoes to wear till I met someone who had no feet.”]

4.6: Painful emotions can be neutralized by opposite emotions or actions.

[Fear is neutralized by cultivating Absolute Faith in God or Destiny, or by courage and reassurance; anger by forgiveness and mercy; hopelessness by hope and prayer; helplessness by taking appropriate action; hate by indifference or love; hurt by solace; sadness by spiritual joy; disappointment by acceptance; insecurity by self-improvement; humiliation by fortitude; guilt by expiation; sin by repentance; shame by self-exposure; frustration by patience; jealousy by being happy for other’s good fortune; envy by contentment; embarrassment by stoicism…. Read your Scriptures!]

4.7: The ability to neutralize painful emotions is rooted in one’s cultural values.

[For example, a person who is raised in a culture or family with the value “eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth” might not be able to forgive the offending party and move on with his life. A person who is raised in a culture which fosters passivity and dependence on others might not be able to take direct action to deal with helplessness brought on by financial problem. Instead, he might unrealistically expect others to help him out at every turn and be disappointed when he fails to elicit sympathy.]

4.8: Reasoning rooted in wisdom is a powerful antidote to painful emotions.

[Strong reasoning capacity gives us protection from stress. Reasoning requires one to accept certain realities of life. He is never surprised by anything: “That is the way life is;” “aging, infirmity and death are part of life;” “all relationships end sooner or later due to breakup or death or move;” “there are no permanent friends, only permanent
interests;” “at the end of the day everyone must look after his own interests,” etc. Stressed-out people are often unreasonable in their expectations of others or themselves. Due to their unreasonableness, they find themselves suffering from frustration, disappointment, anger and other toxic emotions from time to time.
Reasoning as well as judgment becomes impaired when one’s mind is infected by one or more of seven weaknesses of man: greed, lust, possessiveness, jealousy, rage, insecurity and arrogance. It is hard to reason with a woman possessive of her brutally violent boyfriend. She has no reasoning left to know her life is in danger. Likewise, it is hard to reason with a violent brute driven by rage to take revenge against someone he hates. It is hard to reason with a greedy man when he is bent on defrauding someone. It is hard to reason with a lustful man that extramarital affair could ruin his marriage.]

4.9: Insight into a life-situation could reduce emotional tension.

[Insight is the ability to look into the hidden cause of his own behavioral pattern or of others. Very often, such insight leads to feeling calm once again. A beautiful secretary was very hurt by her boss’s seeming indifference toward her. She felt much better after she developed insight that the boss, a married man, was staying away from her to counter his strong attraction to her. A young wife, very angry at her husband over his distrust of her, felt better after she got insight into his past. He had grown up seeing his mother have a series of extra-marital affairs. No wonder he was distrustful of all women. The vast majority of stressed-out have no insight into the connection between their painful emotions and circumstances inducing them.
Insight is possible only in open-minded people who are curious to know and willing to change their view. Significant number of stressed-out people is closed-minded which explains why they became stressed in the first place. Not knowing protects them from the discomfort of knowing the truth about certain realities of their own life. A lot of stressed people reject insight when offered by experienced psychiatrists. A 35 year old woman, mother of a four year old daughter, felt a strong urge to divorce her husband. She had been having an affair at work for over one year. She often asked herself, “Why am I doing this?” History revealed that her own mother had an affair when the patient was 3 years old, and her mother left her father when she was five. The patient rejected the insight that her extramarital affair and urge to leave her husband was rooted in this childhood trauma.]

4.10: Humor reduces emotional tension.

[Cultivating a sense of humor in the midst of all the breathless madness around gives one some breathing room. If your basement is flooded, you could make a joke to break up the gloom: “I always dreamed of an indoor pool in this house. I didn’t realize I would be in luck this soon!” Most wise people who are stressed defuse the tension immediately by making a joke about the ominous situation. An employee who was constantly threatened with firing finally received his pink slip. It read, “You are axed!” He wrote back, “Thanks for the axe! It feels better than the damned chain saw!”]

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