Life can sometimes bring us some unexpected and nasty surprises. You can’t forsee them. You don’t know when they’ll happen and you don’t know how to prevent them because they haven’t happened yet! These are the “life lessons” or events that often make us stop and think, look back and use hindsight. They can be opportunities to reflect and invariably we do end up looking back and asking ourselves a whole barrage of questions – did I have this coming? How could I have prevented this? What could I have done differently? Why didn’t I… ? Why didn’t they…? We can end up going around in circles with questions that we will simply never be able to answer.
Why do we persist in tormenting ourselves? For some, it’s a matter of low self-esteem, guilt, low confidence or all of the above. Others may lack a support network of family or friends to help them through such hard and challenging times. Some people may be struggling with mental illness, substance misuse such as drug or alcohol addiction or past trauma. However, we all have a lot in common with one another when going through such difficult times – we all feel. We all have emotions. We all struggle at some point or another.
But how are you treating yourself through such hard times? How do you help or support others when you know they are struggling with personal or professional difficulties? Are you listening? Not just listening but hearing them also. Do your words offer comfort and compassion or judgement and blame? Imagine it’s you in that situation. How would you feel if you had a limited number of people to turn to? Would you want to be accepted, listened to, heard and supported? Or judged, given a swift kick up the posterior and told to “buck up your ideas” and “get yourself together”. I know which I’d prefer!
I’ve been there myself. It’s not just difficult but hideous. “Hopelessness” is a very powerful emotion that can push us to make some very spontaneous and often not well thought through decisions. Having another door slammed in your face, you never know if it’s going to be the final straw that breaks that camel’s back.
So what do you do in those situations? What if you know someone who is in that situation?
Well, to start with, listen. Listen and hear. Wait for the dust to settle and breathe. It’s easy for our emotions to run away with us and for us to lose our breath and panic thinking that we must make a decision NOW! But do you? What will happen if you give it half an hour or even better, a night to “sleep on it”?
Remember to breathe – this can help reduce anxiety and stop your body from escalating into fight or flight mode, which is when thought tends to fly out of the window and instinct is all that is left. Not necessarily a bad thing unless you need to weigh up important decisions!
Talk to someone – it’s at times like these that you really learn who your friends are. If you don’t feel comfortable talking to friends or family, can you talk to a professional? This is where counselling really has an important role to play.
By drawing, saying, singing, dancing, speaking, writing or painting the thoughts, emotions and feelings going through your mind you break the vicious cycle of panic stricken thought. By doing this, you change the perspective. And by changing the perspective, new angles and perspectives emerge. Perhaps you notice something you couldn’t see before? Or perhaps your friend, family member or counsellor will reflect back their perspective of what you have experienced or expressed. These in turn can help you put the pieces of the puzzle together and to, in time, heal, grow and develop from your experiences.
Are you being kind to yourself and others? Are you being compassionate? How are you being kind to yourself? Times like that can be challenging to say the least – to be kind, compassionate and gentle is the least you can do but is precisely what is needed. We are so well versed in pushing ourselves, challenging ourselves, driving and stressing ourselves and constantly pushing the goalposts – the least we can offer is compassion and kindness. We can be quick to judge, jump to conclusions and criticise others but are we as quick to thank, empathise, compliment, listen and comfort?
All it takes is a look, a compassionate glance, a listening ear, a text message, a hug, an “are you alright” to break thar vicious cycle of negative thought and take a step in the right direction.