Wallowing in Painful Feelings Is Not the Same Thing As Feeling Them

I received a letter from someone who told me she had successfully used brain-switching exercises for getting out of depression over the years, but that the recent death of her mother caused a return of the panic symptoms she used to experience. She related that she passed out while having tea with a friend and was so fearful it would happen again that she feared she was starting to create a cycle of fear that might lead her back into her old depression.

“Is it possible,” she asked, “to deal with grief by using the same distraction techniques of brain-switching that I use for depression or is it better to face the anxiety head on.”

I responded that the best thing to do with grief is to mourn your loss. You hurt when you lose what you love. It is a normal part of the experience of every human being. Whenever the mourning presents itself in the form of painful feeling, simply accept the pain as part of the ceremony of loss. It will not harm you. After all, we are not our feelings. They are something we have. We shouldn’t allow them to “have” us.. Fainting or getting a panic attack is a way of refusing to feel the pain of loss and allowing your emotions to be in control of you.

The pain is caused by a surge of adrenalin in the body when the fight or flight response is triggered in response to stressful thoughts. But adrenalin can only affect certain of our organs and only in certain ways. Therefore this pain is not unlimited, nor is it all-powerful. This chemically-caused pain has limitations beyond which it cannot continue.

Most of the problem with allowing painful emotion to finish is your fear that the initial pain you experience will get worse. This fear that the pain will increase causes you to produce more adrenalin which causes the pain to continue beyond where it would if you were to just accept it at the beginning. If you can relax your body into the pain, it will reach a completion, diminish and fade away.

If you have been fearful of feeling the pain of loss, the first time you undertake to accept it, you may require a few minutes to get the hang of it. One exercise is to have a conversation with the pain. Every time it comes down upon you, you can say.

Have I had this feeling before? Yes or no. If yes, is there anything hidden in this feeling that I haven’t felt before? Yes or No

If yes, feel around for any hidden and repressed part of the fearful pain. Just go with it, no need to do anything about it. Allow the complete painful feeling to express itself and spread out into the neurons of your body. Like an exercise stretch. Sometimes you can get so good at this acceptance of painful feeling that it is almost like loving it. Immediate acceptance of pain keeps it from escalating into panic. Panic attacks are caused by the fear of pain, and the refusal to feel it. It is not grief over loss that causes panic attacks.

The important thing to remember is that wallowing in fearful feelings is not the same thing as simply accepting and feeling them. Wallowing is continuing to be resistant to feeling them but engaging in ongoing thoughts about how you don’t like them. And continuing, over and over, to think about how you don’t like it. And can’t stand it anymore. And can’t somebody do something to help you? And, oh no! Not again! And why can’t I have some relief. Why can’t I be happy. And so on. Every time wallowing begins, you can have a conversation with the it just like the conversation you have with the painful feelings themselves.

Is there any new idea or data that you can add to this wallowing that will change anything? Yes or no. Or make it better. Yes or no. Is continuing to wallow in this pain making me a better person? Yes or no. Is it making me a more connected person or a more disconnected one? Is it making my heart more closed. Or open-hearted? Is wallowing in this fearful pain making me a bright shining light of healing love to share with those around me? Or not.

Whenever wallowing comes, have the conversation, or just simply allow the pain to spread out and stretch itself to completion in your neurons. Open your hands to it.

Relax your shoulders to it Bow your head, or get down on your knees if you want to, in humble acceptance of your humanity. You are never alone in your loving surrender to your humanity.

The conversation you have with either the pain itself, or the wallowing in pain, soon becomes a kind of distracting device for the mind. Remember: the mind always follows the direction of its most current dominant thought. At first, the pain or the wallowing is the dominant thought. Your dominant thought is always instructions to the brain (your obedient servant) to put you in touch with everything associated with that thought. If the dominant thought is pain or wallowing in pain, the brain will put you in touch with every single negative thing in your memory banks.

As you continue to use the conversation exercise, then the conversation itself becomes the dominant thought. After doing the “conversation” for a couple of weeks, the feelings don’t seem to persist. The dominant thought will change to being open, connected, accepting and will be instructions to your brain to put you in touch with all the positive things in your memory bank. Here’s the formula: pain + the conversation = okayness. Kind of like oil on troubled waters = tranquil waters.

For myself, I find if I am hit by a sudden surge to the depths of despair, either method actually works–distraction with simple nonsense brainswitching mantras and then beginning to do simple daily chores and thinking about what I am doing and not how I am feeling; or complete acceptance and allowing the pain and anxiety to finish itself. But grief over loss is a little different. Mourning the loss of a loved one, in a way, is a beautiful expression of our shared humanity. But when it escalates into mere chemical imbalance, then we must “treat” it, not wallow in it.