Responding to the News About a Health Challenge
Because, like most people, I was underprepared for a severe health challenge, I initially approached the news of my condition in the same way I approached most things in life — with an "I can handle this" attitude. I attempted to push my more vulnerable feelings and thoughts away. I told myself things like "I am not going to be negative," "I am going to beat this," and "Being too emotional isn't going to help."
Despite my good intentions, my feelings and fearful thoughts became like food pushed to the back of the fridge and forgotten about — they got my attention on a later date and in a more menacing way. Among other things, I became short-tempered and had little tolerance for my feelings or anyone else's. Even though I kept saying the "right" words — positive words — I was not at all peaceful inside.
So I decided to not stop any of my thoughts and to give my fearful feelings free rein. But when I did that, those thoughts and fears quickly took over my consciousness like a bad computer virus or the plague, leaving little room for anything else.
Catch-22: Neither Repressing or Expressing Feelings Worked
I thus found myself in a catch-22: Neither of my strategies — repressing or expressing — worked all that well. Earlier I stated the clear need to make room for our emotional reactions without overanalyzing — even allowing ourselves to be a mess. Now I am saying granting free rein to our emotions can lead to being on a locomotive going nowhere.
What is the alternative to this apparent contradiction? In answering this question, I found the silver lining in my health challenge.
Experiencing Your Feelings Without Pushing Them Away or Wallowing in Them
I found that it was possible to experience what was happening without pushing it away or wallowing in it. This means that it is possible to experience your feelings without allowing them to overtake your life. It is a bit akin to going on a very realistic ride, or enjoying an absorbing movie or book, in that you trust there is an end, an exit sign above the door in the distance.
Just because you have a thought in your mind, a belief you've held for many years, or a certain way you've always done something, that thought, belief, or method isn't necessarily true — that is, it doesn't necessarily match the unchanging truth of who you are.
Your Inner Critic: Its Commentary Is Responsible for Your Fears
If we watch our mind and emotions, we'll see that what makes us afraid and ineffective is not our physical condition or our emotions themselves, but the commentary that our inner critic (the part of our mind that always tells us what you should or ought to be doing) adds to the situation, such as "Why is this happening?" "This should not be happening because ..." "What caused this?" "Who is to blame?" "Who should be held responsible?" "What is going to happen next?" "What does the future hold?" The commentary from our inner critic is rarely helpful, even though it may try to convince us otherwise.
As I began observing my inner critic, listening to it as if listening in on a conversation at the next table in a restaurant, I became aware of its commentary. I saw how it was always fueled by fear and made me more fearful. When my mind was filled with its shoulds and oughts, it was very difficult for me to listen to any true wisdom or find any real peace. But when I became aware of what my inner critic was saying, I was then able to choose not to listen to it and to instead listen to something else that was there, waiting patiently within me — Life, my inner teacher.
Looking Beyond the Inner Critic to Life the Inner Teacher
When I looked beyond the inner critic, my emotions became much less overwhelming. If you were to throw this book away and only practice this one thing, you would find growth and healing, because you are turning away from fear and your physical condition and toward the core of who you are.
To put this principle into action, practice the following:
Taking at least fifteen minutes, three times a day, find a quiet spot and notice what your inner critic is saying about your health challenge and the resulting emotions. What is your inner critic telling you? What fear-based questions is it asking? Write them down, and ask yourself, Does this question increase fear or lead to anything positive or healing?
Then ask yourself what may be beyond the inner critic. Take a few deep breaths, and imagine there is a calmness, a peace, that has been waiting for you. Even if you sense this peace for only a moment or two, know that it is the foundation for your growth and healing. Your situation and emotions won't be so powerful and overwhelming now Remember, experiencing even one moment of this inner peace will put healing into motion.
The Three Primary Fears and How to Free Yourself from Them
Psychological fears trap us and limit us. All fears reflect three primary fears:
- the fear of physical and emotional suffering and pain
- the fear of loss and unwanted change
- the fear of death and the unknown
Your inner critic milks these fears for all they're worth.
As you become aware of the commentary of your inner critic, you will see that most fear, grief, loss, and anger cease to have power when the commentary is not being unconsciously repeated. Further, you will become aware of what the real truths are in place of the three primary fears:
- Most suffering is caused not by the situation, but by resistance to what is happening.
- Regardless of what change is occurring, we can love more deeply than ever.
- Since Life is everlasting, death and the unknown need not be feared.
©2012 by Lee Jampolsky, Ph.D. All rights reserved.
Reprinted with permission of the publisher,
Hampton Roads Publishing Co. Inc.
Dist. by Red Wheel/Weiser, Inc. www.redwheelweiser.com
This article was adapted with permission from:
How to Say Yes When Your Body Says No: Discover the Silver Lining in Life's Toughest Health Challenges by Lee L. Jampolsky.
Psychologist Lee Jampolsky examines how people become overwhelmed, and often unable to cope during a health challenge. He shares his personal health challenges, from spending months in a body cast as a young man to going deaf from an autoimmune disease. He shows how learning to alter one's thoughts and beliefs about health is the key to physical well-being. How to Say Yes When Your Body Says No is filled with meditations and exercises to develop an attitude of openness and healing, no matter what physical and emotional challenges we face.
About the Author
Dr. Lee Jampolsky is a recognized leader in the field of psychology and human potential and has served on the medical staff and faculty of respected hospitals and graduate schools, and has consulted with CEOs of businesses of all sizes. Dr. Jampolsky has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, The Los Angeles Times, and many other publications. Visit him at www.drleejampolsky.com.