Image by Frank Winkler
Bridge over troubled waters. A bridge too far. Golden Gate Bridge. Floating Bridge. Bridge over River Kwai. London Bridge. Building bridges. Burning your bridges. Water under the bridge. We'll cross that bridge later. Bridge-to-nowhere.
There are many kinds of bridges. A bridge offers you safe passage over an obstacle.
This month I'm going to talk about the emotional bridges and what we can do to safely cross the river. I usually discuss the three bridges as they pertain to communication. However, it occurred to me this morning that I needed to expand out my vision of the Attitude Reconstruction Three Bridges to meet the emotionally fraught times we are all experiencing with the pandemic as well as the protests proclaiming "Black Lives Matter."
Uncertainty, Fear, and Depression
Life is full of unexpected events. It's a part of the deal. Uncertainty triggers the emotion of fear, because we are venturing into the realm of the unknown.
Covid 19 is double scary because it also threatens our very physical existence. It's no surprise that, according to a recent study, the percentage of folks experiencing anxiety (fear) is 64%. Leading the way are women, minorities, people with preexisting health conditions, and adults under 34.
Additionally, 49% of the study respondents said they were experiencing depression. I view depression as a sadness-based imbalance (people lose their sense of self and feel hopeless). There is also a level of suppressed anger and fear involved. During "normal" times the depression percentage comes in at 37%, which is quite a statement in itself.
As these times so clearly indicate, there is a need for a bridge to span these turbulent and troubled waters and we hold the power to create change. Darkness feeds on itself so we must do something different to move back into the light. Holding on to old behaviors doesn't serve us. It's time to build some new bridges.
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The Three Emotional Bridges
Regardless of what emotion is diminishing our quality of life, it's up to us to make a change ,because our old way of coping is not working. Most fundamentally, we need to give ourselves permission of express our emotions physically and constructively. That means when we feel sad, we have a good cry -- not a pity party. When we're experiencing anger, we need to move the physical energy out of our bodies by stomping, pounding, or yelling non-verbal sounds. And when we feel fear -- aka anxiety -- we need to shiver, shudder, tremble and shake, hard, fast, and with abandon.
Most times it's obvious what emotion a person is dealing with. Fortunately, there are only six. Three are the result of good living -- joy, love, and peace. It's the other three -- sadness, anger, and fear that cause us suffering and pain.
Each emotion has a different focus. When we're experiencing sadness, we tend to feel and think poorly about ourselves. With anger, instead of dealing with it on an energetic level, our focus is outward -- on other people, situations and things. When we're in the grip of fear, our attention is not in the present but projected into the future.
Thus our most important job becomes one of taking care of ourselves. When we notice that we (or someone around us) is not centered, rather than getting sucked into a knee-jerk destructive reaction -- apathy, negativity, or anxiety, we can get to the heart of the matter and extend a "bridge." With just a little practice, we'll be able to recognize the emotions underlying our demeanor, feelings, words, and actions.
The Three Bridges and their Focus
Joy = self
Love = outward
Peace = time
Appreciation, Understanding and Reassurances are the three bridges to remember. Intuitively they make perfect sense.
THE BRIDGE IF WE'RE FEELING SADNESS...
People who often experience sadness (but tend not to cry enough) are most likely thinking or speaking poorly of themselves, possibly mourning a loss, or acknowledging a hurt. We can recognize sadness because we tend to act passively, feel clingy, unworthy, or unlovable. What is needed are genuine appreciations. Convey the message, "I love you. You're great." Also, point out your (or their) strengths and contributions. If we're down on ourselves, appreciations are what's needed. "I did it. Good for me."
If we're feeling depressed, it means we have some underlying sadness that is calling out to be expressed. As we mourn our hurts and losses a good cry does wonders. We're acknowledging the pain we feel in our bodies. Expressing this sadness is a fundamental way to honor ourselves because after we're done, we can think more clearly about what actions we can take to move out of feeling so blue.
If we've taken to the safety of our bed, our mental chatter might be "I'm so tired. The pull to lie down is so strong." To honor ourselves, we need to fight the old messages and substitute the reality of our situation. "It's the side effect of the situation (or medication)." Identify a small task you need to do, and just do it. You'll feel so much better.
THE BRIDGE IF WE'RE FEELING ANGRY...
Folks who strike out in anger and lead with blame, negativity, and criticism, are really just feeling isolated and are in desperate need of understanding. They won't respond well to debates, lectures, or reprimands. The chances they'll hear what you have to say are slim to none, unless you can genuinely connect with them first. You need to sincerely listen without reacting or taking what they say personally.
Focus on what's going on with them behind their angry words and let the attacks go flying by. Work very hard not to respond to their accusations. Silently repeat or say, "I want to understand their perspective" and just seek to understand. It doesn't help to try to correct them up and you definitely shouldn't take what they are saying personally. Remember, you are just the convenient target of their unexpressed anger.
When you are feeling frustrated, it's a good idea to move your anger energy physically, rather than resort to negative judgments and harsh words. Check out this video to see how it's done. After expressing your anger constructively, it's within your grasp to accept what's really going on and the other person's point of view. In the process you can show yourself some compassion. "I didn't handle the situation very well. I was upset and tired. At least I gave it my best shot. What do I need to do to repair my connection?"
THE BRIDGE IF WE'RE FEELING FEAR...
If someone is overwhelmed, anxious, or totally stressed out, chances are that person has got some unexpressed fear. This is natural today, with the pandemic, as our very physical survival feels threatened. With an unknown financial future that is largely out of our control, we need honest reassurances.
Comfort, soothe, and repeatedly remind others and yourself that "Everything is and will be all right." Other reassuring comments are "We'll make our way through this together," "I'm here" or "I'll take care of it." Or offer reminders of the objective reality: "You'll land on your feet. You always do." Don't hesitate to use these truths as a lifeline to friends or family members who are struggling.
If it's you that are feeling fear, I'd suggest you shake and shiver, that is, move the physical emotional energy out of your body. (Check out this video for a quick demo.) If you do, it can help you stay out of dwelling on the worst-case scenarios about the future and keep focused on what small steps you (or others) can take today to cope with the uncertainty. When you are feeling scared, nervous, or anxious, reassure yourself by repeating, "It's okay. I can make it through this."
What I'm suggesting is not rocket science. Just remember to appreciate when you suspect sadness and low self-esteem afoot; understand when you encounter anger and frustration, and reassure when you come in contact with someone exhibiting fear, anxiety, and worry. You'll experience the rewards of extending a bridge.
©2020 by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
All Rights Reserved.
Book by this Author
Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life
by Jude Bijou, M.A., M.F.T.
With practical tools, real-life examples, and everyday solutions for thirty-three destructive attitudes, Attitude Reconstruction can help you stop settling for sadness, anger, and fear, and infuse your life with love, peace, and joy.
For more info and/or to order this book, click here.
About the Author
Jude Bijou is a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT), an educator in Santa Barbara, California and the author of Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. In 1982, Jude launched a private psychotherapy practice and started working with individuals, couples, and groups. She also began teaching communication courses through Santa Barbara City College Adult Education. Visit her website at AttitudeReconstruction.com/
Watch an interview with Jude Bijou: How to Experience More Joy, Love and Peace