Awareness that Heals

Changing Responses to Difficult Emotions – Episode 24

Changing Responses to Difficult Emotions - Episode 24Host Robert Strock discusses the long-term process of identifying our challenging emotions and how we can work through them. We are individuals with differing experiences and upbringings. Those experiences affect how we respond to difficult emotions and eventually can turn into self-rejection. We have to look deep within ourselves to identify the actions and thoughts that can lead us away from rejection toward self-acceptance. We can start by asking and identifying our most difficult, challenging emotion. Being aware of and consistently questioning how we’re reacting to that emotion helps us develop compassion for ourselves and the greater world. It takes time, but you can process and change how you think and react to the most unwanted emotions.

Resources related to this episode
Robert Strock Website
Robert’s Book, Awareness that Heals
Free Downloadable Introspective Guides

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Announcer: (00:06)
Awareness That Heals, Episode 24.

Robert Strock: (00:10)
And you start to see that a lot of your feelings are really rooted in your original conditioning. And most importantly, from what we’re talking about in this episode is it leaves you frozen in a feeling that’s challenging. And if you don’t identify the challenging feeling and you don’t identify the self-rejection, it’ll be on your tombstone.

Announcer: (00:35)
The Awareness That Heals podcast helps its listeners learn to develop the capacity, to have a more healing response to emotions and situations rather than becoming stuck. Your host, Robert Strock has practiced psychotherapy for more than 45 years. He wrote the book Awareness That Heals, Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges, to help develop self-caring and the capacity to respond in an effective way to life’s challenges. Especially at times when we are most prone to be critical or to withdraw together, we will explore how to become aware of our challenging feelings. And at the same time find alternative ways to live a more fulfilling and inspiring life.

Robert Strock: (01:15)
I want to welcome you again to Awareness That Heals, Bringing Heart and Wisdom to Life’s Challenges. So we’ve really been diving deeply into starting with becoming aware of our challenging emotions and being as specific as possible. Focusing very much on you staying with yourself, even as we give examples, and then seeing how that morphs all too commonly into self-rejection when we’re experiencing challenging emotions like anxiety and fear and anger, hopelessness, despair, because we don’t like it. And then we’re learning how important it is to ask this question that is like a pivot or it’s like a shifting of gears, which is do I like feeling my challenging emotion? And when it becomes obvious the answer’s no, it’s shining a light inside us that says, hey, I want to reject myself. That doesn’t make sense to me to spend my life berating myself. So it hopefully inspires us to look for the qualities and the actions, thoughts that would lead us toward, at first tolerating these challenges and then accepting, and then moving gradually towards self-compassion.

Robert Strock: (03:02)
And the word gradually is very important as we’ve touched on because the idea of understanding and moving from challenges to solutions with insight in the mind is 99.9% delusional. And the necessity it’s like cooking a stew and throwing something on the stove and taking it out immediately. That we need to brew with it, we need, we need to allow ourselves to feel the challenges, to see how it shifts out of our awareness into rejecting ourselves, and then have the caring to ask that question of whether we like these challenges, whether we care for ourselves while we’re in these challenges. And then when we see that answer, being able to see how beneficial it is to us to do that mining inside ourselves. So, before we go further into the subtlety, I’d like to again, introduce Dave, uh, my dearest friend for 50 years, and my partner at the Global Bridge Foundation.

David Knapp: (04:17)
Thank you, uh, as always thank you for the opportunity to be here, to participate, and looking forward to, uh, this discussion.

Robert Strock: (04:27)
So I’d like to, again, start with the central three questions because we’re trying to move it from me, asking the questions to you asking the questions. We’re trying to move it from your head to your wisdom and to your heart. So you’re asking first, what are my most significant repeating challenging emotions that make my life harder? And I’m pausing for a moment hoping that you’re asking that and that it’s maybe by now, it’s already clear and you’re just staying with it. And then the second question is when I have this challenging emotion, whether some of the other self-rejecting emotions or reactions that are most common for me that are like a constellation, including things like disgust, repulsion, aversion, withdrawal, disassociating, and the third one is, and I’m actually going to make it four and change my three to four. Asking ourselves, do we like our challenging emotions?

Robert Strock: (06:00)
And do we like rejecting ourselves? And by asking such an obvious question, I don’t think anybody’s ever told me that they like rejecting themselves or they like, I’ve had some people say they’ve been caring toward their challenging emotions, but very few, but having the sensibility to ask that question so we can more clearly see how we’re rejecting ourselves, what emotions or withdrawals or just associations we have when we’re angry or anxious or depressed or helpless, jealous, competitive. And now the fourth question is really what would be the healing movement, thoughts, development of attitudes that would move me toward self-acceptance, kindness, warmth, toward myself, a sense of well-being with the challenge coexisting and caring for the greater world as well. Now, these are not intuitively obvious steps. These are steps that to the best of my knowledge, I haven’t met any, any, anybody who is taught that from childhood or was taught that in Sunday School, I was taught that at the Temple or it’s something that we need to learn because we want our life to be fulfilling.

Robert Strock: (07:43)
We want our life to be inspiring want our life to be happy. We want our lives to be enjoyable, fun, adventurous, and we don’t want to be frozen in our challenges or bury them and think we’re over them because they’re underground. So the real question that follows those four questions is, are you in? Yeah. And when I say, are you in, I mean, are you in yourself? Are you actually able to have these questions start to go beyond memory and to go into your life, go into those feelings that you’ve identified? And if the answer is no, I believe you need to keep listening and repeating it because it really is counter to our conditioning because what we’re largely been taught is to be fine, to appear, to be happy, to be okay. And so it’s thought to be a bummer, to have challenging emotions self-rejection is off the charts.

Robert Strock: (09:00)
Then you, then you really need a psychiatrist. You got a serious problem. If you have challenging emotions, oh, I don’t have those, unhappy, and so it’s really turning it upside down, not to glorify challenging emotions, but to see that we can’t release ourselves from their grip, if we don’t first identify them and similarly with self-rejecting emotions or self-rejection in the more withdrawing way, withholding our love from ourselves. And so by being clear that if we are looking to be our best selves, then, of course, we need to include our inner world and not be so outwardly focused as we’re taught to in our culture.

David Knapp: (09:58)
Question, as I look back and I, it’s, it’s, it’s very, let’s say it’s the easiest thing for me to do of these things, to recognize I’m challenged. You know, feel good and what’s much harder and much less frequent. If not, uh, almost a desert for most of my life is to recognize the response I’ve had to myself, the self-rejection part. And so as I’m asking myself, how do I, how do I make this transition? It’s almost like I say, okay, I’m beginning to see that whenever I have a challenging emotion, I automatically, to the extent I’m aware, need to look, I need to say, okay, I, I can fairly safely assume because when I have looked, I’ve found self-rejection that it’s bound to be there in one form or another. And that’s been the hardest transition, it’s not just to react to the transition or rather not to react to the challenging emotion by doing something necessarily.

Robert Strock: (11:04)
Yeah. I’m really glad you’re pointing that out because it’s hard enough to recognize your challenging emotions. But as I just mentioned a few minutes ago, I’ve never had anybody really be in touch with what their self-rejection emotions are upon a first question. And I think that what’s a little simpler than being, trying to be aware of them is asking the question, do you like, do you like being in your challenging emotion? Because then that dislike is very regulatory. Now I haven’t said it, but another question that would be helpful to add would be exactly how do you dislike it? What exact emotion are you? What’s your style of disliking basically. And most people do have a style. You know, withdrawal is a humongous style. And when I say withdrawal, I mean not having your heartbeat engaged with your challenging emotion, but pretty close to equal is depression, a continued series of judgments, anxiety, hopelessness, helplessness, feeling like a victim.

Robert Strock: (12:26)
Those are very, very common. So I ask that question, that’s the implant. I believe that most of us need to do to have much greater accessibility to how we specifically reject ourselves. But I think you’re pointing out the difficulty of that is really universal. And that’s what makes it so insidious. That’s what makes it so hidden is that it’s like so rare that we have more than fleeting awareness for challenging emotions, let alone the ones that are more underground because I, if I had it as a visual, the challenging emotions for most people are 10 feet underground. And the, and the self-rejecting emotions are a hundred feet underground. So it’s very, very hard to see that unless you’re guiding yourself with a question that’s pretty obvious. So another example to help elucidate the self-injecting emotions is one that commonly does happen, which is what appears first is the self-rejection, not the challenging emotion.

Robert Strock: (13:40)
And I was seeing a couple for a long period of time. And she said to me, I think I really need to go to a psychiatrist and get some antidepressants because I’m really, really, really depressed. Can I say, what, what do you, you know, to be honest, I haven’t experienced you as being classically depressed. So what is it that you’re most feeling depressed about? And she said I feel depressed because I constantly feel like my husband and my two kids are always wanting more from me than I can give. And I feel so inadequate.

Robert Strock: (14:23)
I feel so, so inadequate that I’m failing them as a mom because of my depression. And I said to her, I think you have it backward. I think what’s happening is you feel inadequate because you’re not being able to show up and you’re feeling withdrawn and you’re feeling like you have to use your will all the time to be a mom. And you’re feeling depressed because you feel like you’re failing your most important mission you have in your life. And I think you need to ask the question, is there any realistic way I can be a better mom? And that led to her realizing that when she really felt like a failure was after two or three hours of spending time with the kids, she was so exhausted, so wasted that she was depressed and that it was just purely her will in her head that was responding and kind of pretending.

Robert Strock: (15:30)
She was really saying what she was feeling. She would have said, you guys are wiping me out and what made it even, I don’t know whether it’s worse or better, but more dramatic if she would do make the best efforts with the kids. But at the time her husband came home, she was a wasteland. So it was really injuring their marriage. So this led to a three or four-year process, no quick fix, where she started to see more lucidly that she needed to take breaks. And they were very fortunate, unlike a lot of families and mothers who can’t afford to have help, but she saw that she needed to have breaks built in whether it was her husband, uh, or whether it was a family, relative or whether it was somebody that she hired. And she needed to set up her day so that she only was really there for a couple of hours at a time.

Robert Strock: (16:34)
And she, it was almost mathematical as to how much she lifted out of that depression. Uh, I mean, just realizing that she wasn’t a bad mom, which I told her that even with what she was doing, she still was a let’s call it a better than normal mom. She wasn’t raising the kids or criticizing the kids, she was supportive, she was reliable, she was steady, she did love them. She just couldn’t love them for more than two hours at a steady dot. So we framed the word and again, keep in mind the importance of words we started out with. Could she take some space, but we changed the word to, could she make her space a sanctuary and really view it as being like a refueling station for her heart and her soul so that she could love her kids more. And she cried when she first heard that, can I really view this as a sanctuary?

Robert Strock: (17:41)
Can I really view this as a motivation to love my kids more? And then it became obvious that it was, I mean, that, that fairly fast. So after this period of gradual improvement, gradual improvement, she started to see that the real feeling was inadequacy and the self-rejection was the depression. It’s a very common thing. And very often the challenging emotion you see may have a challenging, uh, sorry, the challenging emotion that you have may very well be a self-rejection and the challenging emotion you might have to attract further and go the other way around. Whereas we’d be starting with a challenging emotion. Oftentimes it goes the other way around.

David Knapp: (18:26)
I think one of the things you’re, you’re highlighting there, which I identify with is her definition of what a loving mother should be. A loving mother sounds like for her was I should have endless energy all day long to be there for everybody, especially her children. And when they’re, when she’s done with that, then her husband. And I identify with that in so many ways relative to, to being there for others at the exclusion of my own needs. And just wanted to highlight again how important it is to see at the beginning of those feelings, how our conditioning, our definition, our, our life experiences, um, lead us here.

Robert Strock: (19:12)
Yeah. And I would say in her situation, what you’re saying is true in a situation with a, with a lower-income family, the solution isn’t going to be getting to have a sanctuary. The solution is going to be developing self-compassion and talking about it and not feeling the shame and the inadequacy because you’re exhausted and you have to use will, and being able to get the feedback, how heroic the mothers are that are doing it 12 hours a day or 15 hours a day, because some of them may have been more matter of fact, some of them definitely were more inclined to be full-time mothers, but she was a professional woman and she really wasn’t designed that way. And I think probably at least half of women are designed that way. And the ones that don’t have the option of having a sanctuary, they really need to cultivate, is there anything I can realistically do more? And the answer is no.

Robert Strock: (20:29)
Now the next question would be, is there anything I could be more? And the answer was, yes, which is I could be more compassionate. I could be more caring. I could be more kind. I could be more open. I could seek more allies. And so it’s so important that we see sometimes the potential can be for one person having a sanctuary and another one it’s going to be really recognizing what a heroic feat it is just free-associating for a second. If we look at throughout history, there’s never been a time where the nuclear family of four people, without relatives, living nearby, having a sense of community where the pressure is. So on the new mothers, it’s not new anymore. It’s been going on for 50, 60 years, but the mothers that have to take it on, it’s gotten worse because people have moved more and more away from their original location.

Robert Strock: (21:38)
But this is a very important message that in some way you could make a good case, whether you went back to other continents where they had a whole community that was taking care of the kids, or back to America, where they had 10, 12, 15 people where you could drop the kids off at, at your sisters or your brothers, or your husband, or wife, sisters, or brothers, and you’d have four or five or six options. And then you’d have two or three kids they play with each other, or one person would watch the two infants or three infants. And the burden wouldn’t have been there to have to spend 15 hours. So right now that’s part of the understanding of, of why this is such an important example for all mothers, to realize that you’re being asked to do a Herculean event for years, you know, in most cases for almost two decades, in some cases, more than two guys, please.

Robert Strock: (22:38)
So another example is a client that came in feeling really inadequate as a lover. And in reality, from let’s just say, even ordinary standards, he wasn’t wrong. He, he, wasn’t very loving, very successful, successful attorney, and really didn’t know what to do. So I asked him, you know, what makes you feel like you’re inadequate? And he said, well, I feel like I’m not a very good lover. I feel like I don’t have enough energy to really take an interest in my wife and it’s bumming me out. And I think it’s affecting our kids. And thankfully she’s a great mother. So she’s picking up a lot of my slack, but I realized it’s like, she has three kids, even though I’m paying the bills, so we explored his childhood and this is very important for anyone that’s looking for deep healing in this way. And he had a mother that was so invasive and I had the, I guess I’d call it the pleasure of meeting her once to validate the truth of this, that everything was about her.

Robert Strock: (24:12)
And she was constantly telling him how he should be, what he should do, what he’s doing wrong. And it left him in a state of massive withdrawal. And of course, he hated being withdrawn. And my statement was, you know, it’s perfectly natural for you to feel like your wife is going to be demanding. And that you’ve, that you’re going to want to be more withdrawn because you could, you see women as being a bottomless pit of need and you’re mature enough to be seeking a different possibility. So he started asking, what way can I feel more adequate? And again, it was over a period of years, he realized he had compensated for his avoidance of relationship into compulsively, achieving as an attorney and endlessly being on that quest being super successful over here and being super failure over here. And it became obvious that he needed to come home at regular hours, needed not to carry the work in his brain.

Robert Strock: (25:29)
And this took a long while to rewire his focus and start to experience the rightness. And I use the word rightness for an important reason. He didn’t do it from his feelings. At first, he knew it was the right thing to do to come home early and spend time with kids. But he didn’t really enjoy it because he also felt like they were a bottomless pit of needs. So he was projecting that on everyone that he was attached to very closely or living with. So it moved from a feeling of rightness to a feeling of some closeness in gradually to a feeling of intimacy or an experience of intimacy. But it’s something that highlights the importance of your challenging and feeling almost invariably coming from your condition. So one of the other clues is, am I feeling inadequate because I didn’t get married at the right time?

Robert Strock: (26:35)
Am I feeling inadequate because I didn’t have kids at the right time? Am I feeling inadequate because I’m not as pretty as my sister? And I, and my feeling inadequate, I didn’t make as much money as my father, am I feeling inadequate because I wasn’t educated? And you start to see that a lot of your feelings are really rooted in your original conditioning. And most importantly, from what we’re talking about in this episode is it leaves you frozen in a feeling, it’s challenging. And if you don’t identify the challenging feeling and you don’t identify the self-rejection, it’ll be on your tombstone. I died someone that didn’t live an intimate life with anybody that was close to me. And I was mega-successful, highly thought of by the world. I was a supremely successful attorney, and I took care of my family on an economic level, at the highest level that one could virtually do.

Robert Strock: (27:39)
And I was an utter failure in my experience of intimacy. It also led to a number of conversations about the way he had sex. And he just wanted to get it over, cause, you know, he was afraid that he was inadequate and he was inadequate. And so it was not me judging him. It was the fact that his sex lasted 25 seconds and it was about his orgasm period and it was fast and he tried to go slow, okay, have foreplay, to have connection. But that to him meant being sucked into a vacuum cleaner, being in quicksand. And so it required an understanding and an acceptance of how natural it was for him to be aversive, to be withdrawn, and to be compulsive and devoted to his work. So I hope for all of you, as you identify your challenging emotions, that you have a very clear insight as to how much it connects to your original conditioning and that you can have a conversation with the challenging emotions, saying, hello challenging emotion, hello inadequacy.

Robert Strock: (29:09)
It’s totally understandable why you’re there, but you’re no longer the boss because I actually am an autonomous adult with wise voice that wants to live a fulfilling life. I don’t want you to run my life and you’re going to have to deal with me for the rest of life. And I know I might not be able to eliminate you, but I can see that you are not serving my life. So we’re talking about developing the ability to speak from your essential needs. And one of the essential needs is wisdom, autonomy, generosity. And he was able to see that those needs were more important than being a provider and successful and validated for that. So for most of us, we live an imbalanced life in one way or another. And so having the courage to see the challenging emotion and the self-rejection that leaves us, opens the door for the rest of our life to value life more and more potentially every year we’re alive because we can gain more wisdom. And that’s certainly what I wish for everyone listening and everyone in the world that if that were to happen and we weren’t suppressing our challenges, and we were realizing there are challenges, it would lessen or eliminate war. It would lessen or eliminate poverty. It would lessen or eliminate global warming. It would deepen love. And how can any of us really long for much else than that? Thank you very much.

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