In television series X-Files, the two main characters are FBI Detectives Dana Scully and Fox Mulder. Scully is the no nonsense skeptical PhD scientist, and Mulder is the passionate believer, famous for saying “The truth is out there, somewhere.” Over time, Scully begins to believe Mulder’s assertion that there are indeed, aliens and that yes, the government has covered it up for years.
Scully often debates with Mulder, posing alternatives to his “wild theories.” At times, however, she cannot provide any scientific explanation for what she is seeing. She finds herself asking the question, “What am I seeing, Mulder?” I imagine the question is both to double check that Mulder has not lost his sanity… and that she has not lost her own.
“What am I seeing, Mulder?”
There is a lot of truth to what Scully is doing by asking what her FBI partner is seeing. She is avoiding the urge to stay stuck in her head, or in her emotions.
Sometimes we set ourselves up.
Sometimes, our minds can hold onto wild, irrational and reactive ideas. Judgments and criticisms. Inflexible, unhelpful beliefs about ourselves, other people or about how the world works.
We can feel ‘hooked’ or pulled along by thoughts, emotions or by our circumstances. And before we know it, we feel deeply lost in anxiety, or gloom, or self-hate, or suicidal thoughts, or thoughts that say ‘who cares, just use?’
So what can we do?
When I feel hooked by my thoughts or pulled along by my mind’s emotional storms, one of the most helpful things I have found to ground myself is literally just stop. And breathe.
Along with taking a few breaths, I find it helpful to state the obvious and ask myself a few questions…
Name it to tame it
There is a saying in counselling and therapy, “Name it to tame it.”
The idea is simple, and the technique is attributed to Psychiatrist and author, Daniel Siegel.
Name what is on your mind, what you are stressing over, what is bothering you, what you are holding onto, and what is holding on to you. Naming is important for several reasons:
- Naming gives you permission. It is a way that you can acknowledge what you are facing. Naming what you are facing or feeling can make something vague, upsetting and nebulous (“It’s everywhere”) feel a little clearer.
- Naming is compassionate, because instead of holding on to your emotions… and your sensations of stress and anxiety… and your thoughts that you are somehow flawed or stupid or defective because you are having such a hard time… you just acknowledge how hard things feel.
- Naming is a way to use language to help you, rather than dwell in self-judgment or harsh criticism. Our minds are constantly thinking, commenting and chattering. When we give our mind’s a job to do, they tend to be a little more focused.
At least… that’s what my wife tells me every Saturday when she hands me a list of weekend jobs.
You may recall the origin story from Genesis, where God asked Adam to name the creatures of the earth to see what he would name them. This wasn’t just a story of classifying farm animals. God was trying to help Adam to adjust to his new world, to see beyond his confusion or uncertainty.
In some ways, we have not changed much since Adam and Eve. In spite of being busy, or surrounded by other’s, we can still feel alone… overwhelmed… confused.
It’s like we are standing there, right beside Adam… in front of a strange world, unexpected circumstance, or overwhelming storm of thoughts/moods.
–We can breathe
-We can feel our feet and take a moment to just stand wherever we are
-We can name what we see, name what we feel, name the thoughts we are having (even if they seem irrational, stupid or ‘crazy’ to us)
-And we can find a companion, someone we can talk to
Simple, but difficult
I hate this picture. I feel as though I am right there. My anxiety spikes because part of my mind tells me that I am the one standing 200 free-falling-feet in the air. My mind tells me that the glass will break and I will fall.
As you can see (and perhaps you may feel the same way…), naming may seem simple but it can be challenging to consistently apply.
Life can be very challenging. You may have faced a lot of circumstances lately. Perhaps, in this, cut yourself some slack. Be kind to yourself.
Be kind to yourself, because life is not going to work like it is supposed to work. (We like to tell ourselves that…) Life is supposed to get easier, more stable, more do-able. But in reality, life will feel more and more complex, seem more and more overwhelming, and our minds will think that life is just impossible. Life finds a way to tear up your plans, no matter how well you pray, how much you plan, or both!
Like Adam, there will always be unexpected circumstances. Things that seem to defy description. That is because the next moment is yet to be experienced. It is unknown.
What do you do when life hooks you, or when it pulls you into overwhelming moods or thoughts or triggers? Remind yourself to take a breath and to feel your feet wherever they are. Name what you see, what you feel. And talk about it.
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This post is not a substitute for therapy or mental health support. If you or someone you care about is in need of psychological support, please speak to a competent, qualified professional.
I invite you to read a related piece that I wrote, “You Can’t Beat Up Your Inner Critic.”
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Keep it Real
Article first appeared on smswaby