When I saw him for his recent therapeutic coaching session, Peter described himself as feeling ‘level.’
It was, he said, a good feeling, and quite different to the emotional highs and lows he’d experienced over the last few years, when life events seemed to have run away with him. A series of losses and bereavements had turned Peter into an angry man who had looked for someone, or something, to blame. He raged at the world and anyone who got in his way.
The constant anger finally drained him of all his energy. He crashed and burned and sought out the advice of his GP, who suggested antidepressants. Peter knew instinctively this was not the answer and came along for some talking therapy instead.
When people feel stressed, distressed or depressed, talking to someone else can help; talking to someone who has a range of therapeutic skills and tools, can help a whole lot more.
I took Peter through an exercise which helped him let go of his anger for good. The anger had served its purpose; it got him through a very difficult time but now it was time to put it down and leave it behind. The anger wasn’t working any more.
Talking to someone represents a ‘recovery model’ of mental health. Psychiatrists and GPs generally use the ‘medical model’, which often pathologises the wide range of human responses to life events, to the extent that 1 in 4 of us is now regarded as mentally ill at any one time. Over the last 50 years, it seems, the bar to normality has been set ever lower.
But it is the primary role of our emotions to help us. Our emotions are our friends.
Even the distressing or uncomfortable feelings are either pushing us towards, or pulling us away, from something or someone, in an attempt to keep us alive, keep us safe or to help us to get our needs met.
It is true to say that, travelling through the ups and downs of the human landscape can sometimes feel like being on a runaway train, careering over the summit of the next steep hill and into the deepest of valleys of despair. We get so caught up in our thoughts, emotions and behaviours that they seem to have a life of their own.
We imagine we have no choice, but that is just an illusion. We have more power and control than we realise.
Sometimes, we are so close; we can’t see what is hiding in plain sight. Sometimes, we need someone else to help us to step back, see the bigger picture and reclaim control of our thoughts, our emotions and our lives.
The exercise that was so helpful for Peter is known as ‘dissociation and reframing.’ It works through use of metaphor and imagery. It acknowledges the positive intention of an emotion or behaviour. It’s powerful and surprisingly easy to do.
It helped Peter let go of his anger but it can help with a wide range of other behaviours too. So why don’t you get the crayons out and try a bit of adult colouring that really does work.
How to let go for good
- Name the behaviour, that part of you that behaves in that way.
- What is the positive intention of that part?
- What purpose has it served?
- If it had a shape, colour, name, what would it look like, sound like, smell like, feel like, or move like?
- Can you draw a picture of it?
- Ask how else those needs could be met. What other resources do you have?
- Make a list of or draw a picture of those resources i.e. humour, intelligence, maturity, tenacity.
- Thank that old part for trying to help you in the past.
- Reassure that old part that you have other ways now of getting your needs met
- Visualise that part agreeing, smiling back at you. Draw a smiling face on that part.
- Give that old part permission to stand down now
- Allow those identified resources to fill the gap left by that old part
- Have a ritual or identify the preferred way of finally letting go of or reintegrating that old part