By Michael Kline
Mindset is crucial to success and happiness. It’s no wonder so many coaches, trainers and helping professionals rush to help clients find a positive mindset. Certainly, there is a time and place for finding the hidden gift in negative events, for finding the silver lining or even gratitude for events that initially feel painful. I totally get it and I have over-used positivity training myself. It is helpful to remember that emotions are our natural feedback system. Avoiding negative emotions is like ignoring the check-engine light in your car. Missing negative emotions allows them to fester, grow and show up in seemingly unrelated ways making our lives more difficult.
According to Vipassana Meditation training, 2500 years ago, the Buddha taught that if we resist negative feelings, they expand. If we pursue the positive sensations, they dissipate. The desire to control our emotions gets us exactly the opposite of what we want. Carl Jung taught that what we resist not only persists but expands. Dr Deb Sandella, founder of the RIM Institute, teaches that emotions flow through the body like water flowing through a river. Our resistance to negative feelings is like throwing a boulder into the river – building a dam that blocks our natural emotional flow.
So, it is critical that we allow the negative feelings to be fully felt, give us the necessary feedback, express what needs to be expressed, and only then, we can simply allow them to dissipate organically and naturally. What won’t work with negative feelings, is what I call the three W’s that people tend to prefer – White-Washing, Walking Away or Wishing.
- Let’s start with White-Washing. This could also be called “looking on the bright side”. Do any of these phrases sound familiar? They don’t deserve you anyway! You’ll land on your feet. I’m sorry he/she/they dumped you, I’m sorry about your diagnosis – you must stay positive! I’m sorry for your loss – they’re in a better place now. I’m so sorry you lost your job, that must feel awful. Maybe this is a chance to look at your passions and find something you like better! You get the idea – think of any bad news you’ve ever experienced, and the corresponding cliché’s you heard from friends and family. It’s all well-intended, but usually not helpful from a coach or therapist. Indeed, there may be a silver lining, and there may eventually be gratitude, but only after the pain has had a chance to be felt, experienced, and processed. Our job is to provide the space and safety for the feelings, the expression and natural dissipation.
- Next, let’s look at Walking Away – moving away from what is painful is perfectly natural, and it is natural for us to want to help our clients move toward the positive. Remember, what we resist not only persists, but expands. Waking away, also called “leading the horse to happiness”, is having a happy destination for our client – and asking leading questions that will help them discover the path to happiness. This seems better than telling them how to feel, because it creates the illusion that the client is in charge of their experience and self-healing. How do we know that our questions aren’t just manipulating them toward the destination we assumed was desired? Is it possible, we are helping their resistance? Are we accidentally helping them hold on to even more long-term pain?
- Finally, we know that Wishing them Away won’t dissolve negative emotions. Yet, if we attempt positivity tools prematurely, that’s all we’re really doing - wishing and hoping. Affirmations, visualizations, spending time with positive people, avoiding the news, mirror exercises, gratitude work, etc. are all excellent ideas. Done prematurely, these are ineffective on larger emotional issues and rarely touch on root causes. Remember the analogy of building a dam in the river of emotions? If the dam is blocking flow, all this other work is like trying to send the negative emotions back up stream. Let’s remove the dam and allow the negative emotions to flow, and the positive emotions will flow and expand on their own. So, when you hear or speak expressions like “trusting the Universe, giving it up to your higher power, everything happens for a reason, somethings are just fate, etc.” check to make sure you aren’t helping your client wish away the negative feelings that just want to flow downstream.
Mindfulness training, or a ten-day silent Vipassana retreat will help you start to experience more of this for yourself. RIM training provides the experience as well as the skills to work this way with clients. If this appeals to you, learn more about RIM at www.intus.life/rim or how to learn the skills yourself at www.intus.life/learn-rim. Also, you can join our free live Zoom webinar and experience RIM for yourself. I generally do them a couple times per week. If the dates don’t align, sign up anyway and we will invite you to a future event. Sign up here.