What To Do When It’s All Too Hard
We’ve all experienced the reality check of a hard or difficult moment. We’re familiar with the bitch slap sensation. You wouldn’t be human if you haven’t experienced this.
When hard shows up in your life, it can feel and look like overwhelm, stuck, or lost. You find yourself feeling reactive. There’s very little capacity to thrive in this situation.
When those reactive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings arrive, we often fail to recognize that we’ve simply activated an unconscious neurological survival program. This subliminal program runs unconsciously in order for you to defend yourself.
All humans all experience moments that can challenge us to the core of our being. Healing from our reaction to these hard moments is how we learn, grow and evolve — because we don’t want to continue feeling the slap.
Growing from the lessons learned is how we evolve, mature, and adults.
This reactive neurological defense program was created in response to a past experience, and it’s often created during our formative years. When the reaction is activated, the signal to our body is “This is not safe”.
As an adult, the slap of this reaction infers you simply don’t have the internal resources or capacity to immediately respond to what life throws your way. So our brain literally switches you into survival. The result is you either fight, flee or freeze.
It’s that simple, and complicated.
As a therapist, I hear a lot of disturbing stories. There are so many humans experiencing life without a functional moral compass or a competent neurological system that enables the client to relax. This is a learned behavior, and it’s been well practiced at a subliminal level.
What experiences you have witnessed, and your reactions to those moments remain intact until you work through that reaction. This is how we formulate beliefs about various things that happen to us.
No one is perfect. We all have slap experiences.
And I know that referencing a crappy childhood to explain away bad behavior is no excuse. But witnessing someone in the midst of a hard moment does allow me to have compassion and do my job well.
For me, the clinical days that can feel hard, are those when I hold space for minors who have experienced sexual assault by a parent. It’s simply one of those topics that trigger my own survival reactions.
But here’s the thing, this type of work is incredibly rewarding as well. To see a child and their family flourish after assault makes this job worthwhile. In fact, I’m doing this as a dis-service by referencing it as a job. This is my calling. Most days, the harder the story is to hear, the better work I do.
I’m sure this analogy is true for most types of employment — when you can overcome the hard days, you’re really accomplishing something incredibly positive in your life.
When you’re currently experiencing a moment where life is hard, it can feel extremely isolating. You look somewhat normal on the outside, but inside you, there can be a myriad of overwhelming negative thoughts, feelings, and turmoil. You can feel like you’re being bitch slapped across the face with a dead fish.
1. Practice the pause
Use Practice the Pause to begin the process of acknowledging when you have activated your survival reaction. This is a mindful breathing exercise that buys you time to recenter yourself and bring yourself back into the present moment.
Remember your survival reaction activates an unresolved feeling process from your past. When you can bring your nervous system back into the present moment, you are creating a choice point — a positive space to heal, a space to change.
This method also provides a lovely way to introduce rules of conversation to navigate your survival reaction.
Once you’ve calmed yourself, a small act of self-love is just what is in order to reinforce you are in fact safe. You could start with something as simple as a forgiveness statement to yourself “I’m so sorry you thought that”.
This type of conversation is actually consciously engaging your inner child, that part of your psyche that observes everything you think and feel.
If this is too confrontational, try a short walk, a brief meditation or even a glass of water. Leave the trigger space and change your visual surroundings.
Any small action that supports you feeling better will do. This does not include bingeing on sugar or drinking alcohol — this is when you attach your unresolved emotions to the substance and create dependence habits.
3. Talk it out
Talk about whatever is pushing your buttons. Talk it all out to someone you trust. Share your feelings, thoughts, fears and worries with a trusted friend, family member or health professional.
Talking is one of the fastest ways to defuse the emotional component of a survival reaction. The key is to not overburden a single individual repeatedly, nor spread your trigger story to everyone you know.
4. Take a break
When we feel triggered and have activated our defensive survival reaction, there’s little capacity to focus or concentrate. There’s simply too much of the cognitive processing pathways shut down when you’re in survival.
Sometimes, you simply have to leave the space, place or person who has triggered you. Walk away. Refresh the scenery you’re looking at.
This forces the brain to switch back to rest-and-digest when you have to process your new surroundings. This is a beautiful and gentle way to reset your nervous system as well as your peripheral visual field — this enables you to see your reality through clear lenses.
Gift yourself a couple of minutes to settle the heart rate. Only once feeling calm and safe, do you then have the capacity to acknowledge you’ve been triggered. It’s at this point you can ask yourself “What do I need right now?”
5. Write it down
Writing about what is inside your head is extremely useful when it’s difficult to find your words. It’s like siphoning off the pressure from a cooking pot.
Journalling can become quite meditative and also defuses the subconscious mechanism of overthinking. It’s the best form of purging the sting of that bitch slap.
Once your shizzle has been written down on paper, it’s no longer performing race laps inside your head!
6. Reflect on what is in your control
When we are triggered, we tend to dramatize everything inside our heads. Our mental energy escalates, and we can overthink and overanalyze. Repeat this mental anguish, and we begin to develop unconscious fears.
When you’re practicing your pause, you get to ask yourself the following:
- is this actually real or imagined?
- what does this feeling relate to?
- What action can I acknowledge is my responsibility or in my control to resolve?
- What is out of my control?
The reality is, if you’re not in control of the outcome then you have to shelf the thoughts. Acknowledge the discomfort you’re feeling. Breathe and allow yourself to resign to the fact there’s nothing you can do.
7. Be nice to yourself
At some point, there must come a time when you have to be nice to yourself. Because if you aren’t kind to yourself, who will be?
The damage of negativity associated with shame, blame, or guilt isn’t just a feeling. It impacts the beliefs we have of ourselves as an individual.
It’s one thing to have a bad day or week. But continue within the discomfort and heaviness of this type of unconscious emotional energy and you’re risking creating patterns that lead to symptoms of depression and autoimmune disease.
Whilst we may not have a choice who raises and influences us during childhood, we are absolutely in control of how we parent ourselves as an adult.
8. Take a step back
Removing yourself from hard situations gifts you the opportunity to breathe purposefully. A fresh view of your reality often enables you to quietly reflect on the challenge or situation with a different perspective.
When you gift yourself some space, you implement self-soothing techniques. You can also ask yourself “What do I need right now at this moment?”
9. Focus on the positive
We all experience those days when it is hard. When you can acknowledge all that you are feeling and responsible for, there’s only one thing to do — seek to find something positive.
Sometimes this can be as simple as acknowledging that the old reaction is no longer relevant. Those thoughts and feelings are merely a habit and not actually relevant anymore.
Sometimes proactively reframing something negative into a positive can literally have the power to turn your frown upside down.
You can’t avoid the bitch slap of life from those hard moments. However, you can choose to change, and rewire your survival reaction. You can learn how to defuse the sting of that slap. With practice, you can thrive once again.
Karen Humphries is a Kinesiology Practitioner, Health & Business Coach, LEAP & NES Practitioner, Intuitive Meditation Facilitator, and published author. She is a self-confessed laughaholic. She loves being of service to the world with her humorous and positive approach to life, encouraging people to ‘choose to change and bloom from within.’