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Sporadic photos and notes from a Psyche-midwife, cheerleader, anthropologist--aka clinical social worker in therapy practice. Photos are usually mine except for those of historical events/famous people. Music relevant to the daily topic is often included in a web video embedded below the blog. Click on highlighted links in the copy to get to source or supplemental material. For contact information, see my website @ janasvoboda.com or click on the button to the right below. Join in the conversation.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Resolution #30: Resist Reactivity

I got to Oregon indirectly.  I fell in love with the Willamette Valley while visiting a hospitalized friend many, many years ago.  He'd been severely injured in an auto accident.  I stayed a few weeks as he drifted in and out of coma and slowly began his recovery from a traumatic brain injury.  I knew then that this was where I wanted to live.  He came to visit us a few years after we moved here, long after his accident.  We went to eat at  Nearly Normal's, a local restaurant.  It was an appropriate choice.  During the meal we talked about our lives over the ensuing years.  When I told him a funny story, his laughter filled the room. When I talked about hardships, so did his tears.  His intense reactions were so unusual that a waiter came to ask him if everything was all right.  He replied earnestly:  "Don't worry, it's just brain damage."

A common sequela of brain injury is a "emotional disinhibition", or lack of  squelching of our full emotional range.  But the truth is, there's a big variation in individual emotional expression.  Some of us are pretty contained.  Our ecstatic and our distressed don't look all that different.  Maybe I shouldn't say "us" here-- I have a much larger range.  Think of it like singing-- some people have a musical range (distance between the lowest and highest note they can sing) of maybe an octave and a half.  Others may have four, even five.  Everything in between is pretty much average. 

Back to our subject.  Our emotional reactivity-- or range-- can get us in big trouble.  If we underreact to important things (think denial, numbness), we get in trouble.  But more often, it is our over-reaction that causes harm.  We think the worst and suffer in advance about consequences that never happen.  We are sure we cannot withstand discomfort than in hindsight we barely remember.

Here's the visual I use with clients.   I call it the Drama Dial.   Think of a meter like the top 50% of a clock.  Imagine it divided into thirds.  On the left side is numbness, coldness, deadness.  But when we are dysregulated, we are usually way over on the far third.  We feel crazy, anxious, fiery.  Our thoughts and behaviors are impulsive and disorganized. Our goal at this time should be to get back to the middle.  I picture the Dalai Lama, with his incredibly peaceful smile.  He looks like a bomb could go off and he would say-- hmm, that was loud.

The goal is that sort of compassionate observation, without reactivity. 

And this is the vision.  To get to Door Number Two, that place in the middle where we can with calm curiosity look at the messes we are making.  And we can decide on new paths. 

When you are thinking of making changes in your life, and are filled with dread and discomfort, imagine yourself dialing things back down.  Imagine you are the eye in the hurricane, watching all the fearsome action but filled with still and quiet.  Observe your narrative about your fears of change, your clinging to Known.  Like the Dalai Lama, look at yourself with total love and compassion.  Forgive yourself for the disasters of your emotional thinking and open your heart to the possibility of positive change.

One to go!
Many, many thanks to you who have written comments about this 31 day journey.  They have lifted my spirit and kept me moving.
Today's vid:

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