Monday, April 25, 2016

Useless Emotions

I really loved this post (linked by SHU) about frustration. In a nutshell, he describes frustration as a result of reality not matching with the "stories we tell ourselves" about how things SHOULD be. And that to eliminate frustration, you have to just let go of the "shoulds" and be in the moment as it is. What I got out of it is that: 1) yeah, easier said than done and 2) in most circumstances, ongoing frustration is pretty useless and serves only to make me miserable.

Notice I said "most" and "ongoing" and I think those qualifiers are important because like all negative emotions, frustration can also alert as to something in our life that needs to be changed. Frustration can also lead to creativity and innovation when we actively endeavor to find a way around the frustrating event. But I think we can all admit that most of our frustration is aimed at things we can't or don't want to change. We have no intention whatsoever in eliminating the source of the frustration, we probably want to stop feeling that way, but we don't know how.

I've re-read that post a few times, and each time the advice actually becomes more murky and difficult to make actionable. But the fact that my frustration with certain situations is hurting only myself and created solely in my mind have led me to (want to) manage this feeling better. I'm not into the idea of acknowledging other's "suffering" but I try to attribute positive motivations to their behavior. And then to ask myself "how is this helping me" when I find my anger brewing. And then just letting it go. Thinking about something else, smiling and changing the subject, distraction---whatever works so I don't relive the slight and perseverate until I'm full of justified indignation.

My mother-in-law is here (day 11/22) so I've had a lot of opportunities to practice.

Which brings me to the more damaging, but equally useless emotion--anxiety. Without going into details, I'll say that there is enough history with my MIL to feel justifiably anxious about spending any amount of time with her. So yes, things could go horribly wrong and we could have an encounter that make confrontation-hating me nauseous and panicky. But...then again, maybe not. The amount of time I feel anxious reliving terrible moments from the past and fearing potentially horrible moments in the future is the size of the universe. And the amount of time actively spent in those negative moments is the size of the earth.

And its hurting only me. Its sucking the joy out of MY life, its making my stomach hurt and my sleep terrible and its letting the terrorists win. I used to (sort of still do) have this baffling inner belief that if I worry about something enough, it won't happen. I have SO MANY examples of when this actually happened! When I worried and fretted, and it all went ok and when I FORGOT to worry and look, the terrible thing happened, out of the blue. Obviously, there is recall bias here---I certainly don't remember the times (there must have been?) when I didn't worry and everything worked out.

When I feel the free-floating anxiety rise, I've been reminding myself "Nothing bad is happening right now" and taking a moment to notice something GOOD that is currently in my life. The sunny breezy day, my kids being adorable and loving, etc... And its actually sort of helpful? Not completely---I've been having terrible dreams, and definitely full of nervous energy and cocktails are even more helpful. But its something.


  1. That post resonated with me too. I took from it trying to be more mindful - recognizing that something is "not as its supposed to be" and accepting that & just living in that moment. Not everything has to be awesome all the time, so it's okay to just accept that something is crappy/inconvenient/unfair/difficult rather than getting frustrated.

    But yes, easier said than done. I too have a difficult MIL although mine has never come to visit longer than a few hours. Good luck getting through the rest of the visit b

  2. Ugh about MIL. I dated a guy for 7 years before I met my husband. His sister (and brother in law to a degree) was always nasty to me. It got so bad that every time I had to spend any time with her/them, I started having horrible stomach cramps that wouldn't subside unitl hours after. When boyfriend and I broke up, one of the things I thought, "Thank god I don't have to see her ever again." The problem is that the boyfriend never thought it was a big deal and expected me to "raise above it." Fu*k both him and his sister; him for never standing up for me.

    Why does MIL have to stay so long? It's your house, too (and not just her son's). I would say you have every right to demand respect and a certain code of conduct from guests at your own home. Can't your DH do something about his mother? I mean, if he demanded things from her, I bet she'd comply.

    I am sorry. Awful people are awful. Sometimes (often?) I am happy to love an ocean away from extended family.

    1. Sorry for the typos, I didn't really proofread before posting (e.g., rise above it; have an ocean, etc.)