I asked Sara to write a blog to address the holiday blues especially since the holidays are fast approaching. I want to thank Sara for sharing her knowledge and expertise with us. These guest blogs also allow myself as a creator to engage as a participant in the community. The views of each blogger are specific to their experience, if you have any questions please reach out to the guest for clarification.
Are you… · Low, not yourself, sad? · Inside a bubble at a distance as others excitedly discuss recipes and Black Friday shopping? · Feeling an unexpected tight clinch of jealousy around your heart? · A little fragile, sensitive? · Are anger or irritation simmering uneasily below the surface? · Blah. Weighted? Disconnected? Underwhelmed? Kind of numb? Uninterested? Blue? Your thoughts become your reality. Your feelings cocoon you like a giant hoodie insulating you inside yourself. That uncomfortable feeling: you’ve tried to run from it, using all the ways you’ve survived discomfort before. You’ve tried to pray your blues away or coach yourself out of it. After all, “It’s just a feeling, so get over it. Aren’t you supposed to be happy? What’s wrong with you?”
Identify & Map It© (IMAP) Nearly 15 years ago I learned the practice of NVC, Nonviolent or Compassionate Communication by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg. Soon after, while volunteering for youth camp my walkie talkie crackled to life at 3 am. “Sarabeth, Come now!” I sat with a silent suffering teen. Their eyes shuttered, shoulders slumped, tear tracks running down their cheeks. Feeling stuck when they could not speak their story, I drew a grid labeling the boxes: 1. Observation/what happened, 2. Feelings 3. Core Values/Basic human needs 4. Strategies/Requests for a path forward.
And together we began to untangle their emotional overwhelm. Twenty-nine versions later, the first thing I teach clients in my private practice is Identify & Map It©. Come with me on this open-hearted journey inside the theater of your own mind and heart and body: inside of you, a journey to clarity, a light for the path forward.
Nurture Yourself with Empathy Pause. Slow yourself, breathe, breathe deep. Feel yourself taking in clean air. Come with me to tenderly explore your uncomfortable emotions. Turn your own accepting eyes, warm & kind towards your discomfort. I’ll show you how. Explore. Let’s lean in. Lean towards the foggy unhappiness. Start with what happened. Do you remember when you felt a shift? Was it when you heard a friend’s plans? Did your heart sink when you realized Thanksgiving was only a few days away? Did your chest ache remembering your holidays have changed due to death or loss? Did you look at your debt and calculate you can’t afford to fly home? Or did a door open to memories of being a child — uneasy, bored, unsettled at holiday family gatherings? Are the shadows of the past reaching into your present? Check in with the physical sensations you have. Are you experiencing a heavy chest, a lump in throat, a weight on shoulders or in your belly, an ache in your heart? · Draw a gingerbread man on paper and draw your body sensations with colored pencils: grey, red, yellow, blue, orange. · Use shapes: clouds, zigzags, arrows, boulders, wavy lines to indicate pressure, movement, weight, heat and cold. · Now slow your mind and give those sensations names. Do you feel hurt or is it agitated? Frustrated or perhaps resentful? Disappointed? Heartbroken or regretful? Unease or disconnected?
Name your feelings. Thoughtfully scan a feelings list. Be precise. Naming your feelings turns your mind to curiosity about what is happening inside you. · Practice self-empathy. “I feel lonely, disappointed, worried.” · Pro Tip. “I feel THAT they don’t care” or “I feel LIKE no one wants to be with me” are thoughts, rather than feelings. Of course you feel this way; something big is happening for you — more self-empathy. Naming your feeling does not bring your discomfort to life, it lives already. Saying its name eases its cry as you turn towards it. Like a child that keeps saying, “Mama… Mama! MAMA!” until she answers, your distress eases when its named.
Identify Your Core Values/Basic Human Needs At this holiday, only days away: · Do you value friendship with its sense of knowing and being known? · Do you long for predictability — familiar holiday traditions? · Do you desire the closeness of safe community? · Do you want acceptance when you actually aren’t going to be happy this holiday, and for inclusion: “Yes, please ask me anyway”? Will I be welcome just as I am? · Or is it nonjudgmental presence to mourn for what cannot be changed or perhaps for what never was — a holiday with peace? All these bolded words are Core Values. They are the basic needs of all humans.
Let’s Practice One Possibility Observation: You opened your last credit card bill. You had been hoping you could afford the flights. You calculated the costs involved and realized you could not pay your debt if you added these expenses. You decided not to go home. Thoughts: Is this the last time I could see Grandma? I should have planned. Everyone else has more money than I do. What’s wrong with me? Doesn’t God care? Why didn’t the car wait till next year to break down? Feelings: Perhaps you feel nostalgic, sad, lonely, anxious, disappointed, and/or frustrated. Core Values: Are you longing for celebration, participation, belonging, shared experience, fun, choice?
Requests and Strategies: Where you go from here. Pro Tip. Start with your top 3 values; the ones that feel strongest to you, that generate physical sensations. The front row in the theater of YOU, each seat filled with all the basic human needs. Now, let’s imagine you identify choice, fun and shared experience.
· Choice: Since choice is important for me, how can I facilitate that need being met? o Right now ask yourself, “Am I willing to accept that going home isn’t an option? Am I willing to acknowledge my disappointment and make my own family traditions or join others?? o In the future, “Am I willing to manage my resources/budget so I have the choice to go home.” · Fun: I’ve been working long hours. I value FUN! o “Am I willing to tell my family how much I want to PLAY?” o “Is there a way to set up something online” a game, movie, some crazy fun activity we could do together to make a memory?” o “Am I willing to plan fun with friends in person?” · Shared experience: No one can tell stories like family can about each other. We’ve been through so much together; the best and worst of life. o I could set up a story telling video chat. o I got the box of pictures after Aunt Sue passed away. I can share them and tell family stories. o I wonder who has Aunt Donna’s recipe for butter tarts. o Maybe my brother could do a cooking class. I’ll speak my honesty and leave you with two experiences I have from using IMAP 1000s of times.
1. You make sense! You ALWAYS make SENSE. You are not a mystery, your feelings and behaviors are not random or unexplainable. The feelings may be uncomfortable, and/or your behavior not helpful to your goals and relationships. Yet when you map them, the sense becomes evident.
2. Just like in the Fire Swamp in the movie, The Princess Bride, you may, at first, only see the terrors in your own mind. Yet the safe path forward is there, just beyond your sight. Using Identify & Map It© will help you focus on the deeper needs, yours first, then others and move with peace into your full life.
I’ve chosen one of the lighter examples. But the process works for even deeper and more serious situations. And so it goes: a light shining in the fog, illuminating the path forward.
Sara Felushko Clinical Counsellor