Thursday, April 14, 2011

Relate To, Not From

Do you read the delightful blog Friko's World (formerly Friko's Musings)?  Her post of yesterday and all the ensuing comments are a must read  -  for both the content and the writing.  Friko speaks of feelings of self-doubt and self-criticism we have all experienced at one time or another.  It seems to be a universal tendency to perceive ourselves as sometimes being less worthy than those around us, as 'not good enough'. 

Friko's post reminded me of something I learned many years ago from Stephen Levine, a gentle, modest, mindful soul who shared many of the mental/emotional training skills he taught to help reduce the suffering of patients in palliative care.  Among his many books are:  A Gradual AwakeningWho Dies? Meetings at the Edge; each one full of wisdom and comfort.

Back to one of my favorite teachings of Stephen Levine.  He tells his readers to 'relate TO a feeling, rather than FROM a feeling', especially if it is not a good feeling, or one that will not lead to skillful actions.

So what does that mean, exactly?   Well, let's say I find myself immersed in a feeling of self-doubt or worthlessness.  If I buy into the feeling and believe it, I would be relating to myself and eventually to the world FROM that feeling.  Doubt and worthlessness would be where I would be 'coming FROM' in the way I think about and treat myself and also in the way I interact with others in the world.  BUT, if I can make a simple shift away from relating FROM the feeling, to relating TO the feeling it would look/sound something like this:

"Well there I go again, doubting myself.  It is an old feeling that has its origins in some childhood experiences and is not relevant to the person I am now.  I have accepted that I am a flawed person (like everyone else on the planet) and I love and accept myself regardless.  I have many competencies, that when in this mood, I have difficulty remembering.  I know feelings of worthlessness arise when old wounds get tweaked.  Feelings pass through my body/mind/emotions and are not the truth of who I am.  I acknowledge the feeling but I refuse to give it room to grow.  I have occasional feelings of worthlessness, but I, myself, am not worthless."

By relating TO the feeling you acknowledge its presence and don't go into denial about it.  You explain to the part of yourself that is pained by the feeling, the origins of the emotion and belief, and how based on the way you were treated it probably made perfect sense that the feeling was evoked - there - and then.  It is not the whole truth, and therefore, not appropriate now.  You remind yourself it is a feeling accompanied by thoughts - that you do not have to buy into.  You create some distance between you and the negative feeling/thought.  When you relate TO the feeling and NOT FROM the feeling you have assumed the stance of 'the witness'.  You witness the bumpy ride your emotions cause, rather than getting caught spinning in circles on that not so merry-go-round.

Here is a visual reminder to relate TO and NOT FROM debilitating feelings.  You are welcome to download this image for your archives and use it to help yourself and your loved ones.  My only request is that you do not claim it as your own, and if you use it on your blog make a link back to the source.  :-)  Please click HERE to download the image.

(Yes, for you long-time readers of this blog, I have previously posted about this helpful mental/emotional shift.)



    Wonderful post. And if I may, there are times when I absolutely want to and choose to relate from the feeling - both yay and nay experiences alike. I think the operative word is "choose". I want to come from a place of within and from -. I spent so many years avoiding 'from within'. Not any more.
    Love and respect to you

  2. Gail: Thank you for making that important point. We do need to feel and experience our feelings as they signal us about our life experience, and also for them to 'move on'. This technique of Levine's is to be used with negative states that keep recurring and interfere with our ability to function or experience peace and contentment.

    Isn't it wonderful that no matter what happens in our world or to our body, we retain the ability to choose how, when and what we think and feel. I think Levine recognized that sometimes feeling states do wash over us in spite of our choices, and he provided this technique in order to not be overcome by a feeling state.

    He used it particularly to help people who were dying and experiencing intense fear. If they could relate TO their fear, ('yes, of course, I have fear about dying, and its okay to have fear - but I also want to be able to appreciate some loving moments with my family untarnished by fear'), instead of FROM their fear ('oh no, I can't bear this it is too much').

    But back to your comment, we do need to be careful that we do not use this technique as a way to avoid experiencing our very necessary feelings.

    Thanks so much Gail!

  3. Oh Bonnie - "thank you" for your lovely and well-stated reply to me. You captured my sentiments so well and it means so much to me that you took the time. Wow! And I agree 100% with your insights - and Levine's technique to move from the negative so to make room for other emotions during difficult and/or reoccurring negative feelings that overwhelm us or paralyze our lives.
    Again, "thank you" - I am so happy that I can be honest here.
    Love and high regard

  4. nice. i did read frikos and i like what you add in this...again a discipline you have to work at....

  5. Good reminder --- the other crucial part is feeling the feeling to its dissipation, rather than thinking about the feeling.

  6. One of the first things I was taught in recovery was how to separate "what I feel" from "who I am." Without that separation, it would have been all too easy to fall back into the self-destructive spiral that put me there in the first place.

    And thanks for your comment on my latest blog post. Your rational perspective is much appreciated, as always. Sometimes I need a little reminder that I'm not the superhero I wish I was... :)

  7. Beautiful post! I needed this today! I have a friend in palliative care! He is having a hard time with this new journey and I hope to be of some encouragement. Not only to him but to his family!
    Thanks so much

  8. there was a time in my marriage when things were not going well, there was a lot of anger and sadness, bombarded almost daily with criticism and fault finding. many a night I went to bed with this refrain in my head...I am a good person...over and over. it helped pull me back from the edge of the pit.

    one thing I learned later, much later, is about emotions and not letting them own you.

  9. Your ideas here are so helpful Bonnie. Thank you for sharing them. Connecting to a feeling is a way more positive approach then connecting from a feeling. The "to" part helps you to also, leave it where it lies and move on to a more sunny place. Smiles and hugs.

  10. This is a poignant perspective I need to keep in mind. It seems to carry with it the desire to show empathy?

  11. Paul - Yes, that is exactly the point. By expressing understand about the feeling and its origins, and compassion to the self (you) that endured the experience that produced the feeling - the psyche 'gets' that you are not pushing the feeling away - you are acknowledging it and its sometimes justifiable reasons for being. But you also gently explain to your self that the feeling is no longer helpful, is getting in the way of normal functionning, etc.

    Another of Levine's tender teachings is: "Love yourself as if you were your only child." That would translate into empathic, gentle internal talk about feelings that arise.

    Basically you ACCEPT the feeling(s), without becoming IDENTIFIED with them.

    Thanks for bring up that important point Paul.

  12. Above comment should read: " expressing understandING ..."


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