The majority of this blog post is my interpretation of the book The Secret Language of Feelings by Calvin D. Banyan. This is part 2 of 2 blog posts. If you haven’t read part 1 yet, click here to read it.
Remember from last week that primary feelings are experienced to signal you as soon as a need, want, or desire becomes significantly unsatisfied. Primary feelings feel uncomfortable and can become increasingly painful if you don’t figure out what the signal is telling you.
When your child start abusing substances, it’s natural to become fearful.
Fear is a voice inside you saying I think something bad is going to happen. Fear is also at the root of all the other primary feelings. It’s the root of all discomfort and emotional pain you experience.
If you don’t see it as a message and figure out what need isn’t being met, then you will be stuck in your pain or the frustrating cycle of distraction.
If you think habitual fearful thoughts, they become a program your brain runs on auto pilot. You don’t have the cycle of negative thoughts because something is wrong with you. You have it because you have a human brain and that’s what human brains default to.
You can’t just decide to think new happy thoughts though. You have to choose believable thoughts and go through a process of figuring out why you were thinking the original fearful thoughts in the first place.
I like to use questions to challenge negative thoughts that don’t serve me. They can be simple questions like why am I thinking this? Do I want to keep thinking this? Can I change the story I’m telling myself? Is this true? Is it possible I’m wrong? These are easy questions, but they get your brain off autopilot and engage your prefrontal cortex.
Here’s another way to work through fear:
- Name the feeling. Is it anxiety, worry, nervousness, insecurity, or something else?
- What’s the cause of the feeling? What are you thinking?
- Do a reality check. Is there really any danger? Fear can range from worry about looking foolish, test anxiety, or an actual physical threat. If there’s a real threat take action. If there’s something you can prepare to do for the situation like studying, then get started.
What happens if you don’t work through your fear or the other primary feelings? The secondary feeling of frustration.
Sometimes the answer to frustration is to stop trying. In the case of your child’s addiction, if you are trying to change them and getting frustrated because you are focused on someone else and not addressing your primary feelings then stopping is the answer. Stop trying to change them and focus on yourself and your needs. Remember, frustration is the red flag that what you’re doing isn’t working!
If you don’t figure out how to meet your needs over time the primary feeling plus frustration can intensify to the point of being intolerable. This will cause a greater urge to distract.
Remember from last week that distracting is doing something that momentarily distracts us but doesn’t meet the need of the primary feeling. The urge or cravings for distraction become stronger and more compelling. This is how substance use can start for someone who doesn’t know how to manage their feelings.
When the pain you’re suffering becomes greater than your nervous systems can tolerate, the body kicks in with the tertiary feeling of depression. Depression is a voice inside you saying I quit, it hurts too much to continue to try anymore.
Think of depression as the safety valve nature has provided you to save you from continuing your fruitless efforts. It wants you to rest and replenish. Depression is not the problem. It’s only a symptom of the problem.
Depression is a way to save you from self-destruction, not to cause it. It’s a call to face the reality of your life and how you haven’t satisfied your own needs. It requires you to be willing to experience your uncomfortable feelings while looking for a response that will be truly satisfying to you.