When we get hit with big life changes or heavy emotional challenges, the tendency to get caught up in them is very natural. We have a need to talk about things…to vent and to make sense of the situation. Sometimes we’re looking for a glimmer of hope, other times we want validation for the strong emotions we’re feeling. Venting and talking things through can be essential for us to cope and find eventual closure. But let me give you a few ground rules that can help keep the process healthy.
First of all, recognize that it takes time to process your emotions and don’t rush it. You need to deal with your pain in your way and on your schedule.
Second, decide ahead of time who are the best people for you to talk to. When we’re very emotional we often vent to whoever is willing to listen and this could be a very big mistake! Select only those who can be objective and will truly have your best interests at heart. There’s a saying that “My enemy’s enemies are my friends”. That may or may not be true. Talking to someone with similar gripes can thwart your progress as they have their own issues and may only add fuel the very fire you’re attempting to extinguish.
Do not, and I repeat, do NOT just talk to anyone who will listen. Select your confidantes carefully and practice NOT speaking to anyone else about your problem. Often it’s a good idea to talk to a therapist who can be most objective about your issue and can give you skills and insights that your friends and family may not be able to offer. Because they love you, family and friends want to defend you, which is admirable. It sure feels great when they want to beat up the bully for you, but it may not be in your best interests in the long run. Once you forgive your offender, they may not and that can cause some future friction.
Consider these criteria for choosing a confidante:
They should hold values that you respect and be able to be trusted to keep things confidential. And that means that they’ve demonstrated that ability in the past, not that they just promise to. They need to be mature -and I don’t mean simply age. Maturity may be defined by the ability to effectively guide emotions by reason. Hence you need someone who can understand your feelings and offer sound solutions but not get caught up in sentimentality.
Limit the number of people with whom you discuss your problem and scale it back as time moves forward. I remember a time years ago when I was dreadfully hurt by someone who had hurt me many times before. I had had it and decided it was time to shut the door. I knew I needed to talk about it but also knew from past experience how all consuming it could become, so I made a decision. I decided that for the first week I would talk to whoever would listen and allow myself to cry and be miserable. The second week I would still allow myself to cry, but would talk to only one or two people and redirect the subject with the rest. The third week I decided I would no longer discuss it, but would still allow myself to process the emotions. After that week I would remind myself of my decision, change the channel in my head when it came up and focus on more positive things and people in my life. I was amazed at how well it worked!
Now, I’m not suggesting there should be any arbitrary time limit in which to resolve such emotional challenges. In my case it was a last straw and I ended the relationship. In many other cases it’s not nearly that simple. A bitter divorce doesn’t truly end things when children are involved and each day can bring a new trouble. Chronic health issues also need to be dealt with on an ongoing basis. But the basic lesson here still applies: Change the channel in your head! Decide to focus on more positive things and decide to whom you will talk and when. Resist the urge to continue to give everyone the play by play update each time you speak.
Often the simplest and most effective change is changing the venue. Take a break from your troubles. Get out of your routine and surroundings. Do something different…go to the beach, watch a funny movie, play a game. Instead of only sticking with those who know what you’re going through, sometimes it’s very helpful to get together with friends who have no idea but can offer you some enjoyment and fun. A wise mother once remarked that “dust keeps” so spend time with your kids and don’t worry so much about cleaning. Unfortunately, troubles keep too and they’ll likely still be there after your break…but your ability to handle them will be better.
Jesus gave us two important messages: “I came that they may have life, and have it to the full” and “In this world you will have troubles, but take heart, I have overcome the world”. Draw closer to Jesus in prayer…and during hard times especially, draw closer to Him with praise. Transferring the focus from our problems to His magnificent power and mercy is the best channel change you can make.
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