Ignore me

This is a DBT prompting event worksheet. It’s a way to process feelings, to make sense of what the feelings are saying, and to decide how to wisely respond to the feelings.

I am not in a crisis, not in an abyss, just processing some feelings about several people not answering my direct questions.

Prompting event for my emotion:

I offered (July 18) to play live music for the Twice is Nice Children’s Resale. They have a limited number of vendor booths for area businesses, as well as all the donated clothing and other children’s items. I offered to play without charge, suggested having my CDs available. On July 31, having received no answer, I asked if they had had a chance to consider my offer. I still have received no reply.

There are a number of other unrelated situations in which I’ve asked a direct question and gotten no answer.

Emotion names:

Furious
Insulted
Ashamed
Embarrassed

Interpretations (beliefs, assumptions):

Am I really that ridiculous or awkward? Is it really such a gaffe to think playing dulcimer might be something other people could appreciate? What about the various other things involved in my other questions? Am I supposed to feel embarrassed and ashamed, or is it okay to only feel angry and insulted?

Physical sensations:

Hot, restless

Body language:

Tense

Urges:

To stop talking to everyone, stop asking, offering, stop trying to communicate with people who so obviously can’t be bothered to communicate back.

Actions:

I wrote an email to the Twice is Nice coordinator explaining my disappointment and saying that it is unkind not to give an answer to a direct question. Even if the answer is “no thank you” or “we’ll get back to you on [date],” it’s much better to get an answer than silence.

I haven’t done anything about the other situations beyond asking again.

After effect:

I still feel angry and hurt.

Challenge to the interpretations:

Do I have current actual evidence that people think I’m ridiculous or awkward? It is interesting that that interpretation is the first and strongest one. I usually give the benefit of the doubt at first, figuring people are busy and who knows why they don’t answer, but when there’s a lot of not being answered, when the people involved are obviously doing plenty of other things with other people (just not with me), when waiting for the answer has gone on for a long time, then I start to feel like the people involved must look at me as a freak of some kind and that they wish I would just go away, and that asking again would be not getting their obvious and clear “go away” message, and that asking again would be awkward and embarrassing for them.

I have current evidence that my music is good and that there are some people in the world who really like it.

Emotions and interpretations

I’ve been reading Joe’s blog, the one he and his wife kept while he was going through cancer treatments, up until he died several weeks ago. I just started at the beginning and am slowly making my way through. In his near-daily reflections there’s a lot that I remember hearing in therapy, and it’s good to be reminded.

One post I read today tells a story from Joe’s past when he was feeling burnt out as a therapist and went to complain to a friend. The friend told him he needed to remember who he is in Christ, and assured him of his confidence that the Lord would help him.

My mind has been chewing on the story today, in the background as I play with Amy, make the bed, do the dishes, contemplate how sleepy I am, wonder why I keep getting fraudulent calls purportedly from American Express.

One of the things I learned from Joe is that emotions themselves have no moral value. Whatever you feel, it’s valid — it’s true — it’s real — that is, the feeling is valid, true, and real.

And so, if you’re feeling burnt out, frazzled, in the pit, surrounded by rotten turnips, you can acknowledge those feelings and experience them in their full reality.

At first glance, Joe’s story seems to be contradicting that — you might be tempted to think his friend was telling him to buck up and deal, stop feeling sorry for himself, stop complaining — telling him he was wrong to feel the way he was feeling.

But that’s not quite it. The correction isn’t directed at Joe’s feelings, but at the way he was interpreting them and thus the way he was interpreting reality.

And that totally meshes with what I learned through DBT, particularly the prompting event worksheet. That worksheet has you name your emotion(s), describe your physical and mental state during the emotion(s), list the interpretations you apply to the emotion(s), and then challenge those interpretations as needed.

Most of us resent being told to stop feeling a certain way. My hunch is that most people who give such advice might be confusing feelings with their interpretations.

Another thing. Part of my response to this post of Joe’s was / is to be annoyed with God, and a little dismayed. Isn’t there ever a time when I’m allowed to complain, allowed to acknowledge that not everything bad in my life is my own fault? WITHOUT having to also acknowledge my participation in the bad, my need of repentance, my waywardness? And I have to remember that it isn’t that God is out to make me grovel, to keep me down, to take all possible joy away from me — and that it is exactly his goodness and mercy that allow me to see my sin without despair and excessive grief. Humph. Sort of.

Abandonment

Prompting event for my emotion:

Two different nights as I was lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, a thought about my new therapist jolted me awake.

Emotion names:

Anxiety
Hopelessness
Pointlessness
Dismay
Fear

Interpretations (beliefs, assumptions):

I am beyond help. I cannot be helped by just anyone, but require hard to find and hard to pay for help. I am so difficult that I eventually repulse people who think they want to help me. I cause people to abandon me.

Physical sensations:

Awake, hot, jittery, restless

Body language:

Eyes open, tense

Urges:

To panic, to get up, to give up hope, to despair

Actions:

I continued to lie there, talked myself through my thoughts and feelings, prayed, used my “counting to 5000” distraction / relaxation technique.

After effect:

I relaxed and fell asleep eventually, but still had some lingering wariness and concern.

Challenge to the interpretations:

This therapist seems more professional, capable, and respectful than the two guys I saw in NY. She also works in a reputable office, whereas those guys were on their own, working out of home offices. Even though she has interrupted me a little, made suggestions and asked questions that I have resisted, and failed to completely understand a difficult theological issue, she has also listened, and tried to understand. I think she wants to understand and is willing to work at it.

Also, we have only had two sessions, and the first of course was basically an interview. I can’t expect to be able to pick up where I left off with Joe. Perhaps I can expect her to be able to work with and help me even without having all that past history and information already. I can also expect to be able to tell her about my concerns and reactions and fears and resistances, and if she’s any good she can handle it.

I am aware that I have a fear of abandonment and a suspicion that I cause it, and that I do not need to believe everything this fear and suspicion tells me, especially at night when I’m trying to sleep.

Worst case scenario is that it doesn’t work out with her. If we really need to, I think we could make it possible for me to return to Joe. I have some concerns about that idea, too, but I could talk to him about them. I could also try someone else in the same office, or another office. I am not in the crisis I was in in NY, and so I have the time and reasonable stability to therapist-shop if need be.

Ultimately I trust God to deliver me — I am never beyond his help, and even if I must go through terrible things, he will bring me safely through them.

Scoffer

Prompting event for my emotion:

I decided to do a little exercise.

Emotion names:

Hopelessness
Pointlessness
Reluctance
Laziness
Anxiety
Loneliness
Sadness

Interpretations (beliefs, assumptions):

I am not worth taking care of. It is stupid to take care of my body, as if it would make any difference. It’s fighting a losing battle. It’s too much work. I’m tired of having to take all the responsibility for myself.

Physical sensations:

Tired.

Body language:

A little limp, a little sluggish, shifting eyes

Urges:

To stop exercising, to distract myself.

Actions:

I did a little anyway, then focused on playing with Amy.

After effect:

Fine.

Challenge to the interpretations:

It’s okay to exercise. It’s good for me, and I’m worth doing good things for. Something doesn’t have to be immediately and forever life-changingly productive to be worth doing. I don’t have to like it at the time I’m doing it in order for it to be beneficial or worth doing. I also don’t have to exercise if I don’t want to, but it’s good to ask myself why I don’t want to, or why I do want to. Somehow I have internalized a voice that says I’m not worth attention and effort, and another (or the same one) that says taking care of me is far too much work. I don’t have to believe these voices.

A possibility

I’m going to write a prompting event sheet. I am contemplating whether I want to continue blogging them. Perhaps it’s helpful to other folks who have done or are doing DBT, or who could use a little help with dealing with emotions. And it’s another little way to round out the blog a bit, to do more than just post cute Amy photos and bits of news.

Prompting event for my emotion:

Amy wouldn’t let me feed her pieces of green beans but wouldn’t feed herself either. She just played with them.

Emotion names:

Annoyance.
Frustration.
Anger.
Hurt.

Interpretations (beliefs, assumptions):

I’m not as patient, understanding, respectful, and compassionate as I would like to be and as I would like others to be.

Physical sensations:

A little warm.

Body language:

Frowning.
Abrupt movement.

Urges:

To punish and reject Amy somehow.

Actions:

I ended lunchtime. I took Amy out of the high chair and set her down among her toys. I put myself in the kitchen where I washed dishes, waiting to cool off. I worked through this prompting event sheet in my head.

After effect:

It took a while for the emotion to wear off, but I felt pretty good about how I handled things.

Challenge to the interpretations:

No, I’m not as respectful, patient, etc as I’d like, but it’s okay to practice, and I did practice.

I knew and reminded myself that Amy was not deliberately rejecting me or scorning my efforts to make her a tasty and healthy lunch, even though her behavior felt like rejection.

I also knew and reminded myself that at this age she is still getting her main nutrition from formula, and solids are about tastes and textures and learning the skills of eating. I knew making this into a battle would be unproductive.

Because Denise told me to

Prompting event for my emotion:

Yesterday, Amy got hungry woke up a half hour before I wanted her to, and crying about it.

Emotion names:

Anger
Resignation
Meaninglessness

Sorrow
Guilt
Shame

Interpretations (beliefs, assumptions):

I am ridiculous.
I have added yet another emotional scar to Amy’s list; how long is it going to get before I die?

Physical sensations:

Limp
Tense

Body language:

Avoiding eye contact and unnecessary movement, tears.

Urges:

To stomp and slam, to do nothing, to cry, to give up, to yell.

Actions:

After trying to distract her with various things, I fed her — stomping and slamming a bit as I prepared things, not making eye contact with her, crying silently, but talking to her a little. Then I put her in her entertainer while I lay down for a bit and thought about what I was feeling and how silly it was and what must be underneath.

I didn’t have (or recognize) the urge to yell until I got to her. I did yell at her. I carried her carefully into the nursery to change her — I stomped, but was careful not to shake her. I went to get my earplugs (stomping some more) and returned to change her, not as gently as I’d have liked. I calmed down a little and explained to her what I was feeling and why, and apologized and told her it’s not her fault.

After effect:

I feel reasonably okay now.

Then the guilt and tears and sorrow and shame waved in and I tried to comfort the child I’d just yelled at and stomped with, and I felt like a hypocrite, inconsistent, unreliable, for the rest of the day. I also felt sorry for myself, because expressing my anger in that way hurts me. And angry at the fact that there is such a thing as anger, and that I don’t yet know how to be angry in the right way, probably because part of me does not yet believe there is any right way to be angry. And tired of myself and my failures.

Challenge to the interpretations:

Irrationally intense emotion … (snip) … is a good thing.

It is not inconsistent or unreliable to turn around when you realize you’re going the wrong way. It’s responsible and caring. My sorrow and apologies and attempts to comfort are good things, not a mockery, even though they can’t erase my yelling and stomping.

It is possible to turn back even once you’ve started going the wrong way (thanks, Austin) — i.e. I could have put Amy in a safe place as soon as I started yelling at her, and gone somewhere else to finish yelling where she wouldn’t hear me.

I am not ridiculous for getting angry about her crying and short nap. She had been fussy all day so far, and I had been trying to tune, and both things wear down my patience and erode my self-confidence and sense of perspective. There are also other things on my mind that could have been contributing to my edginess.

It is best not to have or cause emotional scars. (If you’ve heard of the “Prayer of Jabez” book, forget about it. I think Jabez, whose name means pain, prayed the way he did because he was wounded by having caused pain, and asked for blessing so as to never cause pain again.)

It is worst to have or cause emotional scars without acknowledgment.

It may be sort of “good enough” to have or cause emotional scars but to acknowledge them, make apologies and reparations as much as possible, to keep communication open, to allow and accept after effects, to keep up hope and efforts to avoid as much scarring as possible.

Jonah

Prompting event for my emotion:

Amy got hungry a half hour before I wanted her to.

Emotion names:

Anger
Resignation
Meaninglessness

Interpretations (beliefs, assumptions):

I am ridiculous.

Physical sensations:

Limp

Body language:

Avoiding eye contact and unnecessary movement, tears.

Urges:

To stomp and slam, to do nothing, to cry, to give up.

Actions:

After trying to distract her with various things, I fed her — stomping and slamming a bit as I prepared things, not making eye contact with her, crying silently, but talking to her a little. Then I put her in her entertainer while I lay down for a bit and thought about what I was feeling and how silly it was and what must be underneath.

After effect:

I feel reasonably okay now.

Challenge to the interpretations:

Irrationally intense emotion generally means there’s something else bothering me, not so much the particular thing that triggered the emotion. I was already experiencing an attack / wave of meaninglessness earlier in the afternoon — one of those times where despite all that I’ve accomplished today, even things I felt good about, my life just suddenly seemed pointless — repetitive, fruitless, and even if there were change, progress, results, that would all be meaningless, too.

This reminded me of that dream where I went into a suicidal rage over a parking space.

It also reminds me of Jonah. In the last chapter, Jonah is in a suicidal rage because God not only gave the city of his enemies an opportunity to repent and be saved, but used him to give them the message. Then, as Jonah angrily waits and watches to see what will happen, God makes a plant grow to provide shade (apparently better shade than the shelter Jonah built for himself — what God gives is usually better than what we make for ourselves…), which makes Jonah ecstatically happy. Then God kills the plant and sends a hot wind, which sends Jonah back into a suicidal rage.

God asks, “Do you have good reason to be angry?”

I don’t think God asks this question in order to condemn Jonah, nor to berate him for his irrationally intense feelings. I think he’s sort of doing some cognitive behavioral therapy with him — gently working with Jonah to integrate feelings and cognition — to truly feel his feelings and share them with God, but also to know that God’s compassion and mercy (for himself and for his enemies) is a good thing.