Ah yes, I have always been a very sensitive and emotional person, especially as a child. It was a pretty regular occurrence when someone would hurt my feelings or say something to upset me. I would usually dwell on it or take it personally. My usual go-to coping mechanism was to give the person the silent treatment, push them away, and then withdraw into my pain until it eventually subsided.
I have a friend who uses this same coping mechanism. He proclaims it usually takes him 2-3 days to get over it, during which time he sleeps, avoids people, and tries to “figure it out.”
The thing is, this coping mechanism which I and others have used all our lives no longer serves us. During the last 3 years of receiving Buddhist teachings, I have learned many specific techniques to counter this destructive behavior. My teacher has given me the tools to be aware of any feeling or emotion I am having, use it to benefit others, and then let it go. It’s actually pretty amazing how quickly it works when I actually use it. It allows me to but the brakes on my own suffering, and more importantly, not be the cause of other people’s suffering. Because as we all know, suffering sucks.
The more I practice, the better I get at these techniques. Do I get it right every time? Sadly, no. Do I do it some of the time? Thankfully, yes. I hope continued practice will someday entirely replace my silent treatment method : )
I read a great passage from Pema Chodron recently in Taking the Leap:
“A person does something that brings up unwanted feelings, and what happens?…Usually we involuntarily shut down, yet without a storyline to escalate our discomfort, we still have access to our genuine heart. Right at this point, we can recognize that we are closing, allow a gap, and leave room for change to happen. In Jill Bolte Taylor’s book My Stroke of Insight, she points to scientific evidence showing that the life span of any particular emotion is only one and a half minutes. After that, we have to revive the emotion and get it going again.
Our usual process is that we do revive it by feeding it with an internal conversation about how another person is the source of our discomfort. Maybe we strike out at them or at someone else-all because we don’t want to go near the unplesantness of what we’re feeling. This is a very ancient habit. It allows our natural warmth to be so obscured that people like you and me, who have the capacity for empathy and understanding, get so clouded that we can harm each other. When we hate those who activate our fears and insecurities, those who bring up unwanted feelings, and see them as the sole cause of our discomfort, then we can dehumanize them, belittle them, and abuse them.”
Usually when I got upset and someone wanted to help, they would advise me to “just let it go.” Well, that seemed to be easier said than done! No one seemed to know exactly HOW one might go about doing that.
One of the simple techniques my teacher offered to me was this awareness and letting go practice. Give it a try the next time someone says something that triggers you:
On the in-breath, mentally recite “Noticing,” and on the out-breath, “Letting go.” If you can do this breathing technique for the 90 seconds until the emotion passes, perhaps you will save yourself 2-3 days of grumpiness and suffering. If it persists, or comes back, return to the breathing technique.
May you and all beings be happy and free from suffering. Om mani padme hum