That’s a photo of Griffin with some of his BFF’s enjoying a Pokémon Party at our home last weekend.
I can’t really tell you what happened – high-level trading seemed to be involved – but I can tell you that they had a TON of fun!
There’s also an important bit of backstory: Griffin ordered a special Pokémon card to come in the mail the day before the party, and when it didn’t arrive, he had an emotional meltdown.
It gave me the opportunity to practice some of the tools I share in No More Crying and Complaining: How to Transform Your Negative Thoughts, Improve All Your Relationships and Enjoy More Happiness, the book I’m currently writing (which long-time ezine readers may remember by its former title, Pain Body Proof).
Those tools helped him to feel better very quickly, and I was reminded how powerful they are and how VERY excited I am to share them in my book. Of course, as readers of my email newsletter, you get to benefit from them right now!
I believe everyone on the planet wants the same thing – happiness – but we go about getting it with varying degrees of skill.
Fortunately, we can all acquire skills that will help us become happier. One useful skill is putting our reactions to bad things that happen to us at arm’s length so we can respond to them calmly and not fall prey to behaviors that make things worse.
But how do you separate yourself from your negative emotions? Many writers about happiness tell their readers to cultivate mindfulness—that is, to meditate or perform other mental disciplines so they can stay present and recognize negative emotions as they arise.
But as anyone knows who’s tried to improve her life through meditation, mindfulness is much easier said than done.
Fortunately, there’s an easier way. Instead of using mental discipline to separate your negative emotions from yourself, you can use your imagination. You can attribute them to someone else entirely, a different entity or persona.
And when you feel angry or sad or resentful, and especially when your feelings make you lash out at the people around you, you can attribute these feelings to this “other persona,” take responsibility, and step back into your best self more quickly.
Identifying your negative emotions with another persona liberates you not just from the thoughts themselves, but also from the vicious cycle of shame, resentment, and defensiveness that negative thoughts can cause.
And the beauty of this approach is that it’s something that you probably already understand about yourself. As human beings, we have many different personas, and some of them are quite unpleasant.
In order to free ourselves of these unpleasant personas – whether they’re ours or those of someone we have to deal with – we need to dis-identify with them, to see them as separate beings from the people in our lives, including and especially ourselves.
Once you’ve mastered this dis-identifying process, you’ll see huge improvements in how you feel about yourself and how you deal with other people. And if you want, you can stop there, enjoying your newfound freedom from the negative emotions that may have been tripping you up before.
But you don’t have to stop there. In fact, in order to be truly free and happy, you need to learn the lessons that your unpleasant or undesirable persona has to teach you.
Now, nobody wants to feel “defined” by her reaction to bad news or stress, and nobody wants to be judged for being “hijacked” by disappointment, sorrow, or anger.
And, of course, our reactions — especially our reactions in the moment—aren’t “all” there is to us. We all want to be loved for our whole selves, for who we are at our best, in spite of our inadequacies and foibles.
But ignoring or suppressing those less desirable parts of ourselves is just a recipe for denial and frustration. And we can only ignore them for so long before we either poison ourselves with resentment or blow up with repressed anger.
That’s because that “other” persona — the one that erupts when you react to bad news — is the one who calls you on your secrets, the secret fears, disappointments and desires you keep even from yourself.
Listen to what he or she says, really listen and learn, and you’ll free yourself to face those fears, overcome those disappointments, and reach for those desires.
If you’ll let that “other” person be your guide, you will discover yourself in ways you never dreamed of.
But before we pursue our dreams, let’s deal with practicalities. How can we stand apart from the parts we dislike while at the same time owning and learning from those parts?
How do we liberate our imaginations and convince ourselves all those negative emotions belong to somebody else?
It’s simple, but not easy: Give those unpleasant “other” parts a different name.
By naming that part of yourself, you create the detachment that’s necessary to choose better-feeling thoughts and explore new ways of being. But the beauty of it is that when you give that part of yourself a name you’re creating an opening to stay in conversation with it.
And what should you call that part of yourself? Well, until you come up with a better name for it, you could call it your Shadow Self.
In Tom Mula’s play Jacob Marley’s Christmas, Ebenezer Scrooge’s mean old business partner, Jacob Marley, dies and finds himself just as Dickens describes him in A Christmas Carol: in chains and facing a hellish eternity. He learns, however, that he can free himself. There’s just one catch. To redeem himself, he must also redeem the worst man on the planet — Ebenezer Scrooge.
When he arrives in the gloomy afterlife, Marley learns that he has been assigned a “Bogle” to guide him on his journey in the spirit world. At their first meeting, the Bogle presents as a mocking, taunting imp who makes Marley’s every moment miserable.
But as the story progresses, he becomes Jacob’s friend and advisor – and by the end of the play you realize that he shepherded Marley’s spiritual development all along.
I want you to view your Shadow Self in the same way – annoying and exasperating at first, but then as your true advocate and champion. Make no mistake: this persona is serving a purpose.
It is expressing your underlying needs. Unfortunately, its usual means of getting them met – by crying and complaining – often creates more problems than it solves.
So first you’ll form a relationship with this persona, and then you’ll work with it so that you can better meet your needs – and the needs of others – with this new-found understanding.
One of my friends calls her Shadow Self “Marge” because she’s “Large and In Charge.” When “Marge” shows up, her husband has trained himself to think, “This is not my wife.”
He’s also learned how to manage Marge – with love, or at the very least, acceptance. He doesn’t judge or blame my friend for Marge’s undesirable behavior.
How revolutionary is that? What if every time you – or someone else – transgresses, you could remember who “really” did it – the Shadow Self or Marge, or whatever name works for you?
Then you could be truly present and love yourself, or the other people in your life, knowing that from time to time that persona may float in and cause some disturbance, and that you can handle it.
At the same time, though, when an unpleasant or undesirable identity keeps showing up, and you try to push it back down, you’ll find that it’s like a beach ball in water.
It will pop back up. It will keep popping back up until you recognize that it, like Jacob Marley’s Bogle, is there to call you to your best life.
Next week I’ll share my Shadow Self’s name and how I’m meeting her underlying needs – no crying or complaining necessary!
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