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Goddessing Self Care

Self-Care for Rejected Parts: Processing Setbacks

How many times in the past week have you cursed your “bad luck?” I’ve examined how to respond to judgment and to failings in previous #GoddessingSelfCare posts. For today’s third and final “Self-Care for Rejected Parts” discussion, we’ll be looking into how to determine the degree of control we’ve had over a situation, as well as how to cope with it if it is an experience out of our control (aka, a setback/bad luck). I have taken a practical and psychologically-oriented approach rather than a spiritual focus for this discussion.

When Bad Luck Strikes

The cause of setbacks tends to be more external and situational when compared to failures. Setbacks occur in experiences that are largely out of our control. Note that some people see everything as a setback and nothing as a failure, which limits their growth potential because they feel powerless to better their lives. Others see everything as a failure and nothing as a setback, which causes unnecessary guilt and shame because they believe everything can and should be preventable.

We are bombarded with the message that life isn’t about what happens to us, rather, it is about how we respond to it. There is of course some truth to this, but we cannot lose sight of the fact that we have respective areas of privilege and oppression, suffering and ease. For example, as I’ve begun inner work to dismantle my privilege, I’ve come to a hard realization that I can be obtusely ableist. I get instantly enraged in day-to-day situations when someone does not listen well; for instance, when I’m asked the same question repeatedly or someone gets my order wrong. I tend to be able to absorb a lot of information easily and quickly and so I assume everyone who does not show the same behaviors lacks not capacity but “try.” What I fail to hold in my mind in those moments is the fact that others may process differently than I do and that they may be facing unseen difficulties that are affecting our interaction.

My graceless behavior extends itself to setbacks. I don’t perceive myself as experiencing them, as I think everything that went wrong for me was a failure because I could have prevented it if only I’d been smarter or faster. This creates a feedback loop where I amp myself up when I in fact need to slow down. If I’m being brutally honest, I have to admit that I struggle to emphasize when others face obstacles that are difficult to surmount. I typically hold that things would have gone better for them if they’d only planned better or thought things through more fully. There may be some truth to my opinion in particular instances, but, if our shared humanity is my bedrock, my rejection of their vulnerability rejects all of us in our vulnerable areas, harming where I want to be healing. The first step to experiencing a setback is to see it as one. The absurdity of life coupled with its inherent injustice means we will face unexpected events that require us to deepen into love rather than to wall-off in frustration.

Setback Characteristics to Consider

My thinking here aligns with theory and research on the characteristics of stressors and their corresponding effects on coping. In general, negative events which we think are due to bad luck that impact many areas of our lives for lengthy periods of time and which compromise our personal sense of mission are likely to be perceived as major stressors. Those we think we can overcome quickly, which are periphery to our life goals, and/or which affect only one area of our life tend to be easier to digest and manage.

How Long-Lasting Is the Setback?

To what extent is the setback temporary versus permanent? Unpleasant situations that are likely to be long-lasting tend to wear on us more than short-term stressors. Sometimes all the scared or angry parts of me need to hear is that whatever is going on that I don’t like will be short-lived, if in fact that is the case. For situations where a setback is likely to persist, I’ve found it most useful to remind myself of everything that is under my control that I’m doing to try to adjust to or to rectify the situation.

How Much Surface Area Does the Setback Cover?

Is the setback covering one area of life or does it seep into many areas? Reminding ourselves of all the things that are going right or over which we do have control can be calming if the setback is limited in scope. For more widespread calamity, adjustment may take more time.

How Integral is the Setback to Your Life Goals?

How significantly will your sense of purpose in life be impacted by the setback? I am personally very sensitive to negative interpersonal feedback and feel highly distressed when I receive it. However, staking my well-being on it doesn’t align with my core self or purpose in life. Knowing this fact helps me cope. Difficulties in peripheral areas that do not hit at our major life goals are likely born more easily than those that threaten the values we hold dear.

After analyzing the time-frame and significance of a setback, we will likely be left with a better understanding of whether it is something that needs simply the passage of time and patience to overcome, or whether we will need to shift our perspective on life itself as a result. Serious set-backs require more than a spa day or shopping binge to overcome, as we may find ourselves asking “who am I with(out) ___.” In other words, our very identity may be shattered or shaken. We will consider both insignificant and grave setbacks as we look into self-care for our affected parts of self.

Self-Care for Setbacks

Minor Setbacks

As a trauma survivor, I find it difficult to gain perspective on small instances of bad luck. Before abuse occurs, there is something a build-up, warning signs or other blips. After living through such events over the course of years, anything going off course for an instant can bring up an expectation of “here it all goes again.” I think we do well to show each other kindness (but not to enable) each other when we “over-react” to stressors; what you experience as “no big deal” may feel life or death to another.

In addressing insignificant experiences of bad luck, such as a broken windshield or a cold that leads me to cancel a fun event, I have found it useful to center myself on who I really am and what I really want from life. I let myself have the meltdown if it feels like it was “one too many things today” but I then try to put it into perspective. I personally do not find it even the smallest bit helpful for others to try to do this for me, as all I experience their “but remember ‘insert good thing’” as is invalidation. I have to work my way back to myself and to my purpose, both as a responsibility and as a necessity.

For negative interpersonal stressors over which I had little control, I find body-based self-care to be particularly useful. I easily dissociate if someone is unexpectedly rude to me, so it makes sense to me that grounding and returning myself to my physical being is calming. Exercise, a long walk in nature, breath-work and stretching tend to be my mainstays here.

It may not always be in my best interest to do so, but if I find stress and/or bad luck has built on itself and nothing is going my way, I tend to succumb to a bit of overindulgence. This includes eating out more than I would like to and/or purchasing crafty, self-care or luxury food items that I don’t really need. In moderation (which I definitely do not always have), I think there is a time and a place to live a little, but I also hope to weave my “treating” of myself more fully into other methods of coping so that it does not become or stay my default.

Serious Setbacks

My thoughts here are limited to perspectives I have personally found helpful in facing setbacks. I detest the idea of being prescriptive or of pouring shame onto fresh wounds of someone who is experiencing a major life setback. We cope in different ways; you finding your way through in your own time and space is all that matters.

I do believe that one way to honor ourselves (and each other) in dealing with significant setbacks is to allow for grief and mourning. Modern society often gives us the message that we must succeed and exude confidence, beauty, wealth and health at all times. When this doesn’t occur, we may feel like failures. Knowing it is okay to allow hurt and disappointment in, as well as sorrow and pain, and to bear witness to it for each other is integral, in my opinion, to a well-lived life. Bites of bitterness sensitize our taste-buds to the sweet moments.

As part of our grief, we may find ourselves opening to the full experience of life and experiencing gratitude. I desire safety, security and comfort above all in life, but a single-minded attachment to these outcomes can numb me to the wider range of feelings and possibilities that my experiences contain. Near-misses, especially, jolt me into increased hope and happiness for the moments in which I can be present.

Major setbacks may lead to a necessity for us to realign our values and sense of purpose. The dreams onto which we held may no longer be possible; who we thought we were or would become may no longer exist. This doesn’t mean, though, that we are meaningless. Instead, it can offer a window into a new construction of self that can be—although not what we envisioned—our truest and most authentic version.

Stressors, even major ones, do not have to compromise the good we can do in the world. The only way I’ve even glimpsed this reality is when I first open to the parts of self I’d rather reject, and secondly when others in my life have shown me compassion for the pain and suffering I’ve endured. It is a process to which I return on a sometimes daily basis. Finding nourishment in what feels like the breadcrumbs of life, thereby transforming them to plenty, requires time, social support and a mindset that welcomes one’s whole self.

How do you differentiate between bad luck and personal failing? Which characteristics of these stressors make them particularly challenging or easy to address? How do you cope with minor and major stressors?

Embodied Heart

That Time of Year

It has become more and more difficult for me to engage through writing these last few months. What I’m finally coming to accept is that I’ve slipped into a depressive state, which I will be processing in today’s #EmbodiedHeart post. I struggle with my mood primarily from a biological standpoint of hormonal fluctuations (PMDD) and seasonal variations. They are combining right now in an unholy synergy that is leaving me feeling quite down. The main symptoms with which I’m struggling:

Withdrawal

I am feeling less inclined to want to pursue social engagements and am finding myself opting out at the last minute. All the unpleasant parts of interaction seem heightened and the positives muted. I am also feeling very disengaged spiritually, which is highly frustrating because I just finished my Priestess training (I think this is a coincidence of time not a cause).

Anhedonia (Lack of Interest and Enjoyment)

This is the worst issue with which I’m currently dealing as nothing, and I mean nothing, seems fun or interesting to me. Typically I can pull myself along with a new project or at least a spending binge, but everything I’ve been trying to add seems “cluttering” and like it will become yet another responsibility. I have moments where I wonder what the point of me or anything is.

Hibernation

I’ve gained weight, am craving unhealthy foods, and want to go to sleep much earlier than normal. These signs tend to go along with seasonal affective disorder but began in late summer this time. My hypersomnia has been punctuated with a few nights of severe insomnia.

Shame and Worthlessness

This issue has been a bit strange because of the dissociative identity disorder. I feel shame and worthlessness, but at an internal distance—like someone else who rents out my body part-time is dealing with it and I wish I could do more to help them out. It is muted compared to the past when that part would take over and I would fall whole-body into the abyss.

I am not sure if this is symptom or cause, but I am also in more physical discomfort and pain than I have been for a while. I deal with several chronic health conditions which seem to be worsening along with the mood problems. My body isn’t an enjoyable place to be residing as of late.

Plan of Action

Practicing Self-Compassion

I want to be kind to myself during this time. I tend to berate myself for the ways in which I am lacking, rather than accepting my shortcomings and letting myself be with them. I want my thoughts and actions to support rather than antagonize the emotional vacuum in which I find myself. I especially want to improve my connection to and relationship with my body and am taking a day to go to the spa to do so!

Welcoming the Roots

These states tend to be time-limited and can allow me to go deeper into the underlying issues that affect me on a soul-level. I do not want to go on a weeding spree where I pull on every strand and am left in a tangle of memories and mess, but I do want to allow for any uprooting that may come. It’s a watery place in which I find myself and I hope I can let the tears, if there are any, fall.

Embracing Spaciousness

I’ve made a commitment this year to slowing down and examining ways in which I can simplify my lifestyle. Having everything going on feel like an overwhelming burden is an invitation to notice those people, events and processes in my life that are truly inspiring and joyful, and to let the rest fall away. I think it is human nature, at least in my nature, to try to fill up what feels empty in my life rather than to let it stay empty long enough to know whether the space is perhaps an opportunity to breathe deeply rather than a void.

Writing out my plan of action has re-centered me a bit and allowed me to see the potential benefits of what my body and mind are offering me currently. I feel slightly more hopeful that there is something to be gained by being here with it for a time, rather than demanding an end to any hints of depression as quickly as possible. If you struggle with depression, are there variations with season, body-state or other factors? What is the main sign that it has returned? What does your plan of action for addressing it typically include?

Inner Work

Elemental Psychic Bathing

One of my many struggles as a trauma survivor that I experience is a difficulty in channeling my internal energy. Specifically, after a negative emotionally-charged event, I tend to hold on to and recreate the feeling again and again. It is as though I’ve walked through a sandstorm and keep finding grains tumbling off me in every direction, unable to shake myself clean.

When positive experiences happen, I have the opposite problem. I find myself unwilling to accept the natural ebb and flow of these feelings. I’ve tasted a delicious morsel and keep biting into random pieces of spiritual savories, refusing to wait until another special occasion for a nibble. For today’s #InnerWork Wednesday, I will be exploring a method for restoring internal energies to homeostasis.

Discharging Negative Emotions

Before I get in to specifics, I want to couch my guidance here carefully. The process I will be describing is intended for situations where something went wrong externally during your day and has already been resolved. So, if it is an issue within a relationship, you’ve discussed your concerns with the other person or made a clear plan to do so. Or, if it is a situation where something has physically broken and needs to be repaired, you’ve identified the problem and set in motion a fix. I do not see this technique working well if you are procrastinating in taking practical action in the real world; it isn’t a substitute for confronting what is causing you anxiety, anger and/or sadness.

My personal struggle with negative emotions, especially anxiety and anger, is that they persist well past their needed moment. For instance, I recently had a roof leak. I hired a roofer to fix the leak. He made repairs the same day and everything seemed in order. Instead of having even the tiniest faith that things would be okay, I obsessively checked the leak area every 30 minutes or more for hours, and began to go to other areas of my house that have minor problems, checking them as well. My initial burst of anxiety at seeing a stream of water where it should not have been simply would not downshift even when the coast cleared. I needed a way to let go of the energy I’d accumulated, which is why I turned to a psychic bath.

Taking an elemental bath gives you an opportunity to get creative and to use your imagination. I find it difficult to imagine complex visualizations, but the emphasis on physical experiences helps me during this ritual. You can use any of the four elements (earth, air, fire or water). It is likely that the element will change depending upon your emotion. You can also incorporate a physical sensation or practice into this ritual. For instance, you might light candles or a fireplace for fire or run a bath for water.

When I’m facing overwhelming anxiety following a stressful situation, and the purpose of the anxiety has run its course, the element that connects most effectively for me is air. I imagine myself in a desert or a high plain, in the midst of gale-force winds. They swirl and nearly knock me over with their sheer intensity. Any residue of anxious energy that clouds my psyche is stripped away, reabsorbed into the ether. The anxiety may have different colors, depending on the exact situation, such as green or black. I imagine these colors being dissolved into clear as they are carried away, each atom scattered from the next until they become part of the whole. I am left calm, sedate, and windblown. I may need a drink of water or a bath in order to balance the intensity of engaging with the air element.

No matter the element on which I center myself, I find it necessary to imagine it at peak intensity. I think this because my internal energy needs an external force of equal magnitude in order to be shaken loose. I do want to emphasis that I do not see any part of myself letting go or leaving, rather, I see the emotions which the various parts of myself carry as being adjusted. I do not have an internal barometer or thermostat; my feelings seem to be either all the way up or non-existent. Or both at once. This exercise enables me to readjust mentally without having to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms. If you experience greater graduation in your feelings than I do, your visualizations may also be less intense. Perhaps a soft breeze is all it takes mentally to remove excess anxiety.

Harmonizing Positive Emotions

At the end of an event or experience I am enjoying, I often feel as though I’m slamming into a wall. My emotional high-point has crested, and I am not willing to accept the lull that follows. In order to better titrate my experiences, I’ve found that elemental bathing which centers on water is the most useful.

Imagery and physical practice involving water can be used as a way to “blend” emotions and transition between emotional states. The metaphor of ocean waves approaching and retreating from a beach allows me to reconnect with the idea that my internal energy ebbs and flows; it is not stable and cannot always be at high tide. As I sit with this mental picture, I find my internal state swinging like a pendulum and then gradually slowing and centering.

I can also recognize the extent to which liquid water comprises my physical state. We are made almost entirely of water, and still we need to ingest it to sustain life. Here the active practice of mindfully drinking tea or water infused with herbs can refresh my body as well as calm my internal cravings to keep a positive mood afloat.

Literal bathing or soaking allows me to steady my energies. As I repose, I visualize the intense energy of excitement, happiness, connection and joy swirling and dashing through me. Gradually it begins to soften and loosen in the water. It dissolves outward, spreading to my surroundings with a burst of light and fragrance. These emotions can be draining if we try to hold on to them for too long; I believe they are meant to be shared and to inspire creative activity. As someone who struggles with depression punctuated by brief episodes of hypomania, my desire to always be in an “up” state can sometimes compromise my inner sense that this state is unsustainable. Frequent practice with the equilibrium offered by the water element has been beneficial.

Whenever I read about any technique related to emotions or cognitions, I find myself in a state of hypervigilance, scanning for any potential judgment or criticism. With that in mind, I want to note that I do not see this practice as even remotely all-inclusive or relevant to everyone. You may be able to modulate your emotions with little effort needed, or you may not wish to alter your experience of internal energy in any way. I am simply offering one possible practice that has connected for me. I look forward to learning more about the rituals and methods you use in relation to your emotions and energy states.