As a Psychoanalyst, it is my experience that people have trouble regulating their emotions, especially when they experience frustration, disappointment, or anxiety. People feel overwhelmed and scared when having to tolerate and face difficult feelings, seeking refuge in various ways. Perhaps we all find it difficult to tolerate the concept of waiting, especially the more invested we are in the outcome.
Most of us can relate to feeling irritable when stuck in traffic, some of us may feel as if they are being restricted, while others cannot fathom that they will ever move again. Take pregnancy as an example in which waiting is imperative to the outcome. Imagine the couple who experience multiple miscarriages and are now pregnant through IVF. For this couple, it may be especially difficult to feel calm especially having a history filled with hope, only to have experienced loss and setbacks. Each step of the pregnancy requires patience and is laden with fear, requiring calmness and an ability to wait.
Another example are the rising college students who are in the position of having to regulate their emotions. For most freshman, they are transitioning from their family home to the chaos of the dorm where no one is monitoring them. They will be faced with numerous decisions and choices calling into question, their ability to regulate their fears and their impulses.
Often, people attempt to calm or regulate their emotions in destructive ways. Substance abuse and other kinds of addictions can result from misguided attempts at managing difficult thoughts and feelings. People use a variety of coping mechanisms such as alcohol, marijuana, exercise, food, sex, and shopping to gain an equilibrium. Some people feel they are fated to have a miserable life. They feel as if each obstacle is another example of how things do not work out for them.
These moments of fear and frustration, whether large or small, often feel permanent to people with difficulty soothing or regulating themselves. In these moments, we see how difficult it is for some people to keep calm and to have an inner dialogue that could help them tolerate or bare the situation. For some, calming and soothing themselves can feel to them, close to impossible.
I find myself wondering what gets in the way of people developing an internal sense of calm or mechanisms in which to self-soothe. Anxiety is contagious, consciously and unconsciously and generally speaking, passed on through generations. Therefore, it is likely that parents who have anxiety and difficulty self-regulating conceivably have trouble soothing their children. Psychoanalyst’s call the experience of being able to soothe oneself without needing to immediately act or rid themselves of anxiety as a person who is contained. When someone is “contained” they have a space inside of their mind where they have room to think and to contemplate. When contained, they tend to feel understanding and empathy for what they are experiencing. They can hold themselves together and remind themselves of past experiences where they were able to endure whatever challenges came their way.
When someone is psychologically contained, difficult thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are manageable. The person can wait, and can feel that “this too shall pass” or at a minimum “this is not the end of the world.” When a person is unable to soothe themselves, they experience each bump in the road indecipherable from a mountain and insurmountable. They lack the internal voice that is kind and soothing whispering the words “it will all work out”. It takes mental muscles to soothe oneself, working on their fears from the inside. It also requires that the person make space to observe what is going on and to remind themselves that they have gone through other difficult times before and will likely be just fine, however the situation unfolds. This internal dialogue for some, requires parsing out the negative voices in their mind from the more hopeful voices, when trying to establish a new mental pattern. The undermining thoughts and feelings are habitual and are comfortable despite being also unpleasant. Change requires faith in something new, as well as belief in the mental work it takes to create new patterns.
Three insights to help you settle the anxiety filled beast in your mind.
1-Notice in your body and mind when you are beginning to feel un-calm
2-Give yourself space to think before acting or behaving
3-Lastly remind yourself that most of what you worry about will work out one way or another… maybe not exactly how you wanted…. but you will have the flexibility to work it out another way.