Booze and Bitter Regret

message in the bottleNot long ago, I watched an episode of a favorite series online, in which a character's actions had deeply disappointed and betrayed someone he loved very much...and he knew how she felt. Figuring he had ruined a really significant relationship in his life, he pulled out a bottle of liquor and a glass as his coping strategy. I actually said out loud to my computer screen, "Oh, good. Booze and bitter regret. (Turn up the sarcasm volume here.) Nothing bad ever came from that combination."


Having used booze as a coping strategy from the age of 16 to 31, I was familiar with its lack of effectivness in creating good outcomes. What are your coping strategies right now, for those deeply troubling emotions like regret, betrayal, and abandonment? If not booze, what do you use? 

More importantly, does it work--and I mean REALLY work? Does it lift the regret of your stupid mistakes, drain the anger at your own failings? Or is your "cope" more like gasoline on these already-burning fires? Or maybe your coping strategy does numb, drown, or stuff those painful feelings down below your conscious awareness, at least for a while. But maybe it also acts like a turbo-charge on your subconscious acting out of those feelings. You feel "fine," while you "justifiably" lash out at your loved ones with emotional cruelty, or withdraw from them completely.

Convinced that everyone else's behavior needs fixing, not yours, do you stumble along, your coping mechanism clutched tightly, creating a wake of pain behind you?

That should work out okay, eh?

Not sure? Well, here's an alternative: rather than numbing your brain cells that deliver these feelings, reprogram that neural network! One of the most important strategies I offer in my workshops and consulting is a mental model called "Spheres of Reality." Used consistently over time, it allows us to reduce the impact of negative emotional stories about who we are, who other people are to us, and how the world works. Many psychologists, philosophers, and metaphysicians have used similar approaches by various names. This kind of neural reprogramming is the foundation of Byron Katie's approach, called "The Work," which I found very powerful. In fact, this vision of reality is the underpinning of highly popular Cognitive Therapy.

The essence of the Spheres of Reality mental model (an image that helps you remember a principle), is that the emotions we feel arise, not from the events of our lives, but from our minds' interpretations of those events. Okay. Now stop right here and really think about what that means. The first time I really "got" this idea, I was completely pissed off by it! Give yourself a minute to have that reaction, if it's there for you. 

I'll say it again. The emotions you feel arise, not from the events of your life, but from your mind's interpretations of those events. So, here's what makes this hard to swallow: you're not angry at your sibling, friend, or partner BECAUSE of what she or he did. You're angry because of what you have told yourself it means. Your interpretation of someone's behavior, your understanding of its meaning and importance to you--that's what triggers your emotions. It's not what my partner did that upsets me. All my pain is created by the story I tell myself about what my partner did. It's not my past behavior that creates the bitter taste of regret on my tongue. It's the meaning I attach to that behavior, the story I tell myself about it. That's the source of my suffering.

Why did this piss me off so much when I finally got it? Well, because if I accept this version of reality, then I can no longer blame you for how I feel. And it's a challenge to take responsibility for own my anger, or sense of betrayal, or any of the painful emotions that arise for me about what you do. I truly WANT how I feel to be your fault, when I feel mad, sad, angry, or afraid. Blaming you is much, much easier than taking personal responsibility for my emotional life. 

So, I tell you, "You made me feel...," rather than, "I'm feeling...." I tell you, "You want to control me," rather than, "I am not speaking up for myself about...." I tell you, "You don't respect me...," rather than, "I need something I'm not getting...." I turn my fear of being judged into anger that you are judging me, even though my fear really arises from my own tendency to judge others. And the list goes on and on. 

This one tool, this one strategy--the Spheres of Reality--is literally life-changing. Applied consistently, it reprograms your neural network and lifts layer after layer of ugly emotion out of your life.

Can your current coping strategy do that? No? Throw it away and contact me.

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Dr. L. Carol Scott.

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