When life gets hard, are you a “Fight” person, or a “Flight” person? My wife, Elsie, is a “Fight” person. She can get angry when she’s hurt or overwhelmed. I am a “Flight” person. I shut down and withdraw when I’m hurt or overwhelmed.
What do you do? Are you more a flight or a fight?
While we all have both fight or flight, typically we have one that is our dominant knee-jerk reaction. I definitely have some Fight in me. And Elsie has some Flight in her. But what is your dominant one?
As someone who is dominantly Flight, in the past, when I shut down, it could be all-encompassing. I put a fortress around my emotions, and there was no getting in or out. I hated it when that happened. It was no fun to feel that way.
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But in the past, there was no way out. I had no control over the overwhelming shutdown that would occur. And I would spiral down into pools of self-judgment, with all sorts of ugly thoughts running through my mind.
Little by little I would come out of it, and eventually get over it. But when it was really bad, it could last for days, sometimes weeks.
Have you ever experienced anything like that?
Luckily, you don’t have to stay there.
In the past, I would get so consumed by this darkness that I didn’t think there was a way out. Now I know better. I’ve learned that, in order to get myself out of that head space, I need to get some leverage over myself.
In the moments of shut down and upset, I’ve trained myself to be able to bring awareness to what’s going on. Not to just “be” in the funk, but to be aware that I was “in” the funk. If I was just “being” in the funk, I had no control over it. That’s all there was. Overwhelm, anger, sadness, depression. But if I was aware I was “in” a funk and in overwhelm, then I could at least have enough ability to say to myself “Ok, I’m stuck in a funk, and I don’t know how to get out, but I know I will get myself out, I know I can get through this.”
Just naming that awareness is what I call
My 1% Wedge
Take for example, there’s a huge boulder stuck in a ditch and you need to move it, but can’t do so with your own hands, what do you do? You need to get leverage. You would grab a flat-headed pry bar and wedge it underneath the boulder. If it’s really stuck, maybe you can only get a tiny bit under the boulder, but you get a little leverage and start wiggling until more of the bar fits underneath, and then wiggle and loosen until you get enough leverage to get the whole thing out!
You couldn’t get full leverage on the first try. But even 1% is a starting point.
Another example of this is, if I’m in a room that’s completely dark, and I create even a pin-sized hole in the wall, a sliver of light will still get in allowing me to see. 1% may not feel like a lot, but it can begin the process of a real shift.
When I am shut down, I feel like I’m in the darkness, like a boulder is on top of me. Before, I felt powerless. Not, I use my 1% wedge. I bring awareness to myself and say “Ok, I’m stuck. I’ve got this boulder on me, I’m stuck in the dark, and I want to get out but don’t know how. But I know I can and will. So just hold on for the ride Jonny, until you can figure out how to move the boulder.”
That’s how I get 1% leverage over me. Just reminding myself that I will get through this, is 1% better than total overwhelm and despair. At least my mind knows that I’m going to get past this. When I have been really stuck in the past, I couldn’t always see beyond those moments. Those moments felt complete, total, which is why I was suicidal in the past.
But getting 1% leverage is enough of a start, to give me space to work the rest of it out.
Once you get some leverage, then you can get more leverage, and keep working on it until it’s complete inside. Talking to a life coach or therapist, or a trusted friend or family member, or to your spouse. Or write in a journal, do some free-form writing, go for a run, do some exercise, kick a punching bag…whatever you can do to move the energy through you, and out, so you can come back to a centered place inside of you.
That’s what I teach my clients who get paralyzed by overwhelm. Not everyone experiences this, but for those who do, hopefully this can provide you with something to grab hold of when the overwhelm feels too great.
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