Understanding Your Internal Experiences - Managing Unwelcome Thoughts & Feelings
Updated: Aug 4
Often clients will describe themselves to me along the lines of “I’ve always been a worrier” or “I’m just not a happy person, never have been”.
Our mind tells us stories about ourselves and our life though our thoughts and it is very easy for us to become fused with these thoughts and lose the ability to distinguish ourselves from them. They seem 100% believable to us and when we get caught up in our heads it can feel as though we “are” our thoughts.
I often invite clients to reflect on themselves and consider whether or not they have the same opinions and perspectives on life as they did five years ago, or even further back…perhaps when they were five years old. I haven’t had anyone yet say that nothing has changed. So we think about what this means…perhaps, in some ways, they’re not the same person now as they were five, ten or however many years ago. We then think about how they are still connected to that former version of themselves…although we don’t have the same perspectives on life as we did as a child, we still feel a strong sense of connection with that person – it was still us.
A way of understanding this is to imagine that there are different parts of the mind…there’s the opinionated part that has something to say about everything and dictates your perspectives, but there’s also that part of your mind that is watching what is going on…the observing mind.
When difficult thoughts show up and bring challenging emotions with them, try to take a moment to slow things down and really listen to what you are saying to yourself. Ask yourself whether you are these thoughts or are you experiencing these thoughts – there is a difference.
A nice metaphor to illustrate this is to think about the sky above us. Weather comes and goes. Sometimes it is pleasant and brings a cool breeze on a summer’s day, but at other times it is turbulent bringing hurricanes, blizzards, tornados, and other challenging weather patterns which can be highly destructive. But all the time, the sky is a constant and no matter how violent the weather becomes, it cannot harm the sky. Storms always pass and no matter how big or turbulent the weather pattern becomes the sky always has space for it. When the weather is really challenging we probably don’t even think about the sky and even if we do, we can’t see it through the thick clouds, all our focus is on the storm – the sky is still there, it is a constant. But anyone who has set out on a plane journey in inclement weather knows that at some point the plane will pop up above the clouds and the pristine blue sky will be there.
In this metaphor, the weather represents our thoughts and emotions which come and go, and the sky represents our observing self…the constant part of us that experiences the thoughts and emotions. We all experience pain, it is part of the human condition…it is something that connects us all – our common humanity. But when we become fused with the challenging thoughts and feelings, when we get locked in a struggle with them, not accepting them, then we engulf the pain with a layer of suffering – while the experience of pain cannot be avoided, we don’t have to experience this added layer of suffering.
Like the sky, we can make space for the discomfort that comes along with the challenging and difficult stuff that shows up. The more we can work on developing our observing self, the more we can untangle ourselves from the difficult thoughts and feelings, to relieve the layer of suffering – but the more we try to avoid feeling pain and discomfort the more the suffering will show up for us.