If you’ve ever had a country walk and been stung by a nettle, you’ll know that typically just a few leaves along you’ll find the antidote in the form of a dock leaf. The proximity of an antidote co-habiting with its cause is quite common in nature, often described as the ‘sting and relief’ relationship. In the jungles of Central America, you could come across a poisonous tree which secretes a toxic sap that causes a chemical burn, with an almost identical looking tree just a few feet away which can calm the redness and stop the spreading of the rash.
For most of us coming across poisonous trees is probably a bit far fetched, but coming across a situation where we feel we are personal stung, wounded, hurt and in turn are left feeling vulnerable, is more likely. At work or in our personal life we cannot avoid people or situations that at times leave us feeling weakened in some way. We can come face to face with situations on an hourly, daily, weekly basis and often just brush them off, not realising that we’ve subconsciously worked through the transition states of denial, resistance, acceptance and commitment with ease.
Then there are times when we just get ourselves stuck in the neutral zone where our feelings become an emotional soup made up with anger, fear, confusion, frustration and conflict, and without a sense of when it will be cooked and ready to be served up.
I found myself emotionally swamped recently and realised that I was stuck somewhere between frustration and depression. I was constantly replaying conversations I had had with certain people and then anticipating future conversations, always assuming the worst. If I received an email from them, I’d quickly tense up and feel sick. I found that I couldn’t read their emails properly, assuming the worst possible outcome only, so when I actually went back and reread what they were saying, it was never as bad as I’d imagined. When I started to have physical symptoms of sleepless nights and poor appetite I knew I had to do something to change my emotional state.
Like most of us, I went back to my tried and tested techniques. I dusted off my journal and laid my thoughts out on paper, making sure that I looked for a solution as part of the verbal download. I revisited a meditation called loving kindness, seeking out positive affirmations about the person as a way of developing compassion for them, by seeing only their good and kindness. I put a stop to the gossip-mongering that at first to had felt a way to relieve the stress, which in fact was only focusing my negative lens firmly in their direction. Even with all these strategies I was still being affected.
Then it happened, I found the cure and cause in one day. Because my focus was on finding a way out of my transition curve my radar scanned for solutions. There’s a scientific name for that, called the Badder-Meinhof Phenomenon, where your selective attention kicks in when you are stuck for a word, an idea or a thing. We don’t know we are unconsciously keeping a look-out for something. So, on a sunny morning, driving to work on the radio I listened to a discussion about something that endurance athletes adopt – radical acceptance – the act of just accepting that the challenge is going to be hard, painful and tough but that the view along the way or final destination are what drives them. The concept of choosing to go through something physically and mentally difficult, believing the reward was along and at the end of the journey really appealed to me. Then whilst running a workshop later that day, a colleague shared another concept – awfulisation – when you take a bad situation and just imagine the situation getting worse, and worse and worse.
I had a light-bulb moment, my colleague wasn’t just talking about a situation, she was talking about my situation, how I had awfulised my scenario into something catastrophic. And I knew the solution was just around the corner, just one thought away, in the form of radical acceptance. So instead of seeing my working relationship as something that gave me stress I could consider it as something that was offering me possibilities, giving me a new sense of purpose and hope. By naming what I was going through I was able to link the solution that would help me. And just as in nature, it was close at hand. So the next time you’re feeling stuck, troubled, stressed; look out for the solution that undoubtedly is within reaching distance.