September 3, 2009

Ask a Facilitator: Turning Around "Shoulds"

Q: I have been feeling depressed for some time now, and the fear of fear, anxiety and depression has come up for me. As I question thoughts like "I shouldn't be anxious," "I shouldn't be fearful," or "People shouldn't be fearful," I find it hard to find any turnarounds that are meaningful, and The Work doesn't seem to help here. Do you have any suggestions?

A: "Shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" can be tricky to turn around because sometimes we're approaching them with a motive to feel better or to talk ourselves into our out of something. When we do The Work with that kind of agenda, the turnarounds don't convince us; you may as well do affirmations and save yourself the trouble of The Work. (Just kidding.)

So let's start from the beginning, before the turnarounds, because that's where the majority of self-revelations appear; in your answers to the four questions. Without this, your turnarounds can never be meaningful. Turnarounds expand upon the self-awareness you have developed through the education of the four questions; I find they are not particularly useful in and of themselves.

How do you react, how do you live your life, when you believe thoughts like "I shouldn't be fearful," and the reality is, you are fearful? Isn't it something like compounding pain with suffering, plus interest? Does believing the thought "I shouldn't be fearful" lessen your fear, or result in more depression? I've noticed the "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" in my life result in self-flagellation, which is depressing.

Next, imagine how you would treat yourself differently if you didn't believe the thought, "I shouldn't be fearful." With more compassion perhaps? What else? I don't want to feed you the answers, because my answers can't be meaningful to you. Sit as in meditation and find your own.

Once you have done this, you are ready for the turnarounds, the opposites, the alternatives to what you have been believing.

"I shouldn't be fearful," turned around to the opposite is, "I should be fearful." That's what is; you should be fearful when you are. How can it be otherwise? It does no good to try and change it. You feel the way you feel. I would honor that.

To find specific examples of how you should be fearful, when indeed you are, takes a lot of willingness and an open mind. And this is not to cancel out your original statement; it's simply to see what other options you have, to expand your awareness. For instance, I can find "I should be fearful when I'm believing (uninvestigated) frightening thoughts, such as 'I'm not going to be okay.'" I would have to be fearful if I believe in terrible outcomes. "I should be fearful" because I haven't yet learned how not to be; my fearfulness may have been a survival mechanism in the past.

The longer you sit with "tough" turnarounds, the more examples of opposites you'll find. Some turnarounds will feel truer than others. Freedom lies in being able to recognize that nothing is 100% black or white...that there are always alternatives to believing or attaching to stressful thoughts in what I like to call the parallel universe of peace.

©2009 by Carol L. Skolnick. All rights reserved.

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