This morning I woke up from a nightmare that BGC had just told me he’d slept with someone else. I turned to him sleeping next to me and wondered if I should hug him to calm myself down. He’s usually my go to for making me feel better when irrational emotions crop up.
But then I considered that
I actually quite wanted to shove him out of bed.
Though I knew rationally it was just a dream, the emotions were still so strong in my chest that I felt I might actually act my aggressive thoughts out on him.
I became aware of the angry conversations I was having in my mind and realised I needed to practice the technique I teach in module 5 of Bloody Good Life 101 that helps regulate emotions and stops them hijacking you into regrettable reactions. I focussed for a while on the heavy, sick feeling in my chest.
Our brain processes social pain, i.e. rejection, in the same way that it processes physical pain. Some forms of rejection, especially from a loved one can
literally feel like someone is cutting your insides open.
And that’s exactly how I felt. Even whilst knowing that the emotion was unrelated to reality.
The amygdala and reptile brain who control our basic survival emotions don’t know the difference between real or perceived threats or social rejection related pain.
Though it was a dream, my mind, and likely yours, is able to convince me of ludicrous stuff all the time, both when I’m asleep and awake. If it takes over my emotions without noticing, I can often be experiencing a fair bit of stress and may even have tears in my eyes before I realise I’m just lost in a story of my mind.
So, even though I knew what was going on at 5am,
I kept being sucked back into the story,
which made the pain of it linger.
Every time I realised I was lost in thought I refocused my attention intently on the sensations in my chest, but before long I was re-immersed in thought as my mind continued the story of my dream.
I got to the point where
I had turned cold and emotionless, had cold-eyed-ly told BGC to “get out” and was in the middle of throwing all of his belongings on our lawn
when I realised that I was back in the story. I stepped off the lawn and into reality (lying in bed in the 5am dark next to a sleeping, non-cheating BGC), and redirected my attention back into my chest where the emotions had been fueled by my mind’s continuation of the dream.
For the next hour my mind ran screaming through the archive halls of my recent memory,
pulling out things I was upset or pissed about
and re-playing the tapes I’d heard countless times before.
How unkind that person was that didn’t message me back after two messages requiring a response even when she knew it was affecting me. How annoyed I am at myself for STILL being triggered by not understanding where I stand with people I don’t even know that well. How silly I’m being for being annoyed at myself when I know that being mindful is not about not being triggered.
Back and forth my mind went through any hurtful crap I could think of, before I arrived at Trump.
At which point BGC’s dream infidelity became comparatively irrelevant.
Eventually I conceded that sleep wasn’t going to occur so I got up and started writing blog posts.
3 hours later when BGC woke up, I was still a bit jokingly (but kind of actually) angry at him for his pretend-infidelity.
Naturally, I took inspiration from Flight of the Conchords and made him apologise to me for cheating on me in my dream.
He was very apologetic and made breakfast for me to make up for it.
Our dream state is often not that far from what we experience when our brain has activated the “default mode network” (ie. mind wandering), which it does up to 80% of the time.
When we’re mind wandering, we see the world through a veil of thoughts and emotions. Things that our minds say and emotions that our bodies feel can seem extremely real, and
we often take them as reality.
This is why mindfulness is a powerful practice. We learn self awareness, and though we still might get lost in thought often, when we practice attention training, which is essentially what mindfulness is, we at least have enough awareness to snap out of our mind periodically, and use mindfulness techniques to bring us back to reality.
This is how we stop our emotions from overriding us and making us react irrationally, especially in social situations where
we’re very likely to take things the wrong way and have hours of replayed conversations banging about in our heads.
Without a bit of awareness, I very likely would have let my painful emotions this morning dictate my whole day, and I probably would have been moody with BGC even though he’d done nothing wrong.
I definitely used to let my emotions override my whole day before I learnt mindfulness.