A skill that most of us need to develop— desperately— is knowing when to back off, to disengage, to switch up what we’re doing.
Very often, we find ourselves in situations where our symptoms are being exacerbated, our weaknesses are being exploited, and we’re veering away from our goals and values— but we simply don’t recognize this as a point where we need to pump the breaks, switch directions, change the channel.
You see this a lot with peoples’ use of technology. How often have we been immersed in our social media feeds, which, for whatever reason, are firing us up in all the wrong ways on a particular day or night…but we don’t realize that it’s time to turn off the computer or close the app until we’ve gone far, far down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts and feelings?
You see this with peoples’ time management as well. Very often, when we find ourselves with big chunks of less structured or basically unstructured time— often on weekends or in the evenings— we find ourselves bored, at loose ends, and emotionally spiraling…yet we don’t realize until it’s too late that we should maybe switch something up, maybe this unstructured chunk of time stretching out in front of us isn’t a great thing right now, maybe we should start over with a little bit of structure— or, if it’s in the evening, maybe go to bed and start over tomorrow?
The skill of realizing when we’re down the rabbit hole, and we really need to make a switch, is more complicated than it might seem— usually because we don’t know that we’re down that rabbit hole until, well, we’re down it.
Then, when we’re down that rabbit hole— when we’ve been sucked into a place of negative thoughts, feelings, and behaviors— many of us have this attitude and/or belief that, eh, it’s too late now, I’m already down the rabbit hole…why would I want to make a change now? May as well follow through on the negative things I’m thinking and feeling, right?
That “eh, it’s under way already, no point in changing anything now” mindset is absolutely insidious…and absolutely destructive.
That line of reasoning has been used to crash diets, to self-harm, to self-sabotage, and to get or stay in destructive relationships.
The truth is, it’s never too late to make a different decision and go a different direction.
No matter how far down the rabbit hole you might be.
No matter how long you’ve spent getting down that rabbit hole.
No matter how hopeless that rabbit hole may feel.
It’s always worth it to try to switch things up when you realize you’re being carried in a direction you don’t want to go.
The skill involved in knowing when to switch things up has to do with a bigger skillset that revolves around self-awareness. A huge part of recovery is all about paying enough attention to what we’re thinking, feeling, and doing to know when we’re in emotional or cognitive trouble— and to know when some sort of change or intervention may be necessary.
This is the essence of managing, say, the symptom of dissociation. Many people complain that they don’t know when they need to be practicing the skillset of grounding and containment, because they don’t know when they’re dissociating.
The key to know when you’re dissociating— and thus when you need to go to the grounding and containment toolkit— is to develop a reliable routine of self-awareness.
The way we do THAT is, to get in the habit of checking in with ourselves at regular intervals, to gauge how present we are and what we need.
Why do people resist developing this skillset?
Mostly because it’s a hassle.
We don’t WANT to devote all this time to simple self-awareness.
We don’t WANT to acknowledge that we’re THAT wounded, that we NEED to devote this much time and attention to self-awareness.
The thing is, if we refuse to devote that time and attention to self-awareness…we’re going to get knocked further and further off course by situations we didn’t choose, over which we have virtually no control.
Our values and goals deserve more than that.
We deserve more than that.
We are worth going through the trouble of checking in with ourselves— and taking whatever steps we need to change directions when we’re going down the rabbit hole.
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