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For the past several weeks, I’ve been doing late night therapy sessions with my ten-year-old daughter.
Since my mom died last year, she’s struggled with anxiety…the kind of anxiety that sneaks up unexpectedly in the form of stomach aches.
These stomach aches wouldn’t be such a big deal if they didn’t lead to thoughts of panicking at school…crying in front of all her peers…and humiliating herself.
It’s become a big problem, because now she’s afraid to go to school.
One night, while we were talking about this issue, I asked her, “What’s your anxiety’s name?”
She looked at me puzzled for a moment and then replied, “Fred”.
I said, “Ok. The next time Fred starts acting up and filling your mind with scary ideas, look him dead in the eye and say, ‘Shut the fuck up, Fred’.”
The thought of cursing at her anxiety (and having parental permission to do so) made her giggle uncontrollably. Then, she got serious again.
“What if Fred doesn’t listen to me?”, she asked.
“Well, sometimes anxiety can be stubborn, so you might have to show Fred who’s boss”, I said. “If he keeps causing problems, you might have to fish slap him.”
She smirked and asked, “What’s a fish slap?”
That sent her into a full-fledged belly laugh!
Giving her anxiety a name, telling it off, and imagining herself fish slapping the hell out of it added levity and humor to an otherwise scary, uncomfortable feeling.
Now, anytime she’s feeling anxious, she’ll quietly say to herself, “Shut the fuck up, Fred”, and then she’s okay.
Looking at her anxiety in a new way has helped her control it, and she’s able to go to school feeling confident that she won’t break down in front of her friends.
If you’re struggling with unpleasant emotions, try taking this approach:
- Give the feeling a human name.
- Give the feeling a character. Think of it as a person.
- Have a conversation with the feeling. Tell it what you want it to do.
Maybe fish slapping your anxiety, depression, or fear isn’t your style. That’s cool.
Talk to your emotions in a way that feels good to you.
Maybe you prefer to take a gentle, loving approach by saying, “Hey Karen, it doesn’t really feel good to me when you constantly worry about what could go wrong instead of what could go right. Could you do me a favor and try to focus on the positive more? That would be swell.”
Or maybe negotiation feels best to you. In that case, you might say, “I’ll tell you what, Ralph, I’ll give you an hour to do your thing and be all depressed, but then we’re going to shift gears and be grateful for what’s going well. Deal?”
But if your emotions are throwing a fit like a toddler at the grocery store, you might have to whip out the big guns. Show em’ who’s boss. Give em’ a fish slap, an eye gouge, or a noogie.
When you add humor to negative emotions, they aren’t so negative anymore.
Laughter and comic relief are antidotes for pain and suffering.
Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.