Back in 1996 there was a really cool movie that came out called “Twister”. It was about tornados and a team of tornado chasers. The special effects were awesome for its time. Anyway, in one of the final dramatic scenes, the two main characters are running away from a giant tornado. They find themselves trapped in a small well house on a farm. Just before the tornado hits the well house, they notice some big leather straps handing from the wall. They tie the straps around each of their waists and they tie themselves to the main pipe that goes deep into the ground for the well water. As the tornado passes over them, it destroys the building, flips them up-side-down tosses them around for a while, but because they were strapped so tightly to the pipe (probably made out of iron), they were able to come out of the twister rattled, but not destroyed.
I have learned to describe the emotional turmoil my clients experience as “spins”. These emotional (and chemical) spins can accelerate to the point where they feel like psychological tornadoes that whip you around and cause your destruction. They start out slow, almost imperceptible. Then before you know it, your mind is flying all over the place.
We each seem to have at least one primary emotional Achilles’ heel, a weak spot. For one person, it is fear. For some reason, once they get rolling on fear, it seems to start to spin out of control. Another deals with depression or self loathing. Another with anxiety. Interestingly, boredom is an unexpected emotional/chemical spin. Loneliness, frustration, irritation, overwhelm. Cravings can become spins – this is what addicts deal with. Anger, for sure, is a spin. Perhaps you get the point. (If you are not sure if you are dealing with a spin that becomes a twister, email me, and we can talk about it firstname.lastname@example.org)
In other of my writings, I discuss the chemical, cognitive, emotional and spiritual origins of these spins, but for today, I am going to address how to survive them. Contrary to popular belief, thinking your way out of a twister does not work. It is a nice idea in theory, but highly unlikely in practical application. What is actually does work can be learned from the movie, “Twister”.
When the tornadoes of thought and feeling start to pick up speed, you must strap yourself to something stronger than yourself. In the same way that certain thoughts can increase the very chemicals that you are trying to avoid because they intensify your spinning, there are other ideas/concepts/thoughts that can you can hold on to that will keep you grounded until the storm passes. These ideas/concepts/thoughts must be deeply grounded in truth. They must be as strong as an iron rod. If you try to hold on to them with your bare hands, you will be whipped away in the storm. You must be tied down securely for the sake of your own survival.
1) I have had to set up wind detectors in my head (the ones used in the movie were really cool). By this I mean that I have had to become familiar with my most dominant spinning emotions. I have become aware of when they first start spinning. For me, during this stage of life, frustration and overwhelm are my weakest spots. My daughter is adorable and delightful, but when there is a time crunch, she seems to be in no hurry. This moment is one of my worst times. When my alarms go off, telling me a tornado is on the way,
2) I run to my well house and strap myself down. The well house is created in times of calm/peace. When my thoughts are stable and constructive, I look for iron rod principles (find at least 1 per day), write them on 3×5’s, and review them over and over until I practically have them memorized. In other words, set aside a time every day to look for a quote worth memorizing, write it on a 3×5 card. Put this new card with at least 5 other cards from previous days. Review the cards periodically throughout the day. This review process is the building and reinforcement of the well house and the sinking of the pipe. If done correctly, when you notice strong feelings approaching, you can pull out the same cards and review them (out loud) and they will re-stabilize you.
Mistakes people make:
1) Lack of preparation. Like so many stories we tell our children, like the ant and the grasshopper, we don’t prepare. We don’t do the work during calm times to prepare for the spinning times. We don’t work during calm times to build well houses, but tend to wait till the wind blows.
2) Think it is too simple to be effective. They measure the size of their emotional pain compared to the size of a 3×5 card and they conclude there is no way the card can win. I have seen one card win, but more often, it is the momentum of a new card every day, and the review of previous cards that build momentum, like a locomotive, that allows the individual to plow right through the twister successfully.
3) Too much thinking. When caught in an emotional/chemical thought twister, many make the mistake of concluding (logically) that the best way out is to think your way out of it. This is so dangerous and usually fruitless. Unproductive thought patterns usually occur in circles, going around and around and around like a twister or a toy train around Christmas tree. Don’t try to build a set of tracks that branch off the useless spin. It is much more effective to just blow up the tracks and land your train on a more useful train of thought. The 3×5’s are used to stimulate the more productive and edifying thought path.
Of course this process takes effort and practice to put into place correctly, but I cannot over emphasize the success I have found using this tool. Let me know if you have any questions.
Maurice W. Harker, LPC email@example.com