Cindy was up again at 2 AM, infuriated at her mother and her older sister. They were so mean and cruel. What they’d said and done hurt so much. It was like she was a child again, subjected to their verbal beatings. The more she thought of what they had done, the angrier she became. She couldn’t stop her racing mind from obsessing on what they’d said. She linked the episode yesterday afternoon to the thousands of times she’d felt the same pain and frustration. She wanted to beat them, even kill them, or never see them again. But they were her family and she thought she couldn’t talk back or leave them. She felt frustrated and stuck.
As the rage took her over, guilt and shame started growing. How could she feel that hateful about her family? Maybe they really were trying to help her? The more she tried to get back to sleep, the more she jumped back and forth between rage and guilt. She hadn’t seemed to make any progress in becoming a better, more spiritual person.
Cindy is stuck in “The Emotional Motivation Cycle.” The episode yesterday was like the key that started her emotional motivational engine. And the more she thought about it, the faster ands hotter the engine went.
This cycle can be triggered by external events like Cindy’s mother and sister attacking her, or by thoughts and memories of previous episodes of harassment, blame or put-downs. Once triggered the cycle repeats and builds in intensity and speed until we are taken over by it. At 2 AM, in a half-sleep state we are most vulnerable to simply watching it run, as if on its own, and take over our minds and bodies.
Stages of typical cycles are:
- Hurt, Pain --> Frustration --> Anger --> Self-Bullying (Blame, shame guilt) --> Frustration -->
- Fear --> Run, Freeze --> Self-Bullying (Blame, shame guilt) --> Frustration --> Anger, Fear -->
Of course, the crucial question for each of us is, “What are the repeating stages in our cycle?” We probably know exactly which thoughts, memories and words will follow in which sequence because we’ve done it to ourselves so many times.
What’s the Purpose of the Cycle? The purpose of the cycle is not really to make us feel angry and bad, even though it inevitably does. The purpose is to motivate ourselves to make effective action. Feeling is a tool; make us feel bad enough and we’ll finally break out of the iceberg that traps us and do something so they can’t hurt us again.
The purpose might seem to be to change the behavior of the bullies, but I think a better way of thinking about it is that its purpose is to goad us so that we simply won’t have bullies and their harassment, abuse, nastiness and bullying on our “Isle of Song.”
We may or may not be able to change their behavior. We must accept that they have free will and they may not stop their toxic behavior. All we can do is have effective consequences for their behavior and not put ourselves in harm’s way. If they won’t change, we can’t allow them on our Isle of Song. We won’t accept their control of us even or especially when they’re righteous. We won’t be slaves, scapegoats or whipping boys/girls.
The major downsides to the Emotional Motivation Cycle method of self-motivation are that:
- It can make us too depressed to act. We make ourselves feel like we did when we were children; all our strength, energy, adult wisdom, determination and skill are sucked out of us, and we feel helpless and hopeless again, like we did when we were children.
- If we wait until we’re enraged, we’ll explode and do something ineffective that we’ll regret. We’ll go too far and then repeat the cycle with emphasis on the self-flagellation. Or our oppressors will change the subject and use our over-reaction to attack us on a different front.
Two responses, often championed in self-help literature, do not work:
- Stop thinking about it. However, ignoring the insistent call of our spirit is not effective, and who would want it to be? Our spirit wants us to do something effective; to stop bullying on our Isle of Song. Nothing less will satisfy our spirit. Why should we settle for less?
- Become more spiritual, understanding, forgiving – act like the Golden Rule requires. The assumption here is that our unconditional love and perfection will convert bullies and they’ll stop abusing us. Or we’ll get into heaven faster. That’s simply not true for real-world bullies. Our spirit knows that also; that’s why it won’t stop bringing us back to the problem.
Instead, I recommend:
- At 2 AM, wake up so we can be mentally, emotionally and spiritually strong, not weak. Get out of bed, eat a little chocolate, shower if you need and plan what to do to act effectively.
- Connect with our spirit’s call and pledge to answer it.
- Connect with our spirit’s strength, courage and determination.
- Then we can coach that inner voice to help us by giving us the necessary strength, courage and determination, and by helping create an effective plan.
But what if the bullies won’t like us or will think badly of us? Who cares what jerks and sociopaths think – just stop them from abusing and harming us? We don’t owe toxic parents or relatives anything, even if they fed us when we were children. Good behavior is the price for admission to our Isle; blood, especially bad blood, doesn’t get them on our Isle. Maybe we can even measure our success by how unhappy they are?
Often, the desire to protect our children from obvious, blatant rotten behavior motivates us to break the cycle and stop the abuse.
We can train ourselves to respond to our spirit when the situation is merely an irritation or frustration. We can develop good habits that function naturally, automatically, easily. The more we start listening to our inner voice, the more we’ll respond effectively in the moment of an assault or at the first self-hating thought.
You’ll find many examples of these responses in “How to Stop Bullies in Their Tracks,” available fastest from this web site.