What happens when you know for sure that you aren’t in Brain State 2. That sweet clarity of knowing your feelings — really nailing the strongest feeling — and knowing precisely what you need is NOT going to happy. What’s more, you know for sure you aren’t in Brain State 4, because that slight lost feeling is not there. You aren’t being cut off at the knees by unreasonable expectations. Sure your expectations may be a little shaky, slightly unreasonable, but all in all, a veritable anchor: solid and sustaining. You’re in Brain State 3. Perfect. A good flurry of feelings — emotional housecleaning — and you’re back to Brain State 2 and often to Brain State 1.
What do we know about Brain State 3? First of all, for some people is does not FEEL emotional. We are more stressed than in Brain State 2 and on the continuum either of hyper-arousal or dissociation, which are psych speak for got a bee in your bonnet, all churned up OR emotionally numb. Feelings? Nope. Just a whole lot of repetitive thoughts. In this state, our unconscious strategy of analyzing everything as a way to give ourselves the illusion of control is rampant. If we could just keep those emotions shut down and figure it all out, we’d be safe.
In both extremes, we stay stuck at 3 or it becomes a slippery slope to Brain State 4 or Brain State 5. Not a pretty picture. In either scenario, stress causing us to ditch feelings or ramp up emotions so that there are so many of them we can’t find the one that is strongest, calls for the same tool.
Emotional Housecleaning. In it, you express four negative feelings (anger, sadness, fear and guilt) and four positive ones (their opposites — grateful, happy, secure and proud), in that order. Expressing feelings decreases stress. You start with the negative feelings, because the brain has to clear away the negative ones to reduce stress to the point that we can feel the positive ones.
I developed this tool from trying to figure out how to be responsive to obese children during their visits to the UCSF Obesity Clinic (which has now evolved into a more medical clinic under the direction of Robert Lustig, MD. At the time, the clinic was directed by Dr. Susan Johnson and me, with Shapedown groups held weekly, and many children flowing through out clinic and gaining these skills.
In retrospect, most of the children who were coming into the clinic, often nudged or forced by their parents to do so, were at Brain State 3. I would listen to them, and ask how they felt. At some point, their emotions would start flowing: anger, sadness, fear and guilt . . . and if I just held onto myself through the process, those emotions would round the bend and become positive: “but I’m so grateful that . . . happy that . . . secure that . . . and proud that . . ” Often it wasn’t quick so clean and neat, but the trend was for them to first express the negative feelings only to experience the positive ones.
To use Emotional Housecleaning, you just think the words: I feel . . then the emotion . . and complete the sentence with whatever words come to mind. Here’s my Emotional Housecleaning right now. Notice that the emotions are all on different topics. If they were on the same topic, chances are that I am in Brain State 4. Here goes:
I feel angry that my body hurts, specifically, my shoulder.
I feel sad that my mother is gone.
I feel afraid that my dad is lonely.
I feel guilty that the house is a mess.
(Notice that I am turning the corner from negative to positive emotions!)
I feel grateful for my family.
I feel happy that I the sun is shining.
I feel secure that I am following my spiritual path.
I feel proud that I am exercising more.
Now, for a surge of joy, a Joy Point. I did it! I used the tool for Brain State 3, and I feel . . . better. Voila! Brain State 1.
Give it a try, and be curious about what comes out as you complete the sentence. It is coming from your emotional brain, which means that it is never boring!