We’ve all been there, out for a walk when the weather suddenly changes, caught in a sudden downpour in the wrong clothes. We did our best to find shelter, but the rain continued, so we decided to carry on walking. As we walked, the cold and uncomfortable wetness of the rain started to feel unpleasant. We entertained some self-critical thoughts about not taking an umbrella or looking at the weather forecast before setting off. After all, we reacted in the same way as most other people would, and felt uncomfortable and annoyed, “Why does it have to rain on me?”
We lead busy and demanding lives and can easily accumulate moments of mental and emotional agitation and stress, which when left unacknowledged is carried over into the next activity, and the rest of the day. Difficult situations can cause stress as well as unpleasant emotions like anger, anxiety, or sadness. Sometimes we push back on and resist difficulty. At other times, our impulse is to defend ourselves from these unwanted feelings, by ignoring and avoiding them altogether. Unnoticed and unacknowledged, the feelings remain in the background, triggering negative automatic thoughts, which end up amplifying and re-activating the emotion in a potentially endless loop, which increases and extends our suffering.
So, why do we do this, and is there a better way of working with difficulty?