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About the Author
Tina Gilbertson is a successful therapist workshop leader and blogger living in Portland OR.
Read an Excerpt
Many years ago, long before I could even spell the word “psychotherapy,” let alone had any experience with it, I stumbled on the therapeutic power of wallowing while driving on a Los Angeles freeway. No one was hurt in the process, I’m happy to say!
In my mid-20s, I was nurturing a dream of becoming an actress, mostly because I wanted a job that didn’t feel like work or require me to wear a uniform. If I’d known I could achieve those aims as a counselor in private practice, I could have gone right back to school and saved myself a bundle on headshots.
Anyway, there I was in 1995, living in Hollywood, following the dream. But driving home from acting class one day, I was not happy.
I was thinking about a young woman in my class who was not only a talented actress, but also smart, funny, utterly charming and easily twice as pretty as me. She was seriously cramping my style; I wanted to be the best actress, the “phenom,” in that class. She was upstaging me just by being there. Her hair had more talent than I did. I was miserable.
The acting teacher, on whose opinion I’d hung my career hopes and dreams, seemed to delight in her, while being apparently incapable of remembering my name even after three months of weekly classes. Compared to her, I felt as exciting as a fake fern. How was I supposed to “wow” the producers in the movie biz if my own acting teacher looked right through me?
As I drove home from class that day, I was aware of vaguely “icky” emotions trying to rise up inside me. I didn’t exactly know what I was feeling, I just knew it was bad. I didn’t want to feel bothered by the situation in acting class. But I was bothered.
I tried distracting myself by turning on the radio, but that didn’t work. I still felt awful, and I couldn’t find anything I liked, so I turned it off.
Unpleasant memories sprouted in my mind: The enthusiastic applause for the Other Woman’s scenes, compared to the lukewarm reception of mine; the teacher’s warm smile and high praise for her, and his distracted, more critical comments to me.
I pushed the bad feelings away, but they didn’t get the message; they hung around and kept pestering me while I drove. They were there whether I wanted them to be there or not.
Spontaneously, I decided to speak my feelings aloud. There I was in my car, sitting in traffic this was before everyone had cell phones, let alone hands-free devices for the car speaking to no one.
“I’m jealous.” I said.
There. It was out of the bag.
Nothing bad happened, so I said it again.
“I’m so jealous,” I said, with some curiosity about where this was going, but also with more heat this time. “I’m jealous of her and her talent and good looks. I’m jealous because the teacher thinks she’s brilliant and thinks nothing of me!”
I was on a roll now as bizarre as it sounds, this was starting to feel kind of good, just saying exactly what I felt. “I hate that she’s the teacher’s pet. I hate that I feel like chopped liver in that class. I want what she has. I’m so jealous of her!”
Well, imagine my surprise when I discovered that I felt not worse, but better! The poison inside me was gone for the moment. While I’d been wrestling with those painful feelings, I felt toxic. But once I stopped fighting and just acknowledged them, I felt cleaner.
And then there was another weird surprise. The next feeling that came to me was actually affection for this Other Woman. She was, after all, a genuinely nice person with a cheeky sense of humor, who had made overtures of friendship to me (which I’m sure I’d rebuffed because of my insecurities).
It was as if by claiming all of my stinky feelings about the situation, I’d made room for all my other feelings, including a very real appreciation for this charming budding actress.
It turns out that’s not really too surprising; later we’ll talk about how feelings are like a cloud of trapped butterflies it’s hard to let one out without accidentally freeing a few others.
I was flabbergasted by how much relief it brought for me to just accept how I felt. And shocked that I ended up feeling friendly toward a woman whom I’d thought of as Public Enemy Number One just a short while earlier.
I didn’t feel the need to tell her about my feelings, but I wasn’t going to lie to myself anymore. I felt jealous and small in that class. That was the truth. And in a very real and practical sense, it set me free.
I was able to see clearly for the first time how important the teacher’s approval was to me, especially since I was using his attitude to measure my chances of success as an actress. I understood why I felt so jealous of my classmate; she had something that was terribly important to me. The picture of the situation that I held in my mind became clearer, more nuanced, and less threatening.
Does that mean the difficult feelings went away? No. They lost much of their force, but they didn’t stop coming up until the class was over. Until then, the situation remained the same; the teacher continued to go back and forth between apathy and criticism toward my work, while evidently being enchanted with everything my classmate did. The situation was inherently painful. The difference that wallowing made was, the actual feelings were manageable in a way that lying to myself about them was not.
With my emotions out of the bag, ironically, they felt more under control. I had chosen to own them; they didn’t own me anymore.
The talented classmate and I became acting class buddies. We’d sit together, do scenes together and gossip about what happened in class and beyond. In the end, because of her, I looked forward to being there.
I didn’t completely stop being jealous of her. It’s just that it became okay with me if I felt jealous. It was only a feeling; it didn’t have to be a policy. There was nothing I needed to do about it. I certainly didn’t have to struggle against it.
I had to wallow in my feelings to help my jealousy integrate with the rest of me. Not to do so would have meant stuffing that jealousy down deep inside my heart somewhere, where it would remain and create a vague sense of “yuck,” keeping me from not only being happy, but enjoying a new friendship.
I had spontaneously wallowed, and it had been constructive. And all because of a random decision to stop fighting with myself and just go with what I was feeling for a moment. It’s a good thing I’m insecure and petty or this book might not have been written!
I long ago lost touch with my talented friend. A recent Internet search turned up nothing at all as far as TV, film or theater acting credits under her name, but I did find a photo of a beautiful real estate agent with a cheeky smile full of confidence. I’m not sure it was her. But I suspect she went into something that doesn’t feel like work to her, or require her to wear a uniform.
Table of Contents
Introduction: The Wonderful World of Wallowing
What Would You Do If You Lost Everything?
What If You Have Everything and Still Aren’t Happy?
Sidebar: Be Where You Are
What Does Wallowing Look Like?
How to Use This Book
Part I. DIP YOUR TOE IN THE WATER
Chapter 1: Wallowing is Mostly Allowing
How You Cope With Anything Is How You Cope With Everything
You Can’t Wallow Unless You ALLOW
Sidebar: On Becoming Whole
The Benefits of Wallowing
The Escalation Cycle
Figure 1 The Escalation Cycle
Figure 2 The Constructive Wallowing Cycle
Finding Time to Wallow
Chapter 2: The Accidental Wallower: My Story
Getting Over a Happy Childhood
Sidebar: Lessons from the School of Hard Knocks
Ditch That Backlog!
Chapter 3: Emotions: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You
Feelings vs. Emotions
Sidebar: Every Feeling Has Value
Having Feelings in Public
Wallowing Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry
Table 1. Some Ways to Deal with Feelings
Name That Feeling!
Feelings vs. Thoughts
The Substitution Test
Table 2. Some Feeling Words
Feelings vs. Behavior
Good People Have Bad Feelings Too
How Hurting Heals
The Life Cycle of a Feeling
How to Let Painful Feelings Go
You Can’t Choose Your Feelings
Part II. DIVE IN!
Chapter 4: 11 Good Reasons to Wallow
Reason #1: You have no choice
Reason #2: It may be good for your health
Reason #3: Get your energy back
Reason #4: If you can’t feel bad, you won’t feel good
Sidebar: If You’re Not Wallowing, You’re Not Living
Reason #5: You’re never more alone than when you abandon yourself
Reason #6: What we don’t acknowledge, controls us
Reason #7: You'll feel better sooner
Reason #8: It’s natural
Reason #9: We all have something that needs healing
Reason #10: What doesn’t kill you makes you confident!
Reason #11: Improve your relationships
Chapter 5: The T-R-U-T-H Technique
Self-Criticism: As Effective as it is Enjoyable
The Antidote: Self-Compassion
Change Your Life From the Inside Out
The T-R-U-T-H Technique
T: Tell yourself the situation
R: Realize what you’re feeling
U: Uncover self-criticism
T: Try to understand yourself
Sidebar: Constructive Surrender
H: Have the feeling
Make it Work for You
Tips for Dealing with Sadness, Anger or Fear
The Secret to Your Success
Chapter 6: Constructive Wallowing in Action
The Inconsiderate Neighbor
A Disappointing Vacation
A Loved One With a Scary Diagnosis
“I Can’t Get Over What Happened”
Sidebar: To Know You is to Love You
The T-R-U-T-H Technique Worksheet
Part III. FLOAT LIKE A BUTTERFLY
Chapter 7: The Daunting Dozen: Top 12 Wallowing Worries
Worry #1: My feelings might be wrong
Worry #2: I don’t want to be negative
Worry #3: It’s no use dwelling on the past
Worry #4: If I feel it, I have to do something about it
Worry #5: I’m being self-indulgent
Worry #6: I’m just making myself feel bad
Worry #7: I should be grateful it’s not worse
Worry #8: My feelings are draining and/or toxic
Worry #9: I don’t want to feel this way for the rest of my life
Worry #10: I should try to forgive, not hold on to my anger
Worry #11: I don’t want to cry
Worry #12: What if I can’t stop the feelings once they start?
Chapter 8: Your Wallowing Workout: 10 Activities for Heart and Mind
Nature or Nurture?
Activity 1: Feelings History
Table 2. Some Feeling Words
Activity 2: Practice Loving Yourself
Activity 3: Letter of Forgiveness to Yourself
Activity 4: Letter of Apology to Yourself
Getting in Touch With Feelings
Activity 5: Relaxation
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Activity 6. Art Project
Activity 7. Listen to Your Heart
Sidebar: Trust Your Heart
How to Connect With Your Heart
Daily & Weekly Exercises
Activity 8. Know Yourself
Activity 9. Talk About Feelings
Activity 10. Weekly Feelings Chart
How to Use the Chart
Table 3. Weekly Feelings Chart
The Quiz, Take Two!
Chapter 9: Wallowing Questions & Answers
1. Is there such a thing as NON-constructive wallowing?
2. What if I can’t cry?
3. Should I really wallow in GUILT?
4. What about anxiety? Should I wallow in that?
5. I believe in The Law of Attraction. How can I wallow in negative feelings without attracting negativity?
6. Will wallowing help me feel better about a situation I can’t change?
7. What if I always have the same feelings in every relationship I’m in?
8. If feelings are never wrong, why do they sometimes change when we get new information?
9. Why can’t I just change my feelings by changing my thoughts?
10. Why do some feelings seem to last so long?
Figure 1. Perceived feeling duration
Figure 2. Actual feeling duration
11. How do I cultivate compassion for myself without feeling phony?
Sidebar: Compassion Heals
How to Choose a Therapist
What Feelings-Friendly Therapy Looks Like
Where to Find a Therapist
Questions to Ask Before You Begin
Your Journey Begins