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Are you willing?

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Most discussions on Emotion Regulation start with the topic of Mindfulness. Some will begin with the topic of Wise Mind. I will talk about both of these, but I am going to start here with the topic of Willingness.

 

Willingness is a skill that will help in so many areas, even in pursuing Mindfulness and understanding Wise Mind. You may be asking, what are Mindfulness, Wise Mind and Willingness. They are just a few of some very useful emotion regulation skills that can be learned and used in anxiety and panic situations, times of depression, PTS triggering events, during suicidal ideation and even in times of extreme happiness to balance life’s emotional responses to aid in moving through stress and living a balanced emotional life.

 

I first learned of Emotion Regulation during a time of counseling for what I perceived to be extreme anxiety. Emotion Regulation includes skills from Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. It is taught to people struggling with the highs and lows of emotion in many different Mental health and behavioral health situations, disorders and phases of life. Emotion Regulation is just what it sounds like: regulating emotions. There are many ways to calm your emotions. It is sometimes very difficult, learning the skills takes many years of practice and to be successful you must be WILLING.

 

In the Bible the heroes we study learned willingness through suffering. Suffering can be a catalyst to cause us to reexamine our lives and at times make changes. Suffering comes in many forms though, sickness grief, abuse, financial hardship, spiritual doubt, relationship challenges and so much more. Those willing to endure suffering for sharing the gospel gain a crown at the end of this life and the beginning of the next.

 

Job was willing to sit with his grief and learn from God. He was willing to hear his friends even though they really didn’t say anything helpful. He was willing to praise God even when his wife was telling him to curse God. HE was willing to do the hard work of rebuilding after the loss of everything and almost everyone he loved.

 

Joseph was willing to work diligently and with integrity of heart no matter what job he had. He was willing to uphold the sanctity of marriage even when his employer’s wife demanded his affection illicitly. Joseph was willing to speak for God in his darkest times and to the highest in the land without any assurance of profit. Joseph was willing to forgive his brothers and see God’s plan after the worst of abuse and betrayal.

 

Abraham was willing to keep going when the going was going nowhere. David was willing to hear from Nathan the prophet, a story that revealed his treachery towards Uriah and Bathsheba. He was willing to repent. David was willing for years to take a backseat to Saul, even when Saul wanted him dead. He was willing to wait/pursue God while waiting for God’s timing. David was willing to let Saul go when he had him at knife point even when Saul knew nothing of the encounter until afterward.

 

Paul and all the other other apostles were willing to go to the ends of the earth suffering extreme hardship and abuse to spread the Gospel. They were willing to help others during that hardship. They were willing to praise God form the deepest and darkest and rankest, most disgusting pits of prisons. Jeremiah was willing to sit in a sewer for prophesying truth rather than obey an evil government. Hidea was willing to stay married to a traitorous and adulterous wife to show an example of Israel’s evil ways. He was willing to love children that were most likely not his own. He was willing to regain his shameful spouse again and again to show how God keeps bringing us back around to himself.

 

And then there is Jesus! Jesus was willing to set aside his rights and abilities as GOD to be born as a human baby, live the life of a lowly tradesman, then heal people that would later turn on him and kill him. He was willing to endure that DEATH because of the joy of knowing us. Jesus was willing to do everything GOD said we needed to do so that we could be with him in a relationship now and for forever. He suffered humiliation, physical torture, loss of family, shame of nakedness, life in an ethnically despised people group, assault, hunger, tiredness and everything else a human could ever go through on this earth.

 

Jesus’ willingness makes our willingness possible. Paul said that Jesus' strength is perfectly shown when we are weak and yet willing to keep going in life. Willingness makes everything else possible. I want to start with my best learned lesson and that is: Be Willing!

 

The one thing I keep doing is to be willing to try one more day, one more skill, one more lesson, one more prayer, one more song, one more hug, one more day at practicing Willingness. Philippians 3 says, in paraphrase, that we can turn from addressing the past over and over again, and we can look forward to the future. We can join others in doing the same and we can be willing to look to the cross of Christ for continual inspiration when the going gets tough.

 

Be willing to hear and be willing to receive instruction! The skills I will discuss may seem foreign to you or they seem like so much New Age, Buddhist or psychological drivel. But God instituted the ways of mindfulness, willingness, breathing, self-soothing and other skills to enable us to bear the weight of emotional distress. There is no getting away from emotional distress if we are human beings. Suffering of some form or another will come during our lives. We don’t have to seek or continue to seek comfort in the arms of an illicit relationship or the bottle or drugs that dull our senses, or in dangerous activities that cause bodily harm and destroy us. We can learn healthy ways to cope with stress, suffering, hardship and even mental disease and disorder with skills that allow us to regulate our emotional responses. It all starts with our willingness to learn, persevere, and share our struggles with a coach or mentor or therapist and even in a group of peers, and to keep practicing until the helpful response becomes the normal response instead of the unhelpful response continuing to cause more struggle.

 

How do you employ the skill of Willingness? Let me talk a bit about trauma here and what my body went through in response to trauma. After living the first 25 years of my life in a state of violence and abuse I became afraid of many things. I refused to swim because the swimming pool drain might suck me under. Any man that resembled my dad caused me to tense up, shake, hyperventilate, turn and go the other way. I went to great effort to avoid deep connection of any kind with anyone, especially physical contact. In the presence of dogs I froze, cried, and clung to my husband. In darkness I froze, I cried out. When my husband would leave town I cried incessantly, called every opportunity, slept with the lights on, music on, tv on. I slept fitfully, woke at every creak and sound. Adrenaline roiled and turned in chest and stomach. My muscles stayed so tense that I had neck and back pain constantly and when I did try to go to sleep, I would feel like I was falling, and jolt awake.

 

I ordered my life to avoid all distressing sensations and experiences. Soon I was only at home, only visited “safe” friends and family. Clung to my kids and husband during church, social events. I stopped grocery shopping, meeting new people and disconnected from almost everything and everyone. When I began therapy because I could no longer stand the anxiety and turmoil inside things went from bad to worse. WHY? I thought therapy would help me. The problem was that to get over the anxiety I had to GO THROUGH the suffering. I struggled with my attitude. I did not want to be uncomfortable anymore.

 

I clammed up. I wanted to die. I kept going to therapy, but I didn’t speak for months even a couple of years. I listened though, and the therapists kept talking about willingness to change, willingness to go through the process of healing. Would I be willing to try this, or that? Was I willing to stay in the hospital, take this or that medicine. Could I try this or that breathing exercise? Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. In part, I said yes because I didn’t think it was ok to say no. After all they were trying to help me. I kept going. One day I was able to take my hood down in a group. Another day, weeks later, I was able to say my name. Then I answered one of the questions. Slowly a little bit at a time over a couple years, by being willing to keep showing up and listening and practicing the skills at home, I became more willing. I wanted to learn more about my condition and how to get past it. I decided to consciously be willing to put forth the effort I was told would bring the most benefit. Finally, I shared the deepest parts of my dark past. Actually, I shared a bit at a time with my therapist. I drew my stories and struggles when I couldn’t vocalize them.

 

When it was most difficult, I would dissociate; go into my own headspace, zone out, become unreachable, and sometimes end up back in the hospital. Sometimes I would dissociate very noticeably around other people. The struggle I faced caused me to want to hide away and avoid those shame-causing experiences. I decided though, each time to willingly face the discomfort again and again and that is the skill that made everything else a bit easier. Along with my therapy team and my family we figured out some things that would work to break the dissociation, like giving me an ice pack, (water in my face, not so much), talking to me about Star Wars, having people back away to give me space instead of crowding around to lay hands on and pray. Giving fist bumps and high fives instead of hugs every time I walked into a room. It was by trial and error, yes, and it was by willingness that I have gotten to the place where I am functioning on my own again, using all these things I learned to manage my emotions and trauma response.

 

I allowed myself to be vulnerable with dogs, women, my husband, my friends, my pastors. I began to walk at night. I began to go fishing. I joined each therapy group they had for me. I soon became able to raise my hand, lift up my head, share experiences. I met new people. I camped alone. I backpacked alone. I started shopping again. I even now own a service dog. I swim in open water, and I can swim down and touch the drain in pools. When I make a mistake, I receive correction for my own benefit. I let others hug me. I hug people willingly now. I went through 12 surgeries for various reasons, having doctors and nurses and others touch and care for me. It has been horribly and wonderfully difficult and I am, perhaps, just maybe, a mostly fearless woman because of willingness. Willingness to be uncomfortable, to be vulnerable, to be touched, to go where I was afraid to go…WILLINGNESS HAS CHANGED MY LIFE!

 

The skill of WILLINGNESS says, even when it is hard, I WILL do it. I am willing to give it a try. I will go on, one more hour, one more day, week, month year, decade. I am willing to practice even when it seems like it isn’t working. I am willing to do it one more time.

 

I prayed for grace to help when I was struggling. What I struggled with was willFULness. Willfulness says I WON’T do what is uncomfortable. I can’t go on another minute or day or hour. I shouldn’t have to forgive. Willfulness is being at odds with what will help. WILLFULNESS is being willing to stay in my anxiety, depression or disorder to avoid discomfort. Willfulness seeks comfort. The thing is that if you are WILLING to experience discomfort and learn helpful skills and methods of coping, then on the other side is COMFORT in almost any of those situations you were previously avoiding! Give WILLINGNESS a try!

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