ONE THING ALMOST ALWAYS goes with a negative
emotion: A narrow focus of attention. Sometimes the narrow focus
causes the dysphoria (negative emotion, opposite of euphoria),
for example, if you focus on something that makes you angry or
worried or sad. And sometimes the dysphoria causes the narrow
focus. That is not to say a narrow focus always causes dysphoria.
It does not. When you focus your attention on a worthy purpose,
the focus can create good feelings. But if you feel bad, your
attention is probably narrow. Almost every time. Dysphoria is
a form of self-hypnosis. Or at least it is useful to think of
it that way.
A hypnotic trance is a tight focus of attention.
And when you focus your attention, you are in a kind of trance.
You've probably seen something like this: You speak to someone
when he is watching TV and he doesn't hear you at all. You were
standing close to him and you spoke loudly. But he didn't hear
you. Have you ever seen that? If you have, you have seen hypnosis.
He couldn't hear you because he was focused on the television
focused completely. His attention was so captivated by
the images and sounds on the TV, all his attention had narrowed
to only that. He was literally hypnotized by the TV. That's a
form of hypnosis. We've all experienced it.
A good hypnotist focuses your mind carefully.
She directs your mind. And she makes suggestions to help
you narrow your focus: "Listen to the sound of my voice
and my voice only, etc." The hypnotist encourages you to
get comfortable first so you are not distracted by physical discomfort
that would interfere with the narrowing of your attention
and might bring you out of your trance.
But this article isn't about hypnosis.
It is about how the focus of your attention becomes narrow when
you experience negative emotions (dysphoria). And even more specifically,
it is about what you can do about it when it happens. But the
subject of hypnosis is important to talk about because when you
get upset or depressed or angry, it is very much like being in
a trance, and if something happens that interrupts you, it feels
like you "snap out of it."
For example, my wife was visiting one of
our nieces at her house. She is 7 years old (my niece, not my
wife). Her mom was punishing her and sent her to her room. Klassy
(my wife) went in there with her and our niece was fuming. "I
was only petting the cat," she said, indignantly.
Klassy said, "No, you knew you were
misbehaving." Our niece refused to acknowledge it: "It
isn't fair; I was only playing with the cat." This could
be called a righteous indignation trance. She was creating
her state of mind. She was focusing her mind on one aspect (she
was playing with the cat) and ignoring the other aspects (she
knew her mom didn't want her under the table, etc.)
Klassy kept insisting, "I know, honey,
but you knew you shouldn't have been under the table." All
at once, she snapped out of it. Klassy said it was like she "came
to." Suddenly, her anger disappeared and she said, "I
guess I should apologize." Boom! Just like that.
You can snap other people out of their
dysphoria sometimes by expanding the focus of their minds, by
putting their attention on other aspects. A depressed friend
might say, "I'm ruined. I lost my job today. I can't believe
it. I just can't keep a job."
Your friend has narrowed her focus down
to one single event and to her, that's all there is: loss and
failure and misery. The loss of the job has focused her attention.
Like a hypnotist who says, "Look into my eyes," the
job-loss has arrested her attention and mesmerized her.
not mesmerized, so you can see there is more to pay attention
to. So you say, "Wait a minute. They were just laying people
off and you don't have much seniority. They had to lay
you off no matter how good a job you did. You'll find another
job. You're going to make it. This is just one setback. Ten years
from now if you even remember this, you'll look back and think
it was no big deal." This kind of talk can sometimes snap
someone out of the narrow focus. You are putting your friend's
attention on a bigger field than the little dot she's been looking
But what can you do to yourself? What can
you do when you feel dysphoric?
I'll tell you, this is going to sound like
nothing, but you try it and then pass judgment, okay?
When you feel dysphoric, if you only have the thought, "My
focus must be very narrow right now," you are on your way
out of it. It is like someone in a trance saying, "I think
I am in a trance right now." A person who says that is less
hypnotized just by being aware they are hypnotized.
When you can simply realize your focus
is narrow, it is automatically less narrow at that point, isn't
it? Do you see what I mean? As soon as you know you are focusing
your attention too narrowly, that realization itself is an expansion.
It will loosen your focus and lead you to wonder what you are
focusing on and what you are ignoring. At this point, you are
on your way out of it. Try it. It's a simple thing. But so are
paper clips. Something simple can be very useful.
When you feel bad, say to yourself,
My focus must be very narrow right now.