As we comfort ourselves in times of difficulties, we may unknowingly experience backdraft - the feeling of discomfort that may arise from old emotional wounds. This experience can be confusing but when responded well to, it can be transformative.
What is backdraft?
“Backdraft” is a term that firefighters use to describe how a fire can intensify when fresh oxygen is introduced in a previously oxygen deprived environment usually when a door or a window is opened. A similar effect can occur when we begin to open up and experience our emotions fully.
For some of us, our hearts may have been bruised by pain accumulated over our lifetime. In order to function in our lives, we have learnt to shut out and suppress negative experiences.
While self-compassion has the capacity to reach deep into the heart and offer unconditional love, the depths of the heart is also where we hold our most painful and tender memories. When we offer ourselves unconditional love – love without any condition – emotions and experiences unlike love can be revealed, and this is what backdraft is all about.
The pain isn’t caused by your self-compassion, it is revealed by it
We often know something is present because we’ve experienced its absence in the past. We know light because we know darkness, relaxation because of tension, and joy because of sorrow. Indeed, the mind often evokes a counter example of what we’re talking or thinking about, especially if we’re dealing with a concept that’s new or foreign to us, like being more kind than usual. It is our mind’s way of trying to categorize and make sense of things. For example, if you think to yourself, “may I be happy,” you may then think of times you weren’t happy.
It works similarly with emotional memories. When we begin to love and treat ourselves with kindness, it can sometimes evoke memories and feelings from when we were not cared for, loved, or accepted in the past. These emotions can be especially activated if someone didn't receive the kind of love they deserved as a child.
How do I recognise backdraft?
Backdraft can show up as any type of emotional, mental or physical discomfort. For example:
● Emotionally - guilt, fear, sadness
● Mentally - “I’m all alone”, “I’m unworthy”
● Physically - body memories,numbness, aches
These discomforts often seem to appear out of nowhere and we may not understand why it is happening. More often than not, we tend to react in ways that increase the intensity of the backdraft. For example, we may start criticizing ourselves for being a crybaby, get agitated or even go into a tug of war between our rational minds and emotional hearts. All these reactions are natural and can also be met with kindness and compassion. So, how do we skillfully approach backdraft then?
Tip 1: Allow and observe
Allow backdraft to stream in the background of your awareness and see if it dissipates on its own. Slightly slow down the pace of the compassion practices you are doing if the backdraft remains strong.
Tip 2: Practice mindfulness
If backdraft remains too distressing, practice mindfulness to regulate your emotions. Redirect attention to a neutral focus inside your body (e.g. your breathing), or a sensation at the boundary of the body (e.g. your legs pressing against the floor), or a sense object in the outside world (e.g. the coffee aroma). The further from your body you go, the easier it will be.
Tip 3: Anchor awareness in daily activities that comfort you
Anchor your awareness in ordinary activities such as washing dishes, going for a walk, taking a warm bath, or listening to music. Very importantly, these activities should comfort, soothe and support you. If you find yourself ruminating on negative thoughts while doing an activity, switch to another task.
All said and done, you are the foremost expert on your life and what you need. By examining your needs in the moment, even as you are experiencing a backdraft, you can become more skillful in responding to those needs.
To learn more about how you can cope better with backdraft, kindly contact Now.Here. at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is a blog collaboration project between Now.Here. and Samaritans of Singapore to offer key insights and practical skills as preventive and supportive measures towards suicidal thoughts for the World Suicide Prevention Day.
This article is contributed by Now.Here., a social enterprise that empowers people with the skills of compassion to experience happiness, flourish and contribute to a better world. Visit them at www.now-here.global.
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