Get Outa That FUNK!

A funk. Don’t look at me like you don’t know what a funk is. We all have them. And they are always dysfunktional!

I define a funk as that place we go when we have been hurt, upset, or disappointed. We go to that place, and we nurse our wounds, rehearse the wrongs done to us, and curse what happened, the situation, the people involved, and often ourselves.

The dictionary defines it as: 

      •. Shrinking back from an undertaking

      • Cowardice

      • Overwhelmed and feeling blue


As I said, we all have our own funk that we go to. The only difference is what it looks like. For some it looks like a steel wall and our facial expression warns anyone who comes near. For some of us it is a stony silence where we simply appear to not be present. For some of us it’s slamming things here and there without a word to let those around us know what is wrong.

Funks are our less-than-ideal way of dealing with hurt, anger and disappointment. For most of us it’s a learned, knee-jerk reaction.

You probably will not consider this a news alert… but funks are destructive. They are destructive to us when we are in a funk, and they are destructive to those who are exposed to our funks.

I know, I know! You are hurt! Someone did not acknowledge a great thing you did. Or you were brokenhearted because someone you love has said mean things to you. Or you were disappointed because you needed to be loved and the person you counted on was not there for you. Or you are angry because someone disclosed something about your life that they promised they would never share. Or you are angry because someone let you down, again. Or you are afraid, because you think someone you love is slipping away. Or you are afraid because your company is down-sizing and your job is at stake. Or because you got a bad health report.

These things are very real, and they are troubling. However, you will not find answers inside your funk.

There is no great destruction done when we pop into a funk as a knee-jerk reaction. It’s when we choose to remain in that funk that it becomes destructive. Funks that last longer than 90 seconds create destruction, in you and in those around you.

How? Let’s start with looking at how they create destruction inside you. When we react to an event by withdrawing into ourselves, we naturally begin to rehearse the situation. As we rehearse it in our minds, we set our reticular activating system (RAS) in motion.  As we have discussed in previous blogs, this automatically alerts our RAS to be vigilant for “bad things” to happen. We automatically start to assume the worst in the behavior of those around us. This sets our brains into a downward spiral that floods stress hormones into our bodies. Our resourcefulness diminishes; depression and/or anxiety begins to rise. Our thinking may become foggy, and we begin to feel alone and isolated. At that point we begin to nurse the wound, which further isolates us. All of these things together work to create poor decision making. Finally, our health is at risk because it decreases our immune function. And we “feel” horrible! Keep in mind that we are unaware of this cascade of automatic reactions.  Wow.

How are funks destructive to others? Have you ever heard the phrase, “The tension is so thick in here you could cut it with a knife?” That’s how people feel who experience your funk. Since you are unaware of what has happened, your likely reaction may just be, “What? I didn’t say a word!”

Well, you may be surprised to learn that research says that our movements, expressions, and other such nonverbal communications are 10 times more active during a funk. Often, those around you don’t know why you are in a funk. And even if they do, they feel helpless to do anything about it. What they “feel” coming off of you is aggression! They are deeply impacted, which creates their own flood of stress hormones. Action; reaction; reaction; reaction. And all of this happens outside of the awareness of all involved!

As you could imagine, all this has practical consequences. Many relationship partners are understandably frustrated and angry. In my office, I often hear phrases such as, “you make me sick!” To make clear the harm inflicted by funks, I tell couples that when they practice funks, they truly do have a role in making their partner literally sick. As mentioned above, the cascading reactions ultimately results in their partner experiencing a flood of stress hormones. Their immune function is compromised, and research has shown that this flood creates cardiovascular, gastrointestinal, and pulmonary challenges. “Sick.”

When I address clients and Life Coaching students about their funks, I often learn about their disempowering belief systems. I hear things such as: “It’s just the way I am, and I can’t help it.” Or, “Everyone in my family does funk so I think it’s genetic.” Or, “It’s just a natural reaction and I can’t do anything about it.”

They normally do not like my ensuing challenges, although I always deliver them with great respect and compassion. “You can indeed help it, if you are willing, and care enough about yourself and those you love to do so.” Or, “I don’t doubt that you learned that behavior from various people in your family. But it is not in your genes, it is in your jeans ….” Meaning it takes a conscious act to pull your jeans on every morning, and just as you could choose to wear khakis instead, you can also choose to do something other than dropping into a funk! (Yes, I know it’s not easy, and we will talk about how to do something different in just a moment.)

No one enjoys being in a funk, and no one enjoys being around us when we are in one. So why do we continue to retreat into them? 

I believe we do it for a variety of reasons:

  1. To punish the person or situation that created the knee-jerk reaction into a funk.
  2. Because we feel unsafe and therefore wall ourselves off from the world.
  3. Because we never considered we had any other option. 
  4. Because we don’t truly understand the destruction and havoc it creates. 
  5. Because we don’t know what else to do. 

Some or all of these may apply to you. But I believe this about you… now that you understand the destruction, you will want to do something different for yourself and those around you; something better, something more productive.

Let’s look at some steps to take in the first 90 seconds. These steps may feel counter-intuitive. But if you will take them anyway, you will be able to resolve your funk, and avoid the destruction.

1. Press pause and find something to be grateful for. (If you’ve not read my blog about how gratitude brings heart and brain waves into synchronicity, click here.)

When we practice gratitude, we immediately become more resourceful, depression and anxiety dissipate, and we can tap into “win/win” thinking. Spend just three minutes thinking of things that you can be grateful for. You may not be grateful for the job you were downsized from, but are you grateful for anything you learned or experienced? Or colleagues that you got to know? You may not be grateful for your girlfriend or boyfriend pulling away and withdrawing love but are there moments you spent together that you can be grateful for?

2. Consciously reset your reticular activating system into searching for solutions or resolution. How do you do that? Take a few minutes to say some things out loud that set the system in motion. Yes, it’s eventually effective if you just think it. But hearing it out loud and particularly hearing your voice say it, puts the desired reset onto a fastrack. I say things like this, “I am smart and resourceful and there are solutions that can turn this around. God help me find them.” Practice. Whatever works for you, say it. Be cautious not to speak about the problem itself out loud. Speak about how great the solutions will be. To paraphrase the Bible, “What you speak comes to be.”

3. Ask yourself who you would like to be in this kind of situation. A number of years ago, I would often see these initials … WWJD. “What would Jesus do?” It’s a mental reminder to pause and think. Do the same thing. If you were to consider what your “best self” would do, what would that be? Or if you have someone you admire, ask yourself what they would do? How would that feel? How would you feel about yourself?

At a time in my life when I was brokenhearted, my mentor/coach, Dr. Patricia Love, asked me, “How do you think Oprah would handle this?” It was a question out of nowhere! First, it shifted my focus from my broken heart. But as I thought about it, it made me laugh! I don’t know Oprah personally, but I admire her and her story. So when Dr. Love encouraged me with “just grab your imagination!” I couldn’t help but laugh as I said, “I can just imagine her taking a deep breath, pulling herself out of her funk, putting on her make-up and her cutest outfit, and running out in front of her audience and throwing her arms open wide and just proclaiming… “NEXT!” As if there were men lined up who would love her and cherish her! 

Now don’t worry… I don’t have an audience to run out in front of, and I didn’t run out into my front yard and shout “next!” But it certainly pulled me out of my funk.

I understand that once you’ve pulled yourself out of the funk there are often still situations to be handled. But my belief is that you are far more able to handle those with the “emotional mastery” you will find at the end of this process. I define emotional mastery as: “The ability to clearly identify and experience our emotions; identify the gift in the emotion, and to use the emotion to chart a course forward that is empowering to ourselves and others.”

Yes, that’s a mouthful! But I bet you get the jest. From a place of being in a funk, we can only create destruction. But from a place of emotional mastery, we can create hope, healing, and restoration.

Come on now! Get out of that funk! It’s not funktional! (and may I say, with great respect and compassion, it is not mature or attractive either!) Let’s all spread some hope, healing and restoration in our part of the world!