There's nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so - Shakespeare
Okay, now you have to do one about those beliefs that are all standing in a big lobby - like at intermission - and theyre all kind of mumbling together so you cant really pick out one to change. They all kind of band together in a din of anxiety or fear or whatever the belief may be. What then?
So, this post is for Christine. I didn't think when I blithely told her I would have something next week for her that a book would be more appropriate, but here is a schematic outline for her, for you, and for me.
Emotions serve an evaluative function in our lives. Put baldly, emotions are a statement about how we feel about something. This is good. That is bad.
The sort of situation Christine describes appears complicated, but dealing with it is more time consuming (it can take years. I know.) than complex. There are several things you have to realize first.
- You sustain your own emotional state, not anything outside you.
- Emotion is the result of beliefs, especially evaluative beliefs.
- Emotions result from identifying with beliefs.
- The beliefs generating the emotion are things you are telling yourself.
- If you don't want to change, you won't.
Freud and a lot of other therapists who have been influenced by him make a big deal about finding the source of the negative programming that we have. They've convinced people that the root of your problems lie in events that happened sometime in the past that you've buried and have to unbury before you can change. That's a crock. We don't have to delve into a dog's personal history to be able to change its behavior. We don't have to know who wrote a computer program to change it. History is interesting. History can be important. History is not necessary. The current behavior is important. The beliefs that cause your emotions aren't buried in some darkly unconscious place that is inaccessible without spending years on a couch. They are things you tell yourself every day.
This isn't to say that the assistance of a therapist, teacher, or trainer isn't helpful, and at times necessary. Personal growth has relied on such for thousands of years. It can be difficult to be on the inside of a set a beliefs and see how they effect you. On the same post I noted earlier, Dave, from The Disquiet in Men, noted that our beliefs are like
the water the fish sees thru. That is why it can be tough to do meaningful, lasting change alone
In addition, just being around someone who displays the characteristics you want to encourage in yourself teaches you more positive ways to act and react. It is hard to over-emphasize the importance of role models and teachers in learning.
Working on your own is tough, but not impossible.So how do you do it? There are several techniques you can use. We are all individuals, and may find one that works better than others for us. Here is one. You can do this mentally, but you'll find it more effective if you write as you go along.
1. Most emotions are situational. You may suffer from stage-fright. You may get angry when you come home and find that your child didn't clean up his room like he said he would before he left that morning. You may get angry when you're 15 minutes late for work and stuck in a traffic jam. You may be hurt when your spouse didn't get you roses for your birthday. You need to focus on one situation at a time. Don't try to work with emotions in general. Work with the emotions aroused in a particular situation.
2. Imaginatively put yourself in the situation that arouses the emotion you're trying to change. Open the doors and invite the people into the auditorium of your mind. You want to feel the emotion, but be distant enough from it to look at it objectively. Emotions, especially negative emotions, are largely reactive. When you're in the actual situation where the negative emotion comes into play, it can be almost impossible to not be overwhelmed by the emotion. So from a safe place, use your imagination to put yourself in the situation where the emotion is aroused.
3. Feel the emotion. Feel the blood pulsing in your temples. Feel the tension build up in your muscles. Feel the jerkiness of your breath. Feel your heart speed up. Feel the tears gathering in your eyes. You've recreated the circumstance, now recreate the emotion.
4. As you build up the circumstance and the emotion, look at your thoughts. Really look at them. If the problem is stage fright, you may find yourself thinking something on the lines of "What if I suck? What if they don't like me? I've never been in front of so many people before!" Don't stop there. Keep watching. "If I suck I'll never get another job.The manager may not pay me. I saw a concert once where the crowd rioted. People could get hurt if something goes wrong. I could get hurt!" These may not be your exact thoughts, and they may look funny or ridiculous seeing them in black and white, but I would put money on you finding similar thoughts in the back of your mind. These are the roots of the negative emotion you feel. Remember, write these down.
As another example, try the traffic situation. "Damn! Traffic's backed up again. What happened now? Somebody probably doesn't know how to drive and rear-ended someone else. I'm late. Traffic should be moving faster than this. People shouldn't all come in at the same time. My boss is going to kill me. He won't understand. This is the third time this month I've been late. He'll probably fire me. Then how will I make the mortgage payment? Joe just started school. If I don't have a job I'll never be able to come up with his tuition money, he'll have to drop out of school, and won't be able to get a decent job." Again, it looks ridiculous in black and white. You just went from being stuck in a traffic jam to losing your house and your son having his life ruined, but if you exam all the thoughts going through your head, you'll find something similar.
5. Study the things you've been telling yourself in the situation. I'll wager that you'll find thoughts related to your expectations - the woulda, shoulda, couldas that relate to your personal attachements, and thoughts related to what you see as bad things happening in the future.
Ellis and Harper, in A Guide To Rational Living, list 10 irrational thoughts that people tend to have that sustain negative emotions. These are
- I have to be loved and admired by almost everyone for almost everything I do. If they don't, I'm worthless.
- I should be competent, adequate, and achieving in everything I do. If I'm not, I'm worthless.
- I am inherently evil or bad and should be blamed and punished for their sins. I'm worthless and not responsible for what I do.
- It is horrible when things don't go the way I don't them to go.
- Other people make me unhappy and I can't control my feelings or get rid of negative feelings. I'm not responsible for how I feel.
- If something is or may be dangerous or fearsome, I should be preoccupied with it and upset about it.
- It is easier to avoid difficulty and self-responsibility than to assume some form of self-discipline that can lead to rewards.
- The past is all-important and should affect me for the rest of my life.
- People should be different from the way they are and catastrophe will happen if we don't do something about it.
- I can be happiest by doing nothing and passively enjoying myself.
As you look at this list, and compare it to the thoughts you found yourself telling yourself when you were experiencing the negative emotion, I would bet you were thinking one or more thoughts related to these 10.
6. This is the hard part. You need to replace the negative beliefs with positive, or at least neutral, beliefs. This can literally take years, or it may happen in one night. It depends on how deeply attached you are to the belief. Work with one belief at a time. Talk to it. See it as one of the people in the lobby that has stepped forward to come into the auditorium. "Hey you! Mr. Their shouldn't be so many people on the road. Are you going to change how many people are on the road? Are you making me feel better? I didn't think so. Go away. We're full! Miss I'm going to get fired! First off, you don't know that. I called in. My boss said he understood. Even if I do, I'm good at my job. I can get another one. Mr. I'm stupid for not leaving earlier. I've been leaving at this time for 10 years. Maybe traffic is changing and I should leave earlier. That doesn't make me stupid. Mrs. I'm wasting time! No I'm not. I've reviewed the presentation I have to make tomorrow. I heard some interesting conversation on the radio. And that sky is the deepest blue I've seen in years. I'm going to look up more often."
Over time, the negative thoughts will go away, taking with them the excessive negative emotion. You didn't accept them. They won't stay. The choice is yours.
What I talked about above applies to us normally neurotic people. There are extreme circumstances where you'll want to take other action. I had a job once. Actually I've had a lot of jobs, but when I had this particular job I started experiencing anxiety attacks. I loved my work, possibly too much. I became too attached to the people with whom I worked. In addition, the office environment (a different group of people) was emotionally toxic. I felt I needed to keep the job, so I tolerated the conditions. Big mistake. The anxiety attacks were the result. I decided retreat was the better part of valor and quit the job. I've never had another anxiety attack.
Sometimes leaving a destructive situation is the best thing you can do. There is no reason to subject yourself to abuse for the sake of a job, a husband, a wife. You are not them. Your worth doesn't depend on them.
A second situation applies to the use of drugs for something like severe depression. We have a mind and a body. Emotions result from the interaction of the two. Drugs can help relieve a severe emotional problem so you can work on the actual belief patterns causing it. Drugs won't cure anything, but they can give you enough distance to change your thinking.
As always, I cannot emphasize enough the benefits of meditation. We have a mind. We have a body. In addition, we are. Meditation gives us the time to just be, to detach from our mind, body,and emotions. In the process it helps provide structural changes in our beliefs, often without our being aware of them, that leads to long term emotional improvement. Sometimes people notice actual worsening of their emotional tone when they begin to meditate. I'm the last person to encourage you to do something self-destructive, but consider that cleaning a pool involves stirring up the muck on the bottom. This could be what is happening to such people.