Thursday, March 29, 2012

Practice Changes Things

     Last week, we learned about automatic thoughts in the post titled Did That Really Happen? They can be something we hear being said, a picture, a memory, physical touch, or sounds that are real or imagined.  Emotions are instantly attached to the thought.  This week, I’d like to talk a little more in depth about this topic and practice replacing the incorrect thoughts with a true thought.  Click on the purple title to go to the first post if you'd like to review before reading further. 

     Three negative emotions that we can experience after a thought is triggered are anxiety, anger, and depression. 
1.   Thought:  I don’t feel safe and can’t deal with this. 
         Emotion: Anxiety, fear. 
2. Thought:  This is not fair!  I am not being treated right and I’m not going to put up with it!
 Emotion:  Anger, frustration
3.  I’m a loser.  Nobody wants me or likes me, I’m worthless.  My situation is hopeless and I don’t see how anything can change.  I hate my life!
 Emotion:  Depression

     So let’s practice changing these thoughts. First, we’ll work with not feeling safe.  Because of being sexually violated when I was younger, I hate being blindsided today. I can feel really vulnerable just pumping gas at a gas station.   If I feel anxious, the first thing my mind thinks is that something bad could happen and that there is somebody close by ready to harm me in some way.  You may think of carjacking or your wallet being stolen.  While it’s always wise to be aware of your surroundings, fear should not grip you.  The word of God says in
2 Timothy 1:7  “For God has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  Does this mean we should never have fear?  No!  God gave us this emotion so that we could be safe.  It’s healthy to know that if you walk off a cliff, you’re going to get hurt really bad or even die.  Timothy is saying that God did not give us the spirit of fear; living in fear, a fear that grips us.  So if you walk around all day fearing that you’re going to die or won’t go out of your house because you fear something terrible will happen, you have a spirit of fear and God will deliver you so you can live in peace.  Now let’s pick back up with the gas station scenario.  If you do feel anxious stop and look around.  Is anything suspicious?  If not, replace your thought from, “Something bad is about to happen,” to “I’m not in danger.  I will be fine.”  Then quote scripture that brings you peace.  In God I have put my trust, I will not be afraid. “Psalm 55:11  and  “You oh Lord are a shield about me.”  Psalm 3:3.  Just writing these scriptures helps me to relax.  Did you feel peace as you read them?

     Let’s talk about anger.  Anger is an outward expression of other emotions like hurt, frustration, fear, or injustice when a need or expectation is not met.  For now, let’s focus on frustration.  We get frustrated when our efforts don’t meet our own expectations or our efforts don’t seem to matter to others.   As a kid, have you ever washed the dishes, cleaned your room, or mowed the lawn to the best of your ability only to have your parent point out everything you did wrong?  How did it make you feel?  What thought was instantly triggered?  Maybe something like, “I can’t do anything right or to please them,” or “They hate me.”  Perhaps, “I’m not good enough.”  What thought could you replace for this situation?  “They are trying to teach me so I can do better because they love me.”  Then you would be grateful and not angry.  Just for the sake of saying it, I believe it’s always best to praise the child for their efforts so they can feel your approval then choose a different day to discuss improvements.

      Finally our last scenario, depression.  As most of us know, depression comes from a sense of hopelessness.  We have no control over our situation and we see no way out.  Seven years ago, I was in a car accident that changed my life forever.  I developed a muscle disease and stayed in horrible pain 24/7 over my entire body.  The doctors put me on eight different medications to help deal with the nerve and muscle pain and one was a new drug for cancer patients. After five years of believing God for healing, I had only gotten worse and was one step away from ordering a wheel chair but I never got angry at Him.  I was, however, frustrated and wanted to get better.  I wanted my life back. All of the specialists except one had given up because they didn’t know how to fix me.  It was painful and difficult to shower, comb my hair, or to do anything that I loved to do like playing the piano and singing or holding my newborn grandson. Sometimes when I would speak or sing, my mouth would spasm and I would bite my lip or my tongue. Imagine being awakened by that pain! I had a difficult time communicating and felt like an Alzhiemer's patient because I would have to describe what I was trying to say.   To simply ask for a glass of water was a challenge. It would take me several hours to make a bed. I was lonely and had gotten to the point where I felt like a ghost.  I was observing life, not living it.  Did I get depressed?  Yes, definitely.  I believed that I was a huge burden to my husband.  I felt worthless and hopeless.  How did I change those thoughts?   I began to say, “This is going to be a great day!”  I looked at myself in the mirror and said, “Today is mine!  I am loved.”  Instantly, I felt the dark cloud begin to lift and day by day and week after week, the depression was gone.  As I mentioned, it’s been seven years now.  God lined some wonderful people up in my life that knew how to take care of the nerve pain and how to strengthen my leg muscles that had atrophied.  I still have pain but I’m not in a wheel chair and I’m not on eight medications.  The last time I refilled some “as needed” medication was a couple of years ago.  This is in contrast to having them refilled every month!  If I feel those old thoughts creeping in, I look in that mirror at myself and tell the truth. I renew my mind.

     In conclusion, replace your negative thought to experience a positive emotion.  Practice every day with your situations and enjoy the peaceful change. Remeber that our thoughts are our own and we add meaning to them.  Search your heart to see if you could be misinterpreting the situation. If you notice a negative thought, ask yourself if it’s real or imagined.  If it’s incorrect, write down the event, the thought that was triggered, and the emotion that was attached to it.  Next, write down a positive thought, a truth to replace it.  And what’s more truthful than God’s Word?  So I encourage you that when you use this tool, follow it with scripture.  Say it out loud so you hear those words and watch the changes occur. 

“Cast all your cares on Him because He cares for you.” 
1 Peter 5:7

Next week:  Negative Self Talk or Rejection?  Give me some feedback.  Which would you like me to write?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Did That Really Happen?

     How many times have you reacted a certain way and wondered, "Why did I do that?"  Or, "Why do I always do THAT?!"  Our unresolved issues, hurt, or pain still reflect in our reactions today even the ones we thought we took care of.  They are sometimes hidden and we don't realize how they are affecting how we think or what we do today. 

    Did you know that, without us trying, our brains interpret everything that's going on?  Sights, sounds, smells, and feelings?  It just happens. First, there is an event, a thought is triggered, we give it meaning, and then an emotion follows.  And whether we are right or wrong, we automatically react or respond to it with emotion influenced by our past experiences or how we were brought up. 

      One day in our house, my husband, Michael, was throwing a tennis ball down the hallway to our little dog, Nikki.  I told my husband to stop for a second because I was coming through.  I was not visible where he was sitting.  The next thing I knew, the ball missiles straight to my legs as if it had a mission to hit me.  I was the target!   Shocked and upset, I thought, "How could he do that to me?"   My emotions instantly revisited a dark time in my life when my ex-husband first hit me.  I felt so worthless and that I didn’t matter. He disgusted me with his excuses and how he tried to justify everything.  I finally got out within a few years.  When that ball hit me, I felt violated again.  I got angry and was crying and trying to deal with my emotions. I received a sincere apology and found out immediately that Michael didn’t hear me and had no idea that I was in the line of fire.  He felt horrible about the whole thing and tried hard to calm me down with tender hugs.

     Now I knew for a fact that Michael would never raise a hand to me and that he had always been everything God designed a good husband to be toward me and that I had no reason to ever fear his hands.  So what happened?  Because of physical abuse in the past, my mind instantly interpreted the situation as abuse.  Remember we have an event, we have a thought and give it meaning, then an emotion is attached to it.  In this case, Event: I was accidently hit by a ball.  The Meaning I gave the event: I was being mistreated, abused.  Emotion: hurt that he could do this, fear that I was in another abusive relationship, and anger.  Did I interpret it correctly?  No.     

     I was not happy about my reaction.  We are so good at believing our thoughts, aren't we?  It's automatic.  There is an answer. By changing the thought, we change the emotion.  I had to remind myself that my husband is not an abusive man and that he loves me, respects me, and would defend me always.  If it should ever happen again or something similar,  my thought would be that it was an "Oops!"   Would my emotion be different if I did that?  You betcha! 

     Just recently, a group of my friends and I got together at a restaurant.  While we were in conversation, the waitress decided to clear some of the plates and asked those of us who were done if she could take them.  She looked eye to eye with one of my friends, held her hand out,  and gestured that she wanted to take the plate .  She got no response then gestured again.  Frustrated, she exhaled and rolled her eyes then reached over us to get the plate because she felt that she was being ignored.  But what she didn’t know was, our friend was blind!  This all happened in a matter of seconds so none of us had time to explain to the waitress why she was getting smiles from our blind friend but no response.  I slipped out and talked to the waitress to inform her of what happened so she could learn from her mistake.  You can only imagine how remorseful she felt.  She felt embarrassed and ashamed so I received many apologies. She desired to approach our friend to make things right.  Because our friend was unaware of what had happened, I felt it was best to spare her of any bad feelings.  I asked the waitress to be patient the next time she gets frustrated with anything in life and be aware that things are not always as they seem.  

     In closing, our brains love to be on auto pilot interpreting the meaning of everything around us be it sight, sound, smells, and even our feelings.  Be aware of any emotional reactions that were triggered by a thought that was incorrect, a misunderstanding.  We first have an event, then have a thought and put a meaning to it, then attach an emotion to it.  To change the emotion, change the thought.  Ask God to reveal unresolved issues in your heart so you can walk in peace.

  Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Romans 12:2