Thursday, October 8, 2015

Mind Change Day 8: Feeling Good

One of the best insights I ever had in a seminar was when I went to a week-long seminar with Scott Sells on parenting teenagers and he said "don't let a difficult adolescent control your mood. If you do you've lost the battle, might as well learn to live under their irrational rules and extreme needs."

This piece of advice has saved me countless times in raising my kids, all of whom were at one time or another irrational, impatient, irritable adolescents hell-bent on making me suffer at least twice as much as they were.

So the DOCC model reminds me that I can make myself suffer at least as much as my kids did, using just as irrational, impatient, irritable thinking.

Or not.

If I'd like to carry around an inner peaceful pond instead of a roiling, lava-rage, then I'd have to separate myself from the thoughts dragging me down. Look at them from different angles. Challenge them with more realistic counter-arguments. And repeat hundreds of time so that over time I counter the automatic responses most of us have to jump to the worst conclusions and find the people frustrating us to be lacking in intelligence, kindness, empathy and grace.

Of course in doing that we're not role models of those qualities either, and here's the real choice: do we want to be right or do we want to be happy? Because every day that's the bellweather test for whether we're going to be so dug-in on a very small point (in the Grand Scheme of Things) that we obsess and argue and stew and feel horrible.

The other choice? Saying something like "It's very possible I goofed that up and if so, I'm sorry. What can I do to get things back on track between us?"

The final part of the DOCC "beginning" stage is reinforce the truth that "You Are Not Your Thoughts" by reading the first third of David Burns's book Feeling Good and begin the 3 column format (p. 63) listing an automatic negative thought (ANT), the cognitive distortion it represents, and a more rational and realistic alternative explanation for a difficult experience.

I had a lot of trouble at first with the technique, because my thoughts aren't especially self-critical. I don't tend to catastrophize, I'm careful not to overgeneralize. After pointing out years of cognitive distortions my kids made, it's kind of a game with me to roll my eyes at myself or anyone else who is getting all hyped up about something small.

But denial is certainly not helpful; I do need to retrain my brain. So I took the more neutral thoughts that still perpetuated a helpless victimhood and split those apart. Like at a holiday party at my house, if I said to myself "It's so noisy I'm getting a headache and overwhelmed. I need to go so somewhere quiet, no one will really mind if I take care of myself," that all sounds good. But the word "overwhelmed" was such a key phrase for me, one that made me feel justified in avoiding almost any social situation.

Using the 3-column format and the wry and upbeat voice of Dr. Burns, I could look at that ANTS, that I'm "overwhelmed" and the noise causing a "headache" and I "need" to go somewhere quiet and that "no one will mind", all of which sounds rational but in truth I'm merely flustered by the demands of the party, putting too much pressure on myself to both cook and socialize simultaneously, eager for an escape from the social demands and magnifying tension in my temples so that it sounds like a debilitating condition when I simply am overtired and want rest and quiet.

But I'm throwing a party, and no one can really replace me. Will a 3 or 4 minute break in the rest room do the same thing? Isn't this what hostesses have been doing for decades? Probably. And making myself feel "special" like I need a nap in the middle of a party only reinforces my disability.

Others do a much more chuckle-worthy job of reframing thoughts, wants, needs and options, so read the book, and then do the exercises. There really isn't anyone they won't help. Even if you have the sunniest disposition in the hemisphere, it will give you empathy and insight into why others struggle with cognitive distortions that cause or reinforce a negative mood.

More dysfunctional brain circuits to be hunted down and hauled away. Honestly, it's like my Wild West brain is overrun with thieving outlaws and I'm the only sheriff with a shotgun and jail keys.

Love, Lisa

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