Part 5: ‘This-will-make-me-feel-better’ Thoughts
You need to approach the examination of your situation, ready to accept it the way it is; and you need to be honest with yourself about it, facing the facts. The start of healing is for you to agree with yourself that how you are seeing the problem is accurate but that there has to be a better way to look at it, to produce more agreeable feelings. You can describe a glass with water halfway up (that could represent the amount of problems in your life) as either half-full or half-empty, whichever way makes you feel better able to deal with it. Instead of yielding to a tendency to avoid the reality of your condition or to deny a need for problem-solving action however, right here is a process that you might find helpful in addressing the problem. Remember you are much better off facing up to the painful emotion(s) and accepting the reality of the experience. Also it is critical to realize that what causes inner problems is the emotional reaction to the event and not the event by itself.
For example, the same event could happen to the same person on two separate occasions but bring two different reactions. Let’s say, on two separate occasions, a man yells at you after you accidentally stepped on him in a jostling, crowded place. In the first instance, it happened after you and friends have just been talking about how rude people take advantage of situations; and on the second, it was after someone had recently encouraged you to always try to forgive others including bullies. It is very likely that being influenced by one conversation or the other your reaction will be quite different in each situation of being yelled at, although the same thing occurred both times. Now let me set out in point form the steps you can use to address your healing without prejudgment:
- To begin dealing with an upsetting experience over which you want control into the future, you need to deliberately put aside your emotions about the matter, for now.
- Examine the facts and accept that the event has occurred and cannot un-occur.; but that it can happen again.
- Next you agree (because it is true) that in some way your present feeling is your choice; and that therefore, you play a part in keeping the disturbing feelings alive. Let’s be clear what this means. This is not about blaming yourself, unless you truly believe you are or were partly or totally responsible for the problem. Regardless however, what I mean has to do with the fact that keeping the troubling thoughts in mind is something you are doing to the thoughts not what the thoughts are doing to you. The sooner after the unpleasant event, you understand this the better. It is all about how you choose to look at things.
- You then ask one of these questions to help you move towards healing:
- “What do I need to do to move on from what just happened, with as little further emotional disturbance as possible?” Or:
- “Which ‘this-will-make-me-feel-better’ thoughts should I entertain at this point”? Or:
- “Which ‘this-will-make-me-feel-stronger’ thoughts should I use to help me move on with the least emotional pain?
If you do not purposefully engage your mind with this kind of thoughts, the unpleasant ones will take hold of your mind and continue to make you miserable.
- Searching for happy feelings or emotional strength is a very good reason to recall past good times and successes to bring joy to the present. This is an active thinking process that needs to be done deliberately and with effort every time the unacceptable experience comes to mind. [You say things like: “Ok here’s a pleasant thought and here’s another one; so it’s not my fate or destiny to be stuck with a lousy mood.” Remember it’s the feelings you want to get rid of; not the thing about which you’re sad or angry.
- Once you feel a little better, exit the healing session by turning your thinking to something in the here-and-now and focusing on that current event, however “lame” or silly; but not the previously upsetting thoughts.
You do this because you want to change your reactions for the better and you are addressing the awful feelings you were having, which I called the right-now feelings. These are what you are finding thoughts to counteract. You need new thoughts that will interrupt your pain, otherwise you give your brain nothing to work with.
Use Your Thinking To Heal… And Here’s Another Way To Look At This Mental Activity
The contents of your mind are made up of thoughts. These are the ingredients for cooking up the meal that will nourish your healthy mind. The less disturbed your thoughts are or the fewer disturbed thoughts you have the healthier is your mind. Therefore the task of keeping the mind in good health is to rid it of as many troubling thoughts as possible or reduce their strength or intensity to the lowest possible. As such, you need to examine all your thoughts. There’s no way for me to know how ready you are to do so; only you do. So if you do not want to examine your thoughts just skip the rest of this section and go to: “To Heal, Accept Change And Change Your Thoughts”.
In trying to help change the current unhappy reactions, which certain thoughts create, as stated before, you start with asking yourself what thoughts are causing your unpleasant or bothersome feelings. You may not be aware that thoughts are at all responsible for your awful feelings. Nonetheless they are. They are what you use to interpret life to yourself and whatever you think about a situation is how you will feel about it. Whatever the thoughts were about, just before the bad feeling they are responsible for that feeling. If you cannot automatically recall the main one or any of the others, then you need to deliberately try to reconstruct them. This is much like how you would retrace your steps when you forget where you had put something. Mind you, most of the time it is not hard to recall the preceding troubling thoughts but if it is, keep searching till you get another bout of bad feeling. When you come upon them you then proceed to reduce or remove (not deny) the power of their troubling, stressful or painful effects. As described above, to do so you state the thought that caused the bad reaction. For example, you might say to yourself (or someone else you don’t mind telling): “I am ashamed that such and such happened…I am angry at her for putting me on the spot… I am very sad to lose him… I feel guilty beyond words because I caused … I can’t stop thinking that my dad never showed me love… It hurts badly… I find it difficult to realize that he/she who did this is supposed to protect me (or my interests) …”, etc. That is you directly accept how you are feeling; of what your pain consists – describing the actual content of the emotion you are feeling. You are not being truthful to yourself when you exaggerate or minimize your pain. Either way of relating to your pain increases it; so neither way improves your mental health. You want to bring out all of what you are feeling, the way it affects you; but not by acting it out. You do so only in your thoughts, as a first step in the healing process.
You express the emotion because you want the distress to be out in the open, so to speak, to yourself first of all. By hiding behind other feelings, you will not be able to reduce or get rid of all of the bad emotion. Allowing your pain to get greater or more prolonged does not make you stronger, more self-respectful or noble; instead, it makes you less capable of dealing with the bad experience and other stressors or problems that are to come and usually that lowers how you see yourself. So, at this point, please go over the healing questions again, in the previous section (#4) and focus on them to believe more strongly in your intention. Every time you feel troubled, use those questions and the answers you provide, to move you away from the disturbing thoughts and in that way relieve (heal) the distress, if only for a span of time. Every time you move your thinking away from the problem towards a healing solution however, you improve your condition for a longer span of time. Eventually these periods of mental peace become your pattern of life.
Because we learn to shield ourselves from emotional pain, in different ways and to varying degrees anyway, though ineffectively (and we have a built-in ability at a subconscious level to further protect ourselves from the totally unbearable kind), you need to seriously consider this very important question: “Am I capable of coming up with the thoughts and actions that will offer a satisfactory way of looking at my circumstances or do I need to seek advice?” In other words: “Can I rely on myself to deal with this situation on my own?” With self-honesty, you will do the right thing, which will bring about your healing. So you can come to the self-healing stage by approaching your emotional problems candidly and direct your thoughts at the ideas that will ease the pain rather than maintain it. You can also bring yourself to a point, ready for self-healing through the help of someone else. Either way, you will heal.
To Heal, Accept Change And Change Your Thoughts
Despite the large number of changes that occur in and around us, we are used to seeing ourselves as no different from one day to the next. We take in stride the large shifts in life, such as when we change jobs; become seriously injured, displaced, change political, religious, geographic identification. In the vast majority of these cases we still consider ourselves to be the same as we were before the shift.
As it is now clear we do not continue to be the same through all the variations in our circumstances in life. Nonetheless of all the changes we notice, particularly in our functioning, it seems that we pay the least attention to those that have to do with our attitudes and emotional reactions. We just don’t consider that our emotional state needs monitoring.
From previous statements no doubt, you have grasped that this area of life holds the greatest opportunity for us to make sense of our ever-changing physical and mental conditions and offers the means for living a balanced and self-satisfied life. Our emotions also are continually changing because of the myriads of events we encounter. Our reactions are not the same, sometimes from one moment to the next, although we learn to control them. In the end, all the variations in our body, especially our brain and its contents are geared for our survival, by nature. Since a continuous pattern of changes is taking place in our surroundings as well, we are exposed to modifications, which make us different in a somewhat different world from one moment to the next. It is our emotional state that equips us to react to and navigate our impermanent environment, overall, without causing undue disruption for others while giving only ourselves satisfaction.
To be effective in adjusting to the major and small revisions to our life circumstances we need to recognize the changes, when and why they happen. Fortunately, we are always becoming a different person practically as the clock ticks, which means we can expect the problems we currently have will acquire different characteristics (such as their importance, meaning and/or urgency as time passes) and if we choose we can use a solution-based point of view to address them – one that will make us a satisfied and successful part of our social, geographical and economic environment, rather than someone discontented, frustrated or bitter, living on the fringes of self-acceptance. By being attentive and ready to acknowledge change, as small transformations add up to become big ones in our lives, we are in a stronger position to modify our thinking, attitude and manner of behaving, for the better. Consequently, our response to our changing situations, especially when untoward, will be reasonably accommodating and healthy.
As a person heals from emotional hurts, that person may have a strong desire to return to the state of wellbeing before life’s problems struck or to an imagined, ideal condition. Do not expect to regain your exact previous level of comfort, immediately and for that reason reject all other less perfect results. Remember, the original ‘you’ has changed; so has the world around you, whether or not you can see that in your present state. It is, sometimes not easy or possible any longer to return to the feelings of those past times because those feelings are now only memories or thoughts themselves, though the act of recalling the memory of feelings tends to bring them back. The fact however is that even without a disturbing experience interrupting your peace, other events, thoughts or emotions may have caused a change in your overall feelings. So you will have changed, anyway and occasionally into a better version of your previous self.
So then in facing emotional stress, unless you have a special motive of value not to, the best option, is to direct your attention (thoughts) instead on being comfortable with ‘the new you’, right here, right now, “warts and all”. Then continue to work towards improvement. Your healing goal is to provide for yourself the best possible quality of life, within the present circumstances. At each step towards that goal, you will feel better. Pay careful attention to recognizing the changes that occur, however small they are. Hang on to every positive shift you make in your thoughts telling yourself that it is good; you’re on to a good thing. Allow yourself to be encouraged by each forward step and more complete healing will be on its way. So let’s see how it all comes together in the next final section.