24 Mar Don’t Trust What You’re Thinking
You Deserve To Live An Extraordinary Life!
“I made a terrible mistake!”
“They all think I’m stupid!”
“No one cares for me!”
“No matter how hard I try, I won’t succeed!”
How often do you think negative and disempowering thoughts each day? Perhaps five, ten, twenty times? Most people are bombarded by nasty, negative and disempowering thoughts day after day, much like an exhausted boxer in the ring being pounded to shreds by his opponent. On the average, every person reading this post experiences fifty stress points a day, along with two thousand negative thoughts! While you may be consciously aware of the five hundred conscious positive thoughts you may have each day, the scale definitely tips in the direction of the nasty and negative thoughts. Oh, as if this isn’t enough to make you want to run away or pull the covers over your head, your subconscious mind handles almost 80,000 thoughts a day, 60,000 of which are negative.
This does not seem fair, does it? Well, you are right, it is not fair. But your brain does not care what is fair. Your brain, just like everyone else’s brain, is not wired for fairness. It is wired for Survival, whether or not it makes you feel good. It does not care about feeling good: it just wants you to survive in order to pass on your DNA.
Your Survival Brain, let’s call it your Alligator Brain, is not logical, moral, compassionate or cooperative. It exists only to keep you alive and safe, even though personal misery may be the cost.
For example, I recently met with a family: a mom, dad and three teenage children. They came to my office to explore how they all could learn to listen and appreciate each other’s feelings and to reduce the overall levels of anger, hurt feelings and yelling in their household. For about thirty minutes, things seemed to be going in that direction, until one of the boys expressed—with much timidity and suppressed tears—that he felt frightened to express himself with his family. He feared the angry retorts and dismissiveness that would follow. Hunched over and almost speaking in a whisper, he stated that he did not feel safe with his parents.
Before he had even finished speaking, his mother launched into an intense and angry response. Her face reddened and she leaned forward, fists clenched as she hurled curses and retaliatory blows against his barely uttered self-expression.
“You stupid asshole, if you don’t like it here, there’s the door. Pack your bags and go live with your idiot, mother f….. brother. Go rot in hell for all I care. I bust my ass taking care of you bastards and all I get back is betrayal and back stabbing. And furthermore….” Etc…
Her Alligator was in full force, lashing and snapping back at her perceived tormentor. Her son, in reaction, sunk further into his chair, his hands covering his eyes while holding back his tears. His body shook and his chest fell downward as he withdrew into himself. Mom was not able to really listen to her scared and vulnerable son, nor was she able to express her concern. Instead she felt attacked and snapped back as if he were an assailant on some street corner.
I asked her if her intent was to smash and hurt her son, because that was what I was witnessing. I reflected on her reddened face, throbbing neck muscles and loud voice. She gasped several breaths as tears streamed down her cheeks. I leaned forward towards her and told her how sad and lonely she looked. After a few moments of silence and quiet sobbing from everyone, she explained how hard she was trying to keep her family together, but she felt that no one else really cared. I acknowledged her sadness and despair, while she continued to weep between deep breaths.
As everyone quieted down, I remarked how sad everyone looked and maybe how helpless they felt about pulling their family back together. When mom attempted to again repeat her hurt and anger, I raised my hand like a traffic cop in a dangerous intersection. She pulled back as I restated the sadness everyone seemed to be feeling under their collective anger and blaming. I said that they were all hurting and that any further blaming, attacking or defending would only be throwing gasoline on the fire. They were all burning up in their common attachment to blame, always convinced that someone else was the cause of their personal pain.
Somehow, the family calmed down and the nuclear cloud abated. One of the older children said she wished they could all learn to do a better job staying calm and taking care of each other. As she spoke, everyone else nodded in approval. I asked each person if that was what they wanted and if our sessions could provide a safety zone to learn how to listen, manage their anger and respect each other. They all agreed to come back to work together and to create a climate of safety and trust.
When they left, I took a deep breath and thought about how hard that session was. There were so many Alligators in the room snapping at each other. Each was convinced he or she was right and someone else was wrong. Instead of listening, they were all reacting to what someone else was saying. Rather than acknowledging someone else’s feelings or perspectives, they were believing and sticking to their own thoughts or interpretations. As a result, of course, they defended and attacked back. They were trying to be safe by being right. Intimate relationships are a function of creating safety for others and finding a way to appreciate that there are multiple truths in any given room. There is really no need to take things so personally, just sit back, take a deep breath and acknowledge what the other person is saying. Listen for the intent and try not to get caught up in whether or not the person is speaking accurately about the facts as you know them.
Remember, Alligators are not smart. They are powerful, instinctive, and do not know how to distinguish between friend and foe. They hear words and immediately decide to attack or flee. You need to understand this primitive force of evolutionary nature and not hand over the future of your family or other intimate relations to such a primitive and rigid animal. Your immediate thinking may not be in line with reality, so pause before you speak. Is your intention to hurt the other person? If you think you are being attacked, perhaps you can ask the person, “Is it your intention to blame me or make me feel like a terrible person because that is how I am hearing you. Am I right or am I mishearing what you are trying to say?”
Don’t always trust your thinking! You are blasted everyday by 2,000 negative thoughts including those about danger, fear and getting hurt. They may not be true! In later posts we will look at ways to quiet down your Alligator and let your emotional and logical brains try their hands at creating safe and mutually caring relationships.