Do you ever find that you bully yourself?
Many of us do. I know I’d never speak to someone else the way I speak to myself when I’m upset. Our clients often talk about how hard this is and that they are trying to be more positive. They’ve heard somewhere that changing how you think can change how you feel. This is true but it’s not the whole picture.
Mental garbage can take many shapes: being unkind to yourself, obsessing about something nonstop, hopeless or helpless thoughts like “this will never work” or “no one will want to x,y, or z”. At their worst these thoughts are downright abusive and dripping with shame.
Just like what you eat affects how you feel, so does what you think. After the holiday season a couple of months ago, I found myself feeling lethargic, grumpy, and out of sorts. After a couple of weeks of holiday parties, family get togethers, and being out of my normal routine, I hadn’t been eating as many vegetables or healthy proteins. I had been eating a ton of sweets, and my sleeping schedule was all off. We know that our bodies are fueled by what we put into them. Our minds are no different.
It’s not quite as simple as you are what you eat, or in this case, you are what you think. There is a chain of events, a domino effect, that occurs. Thoughts are one link of the chain and can be a big sticking point for many of us but the other links of the chain can also be challenging areas.
At Virago Wellness, a therapy practice providing counseling for women in Portland Maine, we help women identify the weak links and find solutions to change them.
Here’s a birds eye view:
This concept is rooted in an evidenced based therapy called Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Cognitive Behavior Therapy or CBT, examines the connection between how we think and how we feel and act. As therapists who specialize in trauma, at Virago Wellness we also examine how your past experiences can impact this process. Even if you haven’t suffered “major trauma” you may have painful past experiences that are creating ripple effects for you now.
For example, a woman who is getting ready to go on a date and might find herself thinking “What a cow! Who would want to date me like this? I need to lose 10 pounds. This is pointless, I should just stay home.” I bet she feels awful. In this case the trigger, the spark that sets the whole domino chain of events into motion, is the date. The thought process boils down to a belief rooted in shame: “I’m not good enough”. She may also have had past experiences of rejection and heartache in her romantic life that lead her to feeling nervous, sad, ashamed, and insecure. She’s not going to feel very confident or desirable on that date.
How to tell if your thoughts are part of the problem
Her emotions are driving and it’s a runaway train.
If she took care of those past experiences (healed from those old emotional wounds), changed how she talked to herself and what she believed about her worthiness, she may have a much different experience. It’s not as simple as thinking positively. It has to feel real. Focus on what’s real and true, not B.S. sunshine and rainbows.
A woman who finds an outfit she feels great in, thinks to herself “Yes maybe I could take a little better care of myself but I have a lot to offer someone, I’d make an amazing partner. I hope this works out” is going to feel way different.
In some cases it’s the trigger that is the problem and can be addressed. I’ll never forget hearing the story of a woman who was sexually assaulted at a gas station. Her husband was a mechanic and whenever he came home she’d be irritable, irrational, and then felt awful because she didn’t feel happy to see her husband. Until she identified the connection to him smelling like gas due to his work and her assault, she couldn’t differentiate the trigger of the smell of gas and the painful memories from her husband. Now, he jumps right in the shower after work and then he greets her. She’s so much happier and the rest of the links of the chain are now irrelevant.
Other times it’s the emotion or the action that are the problem points. When we can’t control the trigger and out thought processes are not the problem, for example a situation where it’s completely understandable to be upset, a break up, job loss, loss of a pet, the only thing we can do is take care of how we feel and control how we react.
This can be especially challenging if you were never taught what to do with painful and overwhelming emotions. You can read more about the purpose of emotions and why we have them here.
If you get your heart set on something and it doesn’t happen, disappointment would be appropriate. But do you have a way to take care of that disappointment, to let yourself feel it? If it comes out sideways and you find yourself snapping at loved ones or being impatient with people in the grocery store, it’s time to work on what to do with those emotions. Here’s a past blog post that talks more about what to do with big painful feelings.
Therapy can be a wonderful resource to examine where you get stuck in these chain of events. Working with the right therapist can help you see where the sticking points are and figure out what to do about them. If you are interested in working with one of our therapists at Virago Wellness, call (207) 558-5539 for a free phone consultation or schedule a consultation online here.