Many times through out my life, I have wanted better personal relationships with family and friends. At times, I have become very upset and frustrated with people near to me. This negative behavior doesn’t create more authentic and caring relationship with those I care most deeply about!
Recently, when upset and frustrated with someone near to me, I found myself guilty of finding fault with their attitude, or something they did or didn’t do, or something they said. Sometimes after getting very emotional or extremely sad and angry, I would replay their words and magnify the hurt in my mind. I would constantly believe the story (the lie) that was playing over and over again in my head. As the relational turmoil gained momentum, my mood would become more and more dismal. As my depressed feelings grew, my thoughts were dominated by more negativity as overgeneralization, “mental filter”, “all or nothing thinking”.
In overgeneralization, one arbitrarily concludes that one thing that happened to a person once will occur over and over again. The pain of rejection is generated almost entirely from overgeneralization. Or one uses a “Mental Filter” when one dwells on a negative detail in any situation and dwells on it exclusively, thus perceiving that the whole situation negatively. In “All-or-nothing thinking” one fears any type of mistake. This becomes basis for perfectionism resulting in seeing oneself as a complete loser. These are just a few of many possible distortions.
Often in extreme cases of emotional turmoil and frustration, I have turned to my friend and counselor, Jeff Teplin who shared with me that ruminating stories are usually distorted. He says all moods are created by our thoughts. He advises me to train myself to recognize the self-critical thoughts as they go through my mind. He also has referred me to a great book, Feeling Good by Dr. David Burns.
In this book, Burns shares some crucial steps. Whenever you are really upset, do the following.
1. Zero in on those negative thoughts and write them down.
2. Recognize cognitive distortions. Learn precisely how you are twisting things and blowing them out of proportion. (There are more than the three examples that I shared)
3. Remember your feelings result from the meaning you give to the event, not from the event itself.
Burns says, ” Every time you feel depressed about something, try to identify a corresponding negative thought you had just prior to and during the depression. Because these thoughts have actually created your bad mood, by learning to restructure them, you can change your mood.” My goal is to become better at this, identifying my negative thoughts. If I can do this, I can better control my moods and thus become a creator of better relationships. I will become more positive and will be spending less time dwelling on negativity and on my thought distortions. I am not there yet but I am creating better relationships with those closest to me as I self identify my negative distortions that I often play. Better relational future stories are worthy investments.
My walk in the woods has helped me clarify a way to improved relationships and thus to a better future story.