Guest Column: What Were You Thinking? | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

Guest Column: What Were You Thinking?

Understanding the relationship between thoughts and feelings and how to change both

What are you thinking? Hold the thought. What are you feeling? Are you able to make the connection between the two? Understanding what you think and the logic behind the words you choose enables you to feel less stress, agitation or other negative emotions and will help you experience more satisfaction in the life you are living.

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Human beings are fear-based animals wired to respond to our environment. Personal physical safety is our number-one priority. We are responsible for our own reactions to our life experiences and create both logical and emotional responses to our reality. However, we cannot choose both at the same time. We benefit when we understand that our reactions are internal and not external and are not directly related to events. Internal reactions are inside our body and may be experienced as an uncomfortable feeling. For example: giving a speech to a public audience. External reactions refer to feelings or behaviors of something outside of ourselves. For example: an uncomfortable feeling from eating an unfamiliar food.

While we may have some influence on our reality, we have limited or no power to influence others and outcomes. However, our own personal power over our reactions is infinite. While reality is what it is, our reactions are purely personal. Why do some situations or people bother you? For example: listening to an angry comment from another on a political subject, you feel tense. To better understand your reactions to outcomes, you need to address the idea of private logic. Private logic is a personal belief we create in reaction to views of ourselves, others, and the world around us. It is created because of our personal experiences, both good and bad, over the course of our lifetimes.

As human beings, we have expectations of ourselves and others. An expectation is defined as something that "should be." Expectations are about wanting what we want and not necessarily about what we need. There is a tendency in our culture to use the words want and need interchangeably even though the meanings are different. Needs are essentials: air, water, food, shelter and clothing. Wants are preferences, such as a desiring a more interesting social life.

What are your expectations? Where did they come from?

There are three forms of expectations: expectations we have of ourselves, expectations we have of others, expectations others have of us.

There are always disappointments when we have unmet expectations. We set ourselves up for discouragement and disappointment when we live with unrealistic expectations of ourselves and others and life. Where did they come from? For example: I ask a friend to meet me for lunch. She says she cannot because she is so busy. Although it was not personal, I took it as if it was, and I felt hurt. Can I adjust my attitude and feel better? Yes, if I want to. I can ask myself, "What is going on that I did not like?" Am I checking for evidence that is supporting my thinking? In seeking proof, I am being logical. With this change in my thought process, I can now look forward to seeing her when she has free time. I am now better able to handle whatever happens in my life today.

Assuming personal responsibility comes with making choices. Pay attention to your choice-making. Pay attention to your expectations and disappointments and take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings. What can you do to make a difference for yourself? When you are aware of some emotional discomfort, take a moment and identify the source. Something happened. Did someone say somethings that offended you? Take a deep breath, exhale. Ask yourself, "What was going on that I did not like?" Once you identify the problem, ask yourself "What am I going to do about it?"

Affirming your own ability to deal with reality, your disappointment or discomfort will remind you that you have personal power, that you are in charge of you. You do not need to have what you want. That is not the problem. Not knowing how to manage yourself when you do not get what you want makes you a problem to yourself and others.

Keep in mind that what you think is what you feel. You have a great deal of control over your reactions and limited control over situations and others. Assume more responsibility for the care of you and develop the skills needed to accomplish your goals.

Roberta Stopler, LMFT is a psychotherapist, specializing in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. She can be reached at: [email protected].

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