Thoughts + Feelings = Quality of Relationships
Last week I wrote a post about some things we can do to untangle differences in our family. It generated some conversation! Readers added other important elements in their comments. They said, “We need boundaries. We need to value and respect ourselves. We need to make sure others know lines they cannot cross. We should never allow abuse.” I agree with all of those sentiments.
But I also know that in everyday families most things can be worked out as we choose to remain calm and kind. I also know from mentoring many years that there are two things that are key to helping us be calm and kind.
In one of the comments by a reader, both items were mentioned: “Thus changing how we think…and react … can change the dynamic of the relationship.”
Controlling the story we tell ourselves about what is happening can help us control how we feel and ultimately how we respond. A better response gives us a better outcome. We are able to remain calm and kind.
Many of you may have a difficult time accepting you can control how you feel by taking charge of the story you tell yourself.
I mean, if the kids are acting crazy, it’s going to make you feel crazy. If your spouse doesn’t notice how nice the house looks it can make you feel unimportant or undervalued. When money’s tight or your spouse isn’t helping you out, you feel overwhelmed. If you feel unsupported or if you have a health issue, all of this is going to mess with how you feel, right? At one time in my life, I knew the answer was a big fat yes!
Let me share one of a number of experiences that opened my eyes to the truth that our story can and does create how we are going to feel and in turn how we will respond to problems. We have control over our response!
My daughter, Jenny, had been hit head on by a drunk driver. He’d been going eighty miles an hour on the wrong side of the freeway. Those few terrible seconds changed Jenny’s life forever. She was ready to graduate with her BA but the accident left her unable to walk or find words for simple things such as orange or shoe. She couldn’t track conversations or make sense out of what people were saying. Her center for receiving social cues was damaged.
In 2012, Jenny’s six-year journey to get her life back ended when she graduated with her Master’s degree in Speech Therapy. When I think of Jenny’s experience, I know her recovery was because of a crucial step she took long before the accident. She had decided to take control of her thoughts.
Quotes decorated her walls and reflected how she wanted to view herself and life. When something bad, confusing, embarrassing, or hurtful happened to her, Jenny would recite one of her quotes in response. Then she would move forward.
In a time of darkness, confusion, and both physical and mental pain, she chose to look at life through a
lens of light. She decided to embrace happiness no matter how hard the day. She controlled her thoughts, and she controlled her words. She controlled her story! I don’t want you to think the years after her accident were easy— they were long and painful—but she had decided to believe life was beautiful and there were lessons of value in each experience for her as a result.
Despite all of the difficulty and loss, Jenny would not discuss, in negative terms, the man who hit her. She wasn’t going to waste one minute on anger. Jenny wouldn’t verbalize the bad but chose instead to think and talk positively. She behaved this way before the accident and maintained this way of being after the crash. Jenny told her story in a way that did not include her as a victim.
One of my favorite writers is Viktor E. Frankl, a Holocaust survivor. He reminded us in his book Man’s Search for Meaning the one thing that can never be taken from a person is their ability to choose how to respond. I would add that their responsibility to mentally write a story leading to the best response is also completely within their control.
Perspective is an amazing thing. It is, simply put, the story we tell ourselves: what we think is happening in our lives right now, what we believe happened in the past, and even what we think will happen in the future.
Once we have our story, feelings are generated. These feelings move us to an action or response. Our response produces a result, either good or bad. This little scenario repeats itself hundreds of times each day.
You change your story by controlling your thoughts. You manage your emotions by controlling your story. When you do this, you take more positive actions and you get better results. Jenny has proven this to be true! I’ve proven it to be true in my own life as well.
In what ways have you been able to take control of your stories? In what ways do you still struggle to believe that no matter what happens you can control how you feel? Have you learned how to stop being a victim? I’d love to hear your responses in the comments section.
Next week I will talk more about how the stories we tell ourselves affect our response. The week after that, we’ll look at how positive stories can increase your inner resources, helping you better handle the things that come along in every family.
Here’s to more joy,
P.S. You can learn more about controlling your thoughts and emotions for better family relationships in my new book Becoming a Present Parent, Connecting With Your Children in Five Minutes or Less. You can also receive a chapter from the book on Touchpoints, creating points of connection rather than points of contention, FREE by visiting becomingapresentparent.com It can be life changing for your family. I promise!
How do you control your thoughts when you need to process an experience? If you push it down and try to avoid it, it almost always returns. What did your daughter do to get to the place she didn’t want to talk more about the man who hit her? Surely she had to deal with the fact that her life had changed; that a man had hit her and she had to do some forgiving.
I deal with kids from trauma and they have body memories that are hard to overcome. They’ve been abused, abandoned, neglected, and rejected. When those anniversaries come up, and they need to process their feelings so they can let go, where does that fit in to thinking positive and not talking about bad things?
I am very interested in your input as this has been heavy on my mind. I want to go forward effectively with my young ones from trauma.
Stacy I have spent some days thinking about your questions. So I apologize for the delay in responding. You have asked a few questions and I will respond to them one by one.
First: How do you control your thoughts when you need to process an experience? You can process experiences without reacting to them. We can all learn to respond rather than react. Then later take the time to think it through and figure out why you felt like yelling or throwing something, etc. Cry if you need to. Give yourself a pep talk. Decide to change a behavior, etc. Then move forward. Responding rather than reacting is not about pushing down feeling or avoiding them.
Processing an experience and your story about it isn’t the same as reacting negatively because of a negative emotion. At a meeting once I saw this in action. My daughter was president of an organization and had made some great changes. However, one person resented the loss of the old way things were done and in front of the board took her to serious and unkind task.
My daughter asked her what she would like to see happen and then listened to the woman’s response. The board then had a calm talk and worked out a solution.
When we got home my daughter went to her room and wept. Then she wiped her eyes and moved forward. In the moment she chose to respond with kindness and with understanding. Then she went home, felt her feelings and then let them go. And by the way, she did not hold it against the woman and they were able to work well together.
Third: What about having to deal with tragedy and forgiveness?
I’m not just talking about being positive. I’m not suggesting that we all become Pollyanna’s. Every situation has more than one truth. Take my family for example. You can say that Don and I raised seven beautiful, happy and productive adults. That is certainly true. However, it is also true that Don and I made many mistakes; some of our kids struggled a lot and used drugs. That is equally true. Everyone who knows us gets to decide which lens they will see us from. Believe me, there are people in both camps.
Jenny was in the same boat. She could see that man as a drunkard who lost control and drove on the wrong side of the freeway and destroyed her life as she knew it. He deserved to pay. That is absolutely true. Here is what was equally true and which Jenny decided to focus on. Here was a man in trouble who needed help. He had a family and a life but he was in trouble. She wrote to the judge asking her to not just punish but to help.
The accident did change Jenny’s life significantly. She has a different personality. She still struggles with social cues. She struggles to process information. She did have to forgive and she did it as quickly as she could because she knew that when she did she would be freer to move forward. We all have to decide every day whether or not to forgive those who are rude, unkind or who impact us in any negative way.
Forgiveness is a topic unto itself which I have had a lot of practice using. I will write an article about it soon. : )
Fourth: How do you help others process experiences and respond better, i.e. children?
I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, family therapist or behavioral therapist. I am an expert at helping families connect. However, I work with lots of children. I have myself been a sexually abused child. So I can speak from my own experience.
First, there isn’t anything wrong with talking with a trusted person about what has happened to us. There is something detrimental about remaining a victim of another’s wrongful actions. Jenny did talk about her accident and the changes it caused. She cried tears. What she didn’t do was stay in blame and give away her power over her own response. She chose how she would respond going forward.
Secondly, remember this isn’t just about being positive or a Pollyanna. Bad things do happen to good people. Overcoming abuse of any kind is challenging. It’s challenging because we have to let go of blame, forgive, and take back our power over our response. It’s work. It can be hard to help children do this.
There is a plethora of information on line about helping children cope with tragedy.
• Let them talk.
• Accept their feelings.
• Respond don’t react.
• Don’t take their behavior or words personally.
• Be consistent and predictable.
• Help build self-esteem.
• Let them make choices.
What I find fascinating is that all of these items are part and parcel of being a Present Parent.
Talking things out, feeling what you feel, and looking at the story you are choosing to tell about the experience are all ways of taking back our power over our response to all experiences, both good and bad. But it is important to remember, and this was my point, that we are in control of our response. We get to choose how to feel. And ultimately that gives us some power over the outcome.
I want to address building self-esteem because that is what you are really asking about in relation to wounded children. It is the same whether a child is wounded or not. But that will be the content of an article because it is too much to deal with here. So please stay tuned. : )
Second: What did your daughter do to get to the place she didn’t want to talk more about the man who hit her?
Jenny had practiced responding kindly over a number of years. She had also filled her walls and her mind with thoughts of power – that she had power over her emotions and her life. It wasn’t something she did after the accident but something she had practiced for a few years. Practicing how we want to respond and ‘be’ is important so that in the heat of the moment we can respond better.
Jenny continues to practice telling herself stories about what happens in her life that give her power rather than portray her as a victim.
Thanks MaryAnne. It’s apparently true that I am not controlling my thoughts. I felt flu symptoms out of the blue on Friday and all because of my pride, not wanting to invest the effort in sending my kids to school this year. I really thought I would throw up and my head started aching as soon as I left the front office at the local elementary school. I got over it by some positive conversations with family. We joked around about kids and their occasional potty humor but really life is too short to stake everything on the now. I want to take the long view like you and Jenny. Thank you.
Laura, that’s great. The other day I had a bout of vertigo. I knew immediately why and I had to have some serious conversations with myself to get that righted. Life really is too short. : )
MaryAnn I would love to know some of the positive quotes Jenny had on her walls that she would recite to herself and what caused her to do that in the first place. She is a remarkable young woman.
Shirley, she had many and they were varied. Here are some of them. Enjoy.
“If you correct your mind, the rest of your life will fall into place.” Lao Tzu
“Life is not about finding yourself; life is about creating yourself.” George Bernard Shaw
“When I started counting my blessings, my whole world turned around.” Willie Nelson
“Turn your face to the sun and the shadows fall behind you.” Maori Proverb
A quote from the movie “American Beauty” sheds a beautiful light on life and Jenny posted it on her wall and embraced it.
“I’d always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all – it stretches on forever like an ocean of time. I guess I could be pretty pissed-off about what happened to me, but it’s hard to stay mad in a world where there’s so much beauty. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much; my heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. I remember to relax and stop trying to hold onto it, and the beauty flows through me like rain, and I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about I’m sure, but don’t worry, you will – someday.”
Here is one that I like – You can’t start feeling differently until you start thinking differently. The Arbinger Institute