Feelings are important, but your thoughts are more important. The reason for this is because, your feelings are influenced by your thoughts. For people who struggle with symptoms of anxiety and depression, this can be frustrating because they certainly have no intention of entertaining thoughts which cause them to feel anxious or depressed. This frustration is understandable given that people don’t consciously give precedence to depressive and anxious thoughts.
Two types of thoughts.
The problem is that most people don’t understand that they have two types of thoughts that go on in their heads simultaneously. They have thoughts, that they are conscious about, and then they have non-conscious thoughts.
Conscious thoughts are thoughts that we actively create, through our interactions with our daily experiences. Through our interactions with daily experiences, we are either confirming what we have already come to believe, expanding on the principles of what we have come to believe, making corrections on the principles of what we have come to believe, or completely disregarding what we have come to believe and embracing an entirely new concept.
Conscious thoughts are thoughts we actively and intentionally create, through our inner dialogue or dialogue with others. This is the reason people often have a difficult time believing that their thinking about an experience or a series of experiences have led to their issues with anxiety and depression. No one intentionally thinks their way to depression.
Non-conscious thoughts are previously established thoughts that work automatically in the background while you are consciously focused on tasks and activities you have determined to be more important. An example would be learning how to drive. When you first learn how to drive, you are consciously aware of the reasons for every little thing you do with the driving of the car. You are consciously aware of when you decided to time the breaks, when you decide to accelerate, when and how you make a turn and so on and so forth. After six months of driving, the thoughts you give to these activities occur beyond your awareness when driving as you give more attention to other things, such as finding a radio station you like or seeking out directions in a new place.
Non-Conscious thoughts are pre-programmed and occur automatically, in response to specific stimuli. With the car example, the stimuli in question was pretty obvious, however in most cases the stimuli, or trigger for unhealthy non-conscious thoughts are subtle. Keep in mind that most of these powerful thoughts were formed during early like experiences, most of which people don’t remember.
The solution is to identify what a life without any of the symptoms associated with depression or anxiety would look like. This process involves the practice of optimistic thinking and identifying the behaviors that go along. The next step would be the process of behaving as if you were already in a place of calm and happiness. This process triggers a reverse feedback loop where your behavior begins influencing your feelings, which in turn strengthen your practice of new thoughts.
The process of practicing change for the better is a difficult one and well worth it.
A disappointment is an expectation that has not been met. There are two types of disappointments, disappointment with self and disappointments with others. This post is going to focus more on dealing with disappointment with others, because it is the type of disappointment that people get more upset about. When dealing with disappointment with self, more than likely you put in effort into achieving a goal, with a desired result and that result did not happen. So, in the absence of a self-defeatist attitude, disappointment with yourself is easier to get over, because you can always change yourself for the better.
However, when it comes to dealing with disappointment because of the actions of someone else, feelings of being upset, perhaps resentful and in some cases hurt are going to be the case for the person experiencing the disappointment. In more severe cases, some people will wish you better luck next time, some will remind you that it is the nature of life, you win some, you lose some. But here is an important question to ask yourself when you experiencing this type of disappointment, in whose reality are you living in?
Reading this question, might catch you off guard as it seems u related to the title/topic of this post. But really, whose reality are you residing in? The ideal answer when you ask yourself this question should be “my reality” but if you ever find yourself struggling to cope with disappointment then it means you have been living in someone else’s reality and that person has let you down.
The answer then lies in getting back into discovering what is important to you. When struggling with disappointment, if you critically consider the situation, you will discover that you are morning the loss of something you never really had any control over. This could be the loss of a job, the ending of a relationship or an opportunity that did not materialize for you. In his book, Victor Frankl is famous for his quote, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves”. This means, that, no matter what you are mourning, your thoughts and feelings remain under your control.
Pertaining to dealing with disappointment, there is no rationale in mourning something over which you had no control over. Let’s say you accidentally dropped a glass cup on the floor, no matter how expensive that glass cup was, you can always take refuge in telling yourself that you will be more careful with glass cups next time. This is because a glass cup in your hands is under your control. Experiencing disappointment over the actions of someone else is a situation not under your control, and so the best course of action is to make peace with this fact. Otherwise you are just going to upset yourself even more, and the reason you find yourself even more upset is because there are no remedies in getting others to do what you want them to do. Therefore, if you encounter someone who follows through on their word, that is a blessing. A blessing because they chose an action that benefitted you, an action you had no control over.
You should only concern yourself with your thoughts and feelings and subsequent actions because these are easy to change. As for the thoughts, feelings and actions of others, the best you can do is practice allowance.
As a therapist who specializes with adolescents and young adults on the autism spectrum, I am often on a look out for online forums dedicated to such a population. Unfortunately, while the true intent of these forums is to provide support and validation for those on the spectrum who struggle to with adapting to the daily struggles of socializing in everyday life, there exist forums where the main theme appears to be who can throw themselves the largest pity party.
I have also witnessed this phenomenon with groups for depression and anxiety, and while I am a staunch advocate for freedom of speech and expression, I believe it is a dangerous situation of people supporting each other in unhealthy thinking. I also believe a big part of the problem is the victim based mentality that has become ubiquitous in popular culture. With this being written, there are three main mindsets people on the spectrum need to adapt, when seeking professional help or help from support groups.
Care is not Obligatory.
In the past decade, I have witnessed the rise of websites crowdfunding websites. As someone who adheres to libertarian principles, I can attest that the success of these crowdfunding websites is proof that most people are fundamentally good. There are no laws in place, or social pressures for that matter that mandate anyone go to these websites to donate money to people. There will always be people who are kind heart-ed, who desire to help those in need. So therefore, the idea that other people must care about your plight is an irrational one. Especially when a group of people come together and focus feverishly and complain about those people who don’t have compassion for their difficulties. This will always be unnecessary given that people who care already exist.
Seek to get Better.
A former client of mine once looked me in the eye, and insisted that his collection of symptoms and quirks were due to his brain wiring. I told him that I agreed with him. He then told me that what he needed was drugs and not therapy. I shared with him that after he had built enough tolerance to whatever was prescribed to him that he would be back in my office. After we had a good laugh, I then introduced him to the concept of neuro-plasticity, where the brain forms and strengths new pathways based on the thoughts and behaviors of its owner. It short, change is possible, and it all boils down to the practice of mental effort. So, when looking for a therapist or a support group, you are looking for help designed to help you move past your grieving process and put you into the process of thriving.
Ranking is Overrated.
Yes, we are social animals, and we have desire to belong to social groups. This is the chief complaint I habitually field with first time clients on the spectrum. Their feelings of not feeling welcomed or belonging to a group, clique or tribe. In truth, you already belong to a tribe, and you are already accepted. If this was not true, you would be dealing with several people actively trying to expel you from your respective community. In truth, what you are dealing with is a desire to rank well on the social hierarchy. As a therapist who has worked with over 800 clients, I have worked with all sorts of people, from high achievers to those who are content with a humble existence, and every one of them to some degree expressed feelings of alienation from the general populace and their respective community members. So, if you are feeling like a bit of an outcast, you are in good company. One does have to wonder if that tribe of people who are truly cohesive and all accepting of their member is a myth. Regardless, when looking for a support group, or therapist please keep in mind that it is not healthy is engage in an us versus them mentality. This is not healthy.
One of my favorite books, by Dr. Eric Berne, discusses in detail three ego states people transition throughout their daily experiences. These ego states are simplified as adult ego state, parent ego state and the child ego state. For clarity, I will define each of these states as their definitions bare importance for the title of this post.
The adult ego state can be defined as an objective state of consciousness. It is in this mind state that we can see things for what they are, without any assigned meanings or interpretations, (think Data from star trek). The parent ego state can be defined as a moralistic state of consciousness, it is from this state of consciousness that we pass judgement on the behaviors of ourselves and others. Finally, the child ego state can be defined as primal/emotional state of consciousness. It is from this state that we seek to get our emotional needs of acceptance, recognition, love, respect and autonomy met.
Now, you may be asking yourself, what does all this have to do with handling hostility? Simple, the best way to handle hostility is from the adult ego state. This is because, in this mindset, you are not taking things personally, you have both your parent and child ego states in check and you win. The aggressor is not successful in getting you upset and gives up.
This video, shows the me using demonstrating the adult mindset in action.
Now getting yourself in the adult ego state is easier said than done, even If you know you will be dealing with hostility in a future interaction. While I respect and deeply appreciate the work of Dr. Berne, nothing compares to cognitive behavioral therapy. This is because the best way to handle hostility comes from a revaluation and reordering of your belief system. For example, if you know you are headed into a hostile situation, it would be a great time to challenge your beliefs regarding your interactions with others.
If done properly, you will always arrive at an objective belief that states something to the effect that while hostility from others is not preferred, you can choose to not take it personally and focus on more healthier relationships. The process of addressing your beliefs forces you to simultaneously address your beliefs about morals and values (parent ego state) and how you get your emotional needs met, (child ego state.)
The strange thing about the parent ego state is that is that it is often wrong and only right when you encounter someone who shares the same morals and values with you. A popular example would be religion, specifically, religious rules on human behavior. Your morals are often going to be validated by someone of the same faith as you, while disregarded by someone else who does not share your faith. An objective reevaluation of your belief system will reveal that if someone’s behavior does not involve harm to someone else, then there are no issues. Further, even if someone’s behavior does involve harm to another person, the best course of action is to aid the person harmed, rather than attack the person doing the harming.
One of the primary issues faced by people on the Autism spectrum and those with Asperger syndrome, is coping with feelings of being overwhelmed. These issues often start in childhood, as early as a year old, when children who become easily overwhelmed instinctively react by trying to shield themselves from exposure to excess stimuli. Parents of children on the spectrum can easily relate to stories of children who cover their ears with their hands in response to everyday sounds they perceive as loud and stressful. As the child ages, the coping skills for shielding oneself from excess exposure to environmental stimuli becomes even more subtle but the consequences are the same.
By environmental stimuli, I mean people, places and things which produce overwhelming feelings for the person, causing the person’s desire to retreat to safety until it’s safe again. The consequences are often themed with unfinished work, projects and poorly developed relationships with others. This often leads to unwanted isolation and a lifestyle marked by underachievement.
The solution is easy to understand, challenging to implement and well worth the effort. The solution is to do nothing in response to feelings of being overwhelmed. By doing nothing, you are choosing not to be reactive to your feelings of being overwhelmed, which is to engage in a series of behaviors to prevent yourself from experiencing the emotions you need to experience. Regardless of the specifics of what you do, your being reactive will be an attempt to control, manipulate and/or change your reality to manage your feelings.
Instead, by choosing to do nothing, you are allowing yourself the opportunity to experience the range of emotions you need to feel. Your challenge is to simply accept these emotions for what they are without being reactive. By choosing not to be reactive, you are beginning the process of deactivating your fight or flight response pattern, thereby opening access to your solution focused mind. When people choose to stop responding to their feelings of overwhelm fueled by their fears and worries, they become more insight driven and solution focused.
To the outside observer, who isn’t aware of the changes taken place inside the person, they will often observe someone who is behaving more courageous in their daily affairs. In fact, the person is behaving more courageous, as they are now in the practice of looking past their fears and worries and seeing their issues for the mere inconveniences they really are instead of catastrophes.
In my practice, it is a natural reaction for a client to listen to my take on doing nothing in response to feelings of overwhelm, and then responding with an example of a catastrophe they recently experienced in their life. Often, in processing these incidents with them, it is revealed that said catastrophe began as an inconvenience, which they poorly reacted to, thereby worsening the situation.
Catastrophes do happen in life, whether as an initial incident, or as an incident made worse from an overreaction. Regardless, the most effective response to feelings of being overwhelmed, is to accept the situation for what it is, and accept your feelings for what they are. Once this is achieved, only then can you begin to take a solution focused response.
The process of doing nothing to feelings of overwhelming stress and anxiety, is something that takes quite a bit of effort for a first timer. Specifically, there are evidenced based cognitive behavioral strategies, like the ones found in this CBT workbook, “Retrain Your Brain: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in 7 Weeks: A Workbook for Managing Depression and Anxiety,” by Seth J Gillihan PhD.
A person can study and practice these strategies on their own, or with an experienced therapist.
Most of the clients I treat for anger management describe themselves as terrible people. Furthermore, they are often described as bullies by their family members and those who are close to them. Typically such a description will come from a spouse who will call in to schedule an appointment on their behalf.
In getting to know these clients, overwhelmingly men, I find that they are typically overwhelmingly nice. To a point where they are inconsistent in setting for themselves healthy boundaries with other people. In close relationships this becomes a problem as the person seldom addresses naturally occurring conflicts with the other person or persons. This leads to stuffing of feelings and chronic pretentiousness in the relationship, until the person can no longer keep his feelings bottled up, the next stage is the angry outburst. In severe cases, particular crisis fueled episodes, the angry person habitually engages in bouts of angry outbursts with strangers.
To others who witness these outbursts, based on their feelings of confusion and feelings of being upset, they come to see the “angry” person as a bully or mentally unstable at worst. Meanwhile the person who engaged in the angry outburst is burdened by feelings of guilt and shame and will typically resolve to double down on his commitment to being the nicest person possible. Unfortunately this plays out as the person failing to exercise assertiveness skills leading to little or no boundaries being set. This then sets the stage for a new cycle where the person habitually stuffs his feelings, bottles up resentment before deciding that he can no longer put up with perceived disrespect. For people in close relationships with these people, it could feel that the angry outbursts are unpredictable, when it fact they are very predictable.
At the beginning of therapy for poor anger management, the person is first introduced to exercises for recognizing his difficult feelings. He is then introduced to cognitive strategies for recognizing and responding appropriately to his difficult feelings.
The core of addressing poor anger management skills is to address the core beliefs of the chronically “angry” person which influence his episodes of anger. For example, with someone who has difficulty exercising healthy boundaries in his relationships with others, it will be important to determine what beliefs he holds unto which prevent him from setting healthy boundaries.
It could be a belief about how he communicates with others, or it could be a belief about how he sees himself, these are just two examples of a variety of possible beliefs a person could hold unto. For example, I once had a client share with me that he viewed expressing his disagreement at work and at home as a form of complaining. He then further stated that he saw complaining as a form of being weak minded.
Whatever belief he is holding unto, is going to be an irrational belief. Put simply, irrational beliefs are beliefs which are not true, but feel true to the person who holds unto them. For example, a belief which states that “no one should curse at me,” is a belief which feels true, because people generally don’t like to be cursed at, but is an irrational belief because we have no control over the words of others.
Once an irrational belief has been identified, a healthier alternative is chosen for the person to adopt, along with cognitive behavioral strategies for internalizing the new belief. The process of practicing new beliefs produces a paradigm shift in how the person’s sees the world around him and subsequently how he interacts with others.
For those who are successful in adopting and implementing new healthier beliefs, family members and others close to them come to see them as more genuine, confident and compassionate.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC.
Hopelessness is a dangerous feeling to experience, this is because once feelings of hopelessness begin to set and fester, people start reconsidering their existence. When clients share suicidal thoughts and feelings with me, I have responded by asking them if they have left “no stones unturned.” Leave no stones unturned is an old figure of speech for searching and exploring all possibilities before considering another alternative. For example, if you lost your keys and you strongly suspect it is in your house. To leave no stone unturned would be that you thoroughly search your house before considering a search at another location.
So if you are experiencing bouts of hopelessness, and you are contemplating your existence, to leave no stone unturned means that you thoroughly explore every possibility to address your situation. In my fifteen years of counseling there are always several things people have not considered, and when they do consider and follow through, their lives improve.
In truth, nothing is worth ending your life over, I have counseled people who experienced feelings of hopelessness over the death of a loved one, people who received a medical diagnosis which changed their lives, breaking up with a romantic partner, experiencing a significant loss of wealth and not experiencing success or loss in reacquiring wealth. In all of these examples there were three recurring reasons which induced feelings of hopelessness. These reasons were all connected to the beliefs and values of the persons, mainly their relationships with these beliefs and values. Given that most of what we believe comes from our formative years, sometimes without realizing it, we sometimes enmesh our old beliefs with our sense of identity. Which makes it even more difficult for us to reconsider revising the beliefs we hold. So, the reasons people struggle with hopelessness are as follows.
Grief and Loss
The loss of a loved one can be an especially painful experience, particularly when that person passed away before his or her elderly years. However, grief and loss is not limited to the loss of a loved one, it also deals with the loss of income, the loss of a relationship, the loss of perceived status, and the list goes on.
I have noticed the pain of grief and loss is especially unbearably for parents who have lost children. In cases where this was the only child or first child of the person, the grief appeared to be so unbearable that they had almost stopped functioning in their daily lives. The loss was a situation they never contemplated and refused to accept. I have never been a fan of the stages of grief model, which involve denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. This is because the first four stages typically occur together, and what keeps the person from coming to a place of acceptance are the beliefs they hold in relation to the grief. So if I am working with a client who lost her only child, and she continues to repeat that a parent should never bury a child, the statement is a testament to what she believes, which is keeping her sick. In truth, it is a sad day when a parent buries a child, but the statement, “a parent should never have to bury a child is false,” because there is no force or entity that can guarantee the prevention of such a tragedy. In truth this client can come to peace and make a new meaning of her life, even though the pain from the loss might never go away.
Pride may seem like an odd reason, but I rank pride as number two on my list because it is very common. Human beings are innately wired to function in a hierarchal structure, this means for most people who are not aware of this, from the cars they drive, to the clothes they wear, a certain level of status within a micro and macro hierarchal system is being communicated. For those who are not aware of this, and for those who are aware of this and cherish it, when there is a loss of status, due to changes in the person’s life, a sense of hopelessness can set it. This sense of hopelessness is often due to a set of beliefs which state that the person can exist and function in no other state other than the previous state he had grown accustomed to. This is called pride, so in maintaining consistency with the term, leave no stone unturned, an effective solution would be for the person to explore what it would be like to actually live his or herself without his perceived status enhancer.
People don’t like doing hard or difficult things, especially when the prospect of engaging in a difficult task does not guarantee any favorably outcomes. For example, a gold digger is less likely to dig for gold in an area where there is no evidence for gold. Or a high school senior is less likely to apply to attend a college or university if he or she does not believe that a college degree would be beneficial in their life. Given that change is a constant in our lives, it is inevitably that we will all come to crossroads in our lives where we have to consider committing too hard and difficulty work in the hopes of an outcome that improves our lives. If the work is hard and time consuming and the reward is not guaranteed, this can be discouraging to some people and influence the onset of hopelessness. A solution to this would be to explore the belief of promised or guaranteed outcomes. In truth, nothing is guaranteed, however the work we put in helps to add meaning and purpose to our lives, as well as experience.
Hopelessness can be overcome; it is a matter of moving past our difficult feelings and revisiting the messages we have come to believe.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC