I recently did an activity with the parent support group I run. I told the parents to close their eyes and mill around the room. We bumped into each other and laughed and apologized as we blundered around. I then asked them to keep milling around the room with their eyes closed but to imagine that everyone they touch is toxic and the longer they come into contact with someone else the sicker they will become. The milling became filled with tension as we all jerked back at the slightest touch, one person felt his way to another room and stayed there! And then one more time I asked them to imagine that touch was good, warm, connecting and healing. Within a few moments, the whole unseeing group found each other, and we were all connected, holding on and not letting go.
What changed? The circumstance was the same, we were milling around a room with our eyes closed, but we underwent a vast array of emotions in a few minutes. It was how we thought about the situation. When we assigned a thought to the situation, our feelings and actions quickly followed.
Your body also reacts to the feelings and thoughts. If you have good feelings, your body relaxes and releases endorphins and serotonin. Bad feelings are translated as potential danger in your body and your muscles tense, your breathing becomes short. Your body will prepare to fight or run or whatever it needs to do to meet a crisis.
You can only consciously choose your thoughts and actions. But your total behavior of thoughts/feelings/actions and body response is an unconscious choice and your attempt to make the best decision to meet your needs from a circumstance.
If you don’t think you have choices about your thoughts and feelings, there would be no market for counselors or self-help books.
To get your needs met you can either change what you are doing, change what you want or both.
How to change?
First be aware of the different categories in your mind. Get used to categorizing circumstances, thoughts, feelings and actions. Just observe. Don’t try to change them, be aware and gain an understanding of how your mind works.
If you are noticing that you predominately have negative thoughts and feelings with all or certain circumstances, write it down. When do you have positive thoughts and feelings? What is different? Write it down.
When you have been keeping track and journaling about your circumstances, thoughts, feelings and actions for a while, you can start to change what you would like to change to get your needs met better. Is anger and effective way of dealing with whatever circumstance you found your child in? What do you need to stay connected with your child and regulated? Again, you have direct control over your thoughts and actions. The feelings and body response follow. Often your make a choice of anger because the more vulnerable feeling of loss of control or maybe even culpability are far too uncomfortable, so anger feels like a better choice.
What do you need right now? Safety? Fun? Belonging? Love? Survival? What thoughts, feelings and actions are best going to meet those needs?
The activity was not my own it is from Leonard Scheff.
Further reading on Circumstance/Thoughts/Feelings/Actions can be found here: https://thelifecoachschool.com/self-coaching-model/