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HOW TO FEEL BETTER, PART 2: FEELINGS AND ACTIONS

A father of a child with DMDD (disruptive mood dysregulation disorder) told me:


"Everyone tells you to leave an abusive relationship. Abuse is not your fault, they say. There is help for you. But when the abuser is your own child, you can't leave. People tell you it's all your fault. If you were a good parent or a good person, this wouldn't be happening to you. And while there is some help for my child -- he gets the best therapy I can find and afford, there is no one to help me. I just live with the abuse day in and day out while trying to love my abuser, trying to help him, trying to keep my job because I am 100% responsible for his support."


Wow.


These clients mean so much to me because they desperately need help and often have an extremely difficult time finding it. I love watching the process as these parents re-learn confidence, self-love, and hope. I love watching their children begin to settle in response to the parents' transformation.


Last week we discussed fact vs. story. In the case of a behavioral disorder, the child's behavior becomes the circumstance or fact in the parent's model. Let's use a specific (fictional, but classic DMDD) example to notice how the parent's thought about this fact produces a feeling in them.


C (Circumstance): Daughter said, "I hate you, I wish you were dead." Daughter threw drinking glass. It hit the wall.


T (Parent's Thought): No matter what I do, it always ends like this.


F (Parent's Feeling): Despair


Put yourself in this scenario for a moment. Pretend this was your child. Pretend this was your thought. Can you feel the despair even just imagining it? This exercise can be powerful in understanding how thoughts produce our feelings.


Let's look at some other thought options for this fictional situation.


Circumstance: Daughter said, "I hate you, I wish you were dead." Daughter threw drinking glass. It hit the wall.


Thought: I hate her. I wish she'd never been born.


Feeling: Guilt


This exact same scenario produced a different thought in a different parent. This thought lead to a totally different feeling. Let's go again.


C: Daughter said, "I hate you, I wish you were dead." Daughter threw drinking glass. It hit the wall.


T: She can't talk to me like that, I'm her father!


F: Indignation


Again:


C: Daughter said, "I hate you, I wish you were dead." Daughter threw drinking glass. It hit the wall.


T: I'm going to tan her hide.


F: Vengeance


Again:


C: Daughter said, "I hate you, I wish you were dead." Daughter threw drinking glass. It hit the wall.


T: This is my fault


F: Shame


We think that our feelings are automatic, that they just happen to us, that we have no control over them. But the truth is, every feeling we have is caused by a thought. Notice how each different thought above produces a totally different feeling.


Thoughts ARE automatic, but we can use our prefrontal cortex to override them, to think critically about them, to shift them, and over time, to program NEW automatic thoughts. This process builds new thought habits.


If I were coaching myself in this scenario, I would begin by writing down all the facts and thoughts, like I taught last week. Then I would choose one single thought to model. I would concentrate on that thought and decide what feeling it was producing in me. This alone would give me so much awareness about what is happening. I may take some time here to process the emotion. To sit and feel it. To invite it in.


Then I would go to work loosening up my unintentional, painful thought. This isn't "thought swapping." It's not thinking positively. It's thinking intentionally. I'd ask myself: what else COULD I think? I'd brainstorm options. There are TONS of options about any scenario. Then I'd try on different thoughts like I try on a new dress. I'd pick it up, put it on, play with it in my mind, see how each thought feels to me. I usually pick one that is similar to the old thought, but it feels just a little bit better. It also HAS to feel true.


Let's look at some options for the examples above. Remember, these all share the exact same circumstance: Daughter said, "I hate you, I wish you were dead." Daughter threw drinking glass. It hit the wall.


1) Unintentional Thought: No matter what I do, it always ends like this.

Intentional Thought: This won't last forever. I am strong enough to handle this until things change.


Unintentional Feeling: Despair

New Feeling: Strength


2) Unintentional Thought: I hate her. I wish she'd never been born.

Intentional Thought: I wonder what's really going on inside her brain.


Unintentional Feeling: Guilt

Intentional Feeling: Curiosity


3) Unintentional Thought: She can't talk to me like that, I'm her father!

Intentional Thought: I can't control her, but I can decide who I want to be.


Unintentional Feeling: Indignation

Intentional Feeling: Determination


4) Unintentional Thought: I'm going to tan her hide.

Intentional Thought: Connecting with her might help.


Unintentional Feeling: Vengeful

Intentional Feeling: Hope


5) Unintentional Thought: This is my fault .

Intentional Thought: This is a disorder that is no one's fault.


Unintentional Feeling: Shame

Intentional Feeling: Empathy


Feelings are important because they are the fuel for everything we do. Realizing this helps us develop compassion for others, including a misbehaving child, and for ourselves. Generating feelings intentionally also gives us the power to become who we want to be.


Why do I speak softly and lovingly to a child who just yelled at me? Because I'm feeling patient and empathetic. Why do I schedule therapy appointments for my kids? Because I feel hopeful they will help. Why do I confide in my friend? Because I feel safe and connected to her. Why do I give my spouse a huge hug when he comes home? Because I'm feeling love and excitement about being together. Why do I wake up my daughter with smile on my face and a sparkle in my eye? Because I feel so grateful she is mine.


On the other hand, why do I spank a child? Because I am feeling a lack of control. Why do I snap at my husband? Because I am feeling undermined. Why did I eat a pint of ice cream after I put the kids in bed? Because I was feeling exhausted.


What's amazing about being coached or learning how to self-coach is that you realize feelings don't have to just happen to you. With time and practice, you can train your brain to cultivate them in any situation you want and use them to fuel whatever actions you want to be taking. And when you can do that, you truly have the world by the tail.


If you want some personal one-on-one help with your situation, sign up for a free mini session today. I'll give you some insight into your exact problem and show you how these concepts can help you feel better. If you want to continue working with me after that, I'll give you all the details. Sign-ups will open again for my coaching program on November 1.



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