Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Battlefield of the mind - dealing with should statements

Last week I discovered another mind trap that has kept me stuck in a self-defeating mindset as a result of thinking "I should or I should not".

I have since recognised that these should thoughts are arbitrary standards that I have set to unnecessarily criticise myself, others or the world. Some examples of this type of thoughts are as follows;

"I should have seen that coming."

"I should have done that differently."

"I shouldn't feel this way."

"He should treat me with more respect."

I have been most guilty of criticising myself particularly when trying to speak about my feelings.  When asked how I feel I often respond with a simple "fine" or "good" because my default thinking and looped script tells me "I shouldn't feel". As far back as I can remember, I have tried to be invisible to others by being good and as a result have tucked away and numbed my emotions to the degree that it has become difficult to regulate and express genuine positive emotions. 

Negative emotions on the other hand, have been easily expressed and poorly regulated. Emotions like, irritability, anger, jealousy; emotions that have trapped me in sarcastic, criticising or judging behaviors with myself and others. As a result of these scripts I have come to many dead ends. Thankfully, once I become aware of a dead end, I am quicker to make a U-turn which allows me to break the old default thinking pattern.

I know it will take time and practice/discipline however, by living in the present rather than in my head I can more easily name the emotion - validate it - release it and let go; moving on to what's next.

Finally, I am beginning to personally grasp what the bible says about renewing your mind.

And so, dear brothers and sisters,[a] I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.[b] Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. Romans 12:1-2.

Prayer: May God bless you with wisdom and clear discernment to choose loving behaviors. In Jesus' name. Amen

Sources: Cognitive distortions - when your brain lies to you ; bible and life experience.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Battlefield of the mind - dealing with catastrophic thinking

As far back as I can remember, I have had this tendency to get easily irritable when things do not go as planned (more specifically, according to MY plan).

In the past week to 10 days, I have been using the SWITCH app, developed by Dr. Caroline Leaf, to address some ongoing toxic thinking, rumination and catastrophizing. Thoughts that at their root determine that I am often thinking the worst, waiting for the other shoe to drop and that life (everything) is hard. My thought life has been one of grumbling and martyrdom; but why? Better yet how do I change it? It is not as easy as keeping my mouth shut; biting my tongue is painful; and repressing my emotions sometimes leads to an explosion that comes at others out of nowhere.

Finally, at day 7, when I began to focus on the concept for the day, the dam broke. I gathered awareness about my attitude and how often I choose to catastrophize and grumble about my circumstances, big or small, rather than get excited and accept the challenge as well as make an effort to stay in the now and embrace the opportunity to do something I enjoy with my husband.

This new awareness enabled me to keep my mouth shut without the need to bite my tongue and a morning which I thought would be ruined due to my catastrophizing became a key lesson in communication.

Here's a glimpse of what I was thinking when we headed out to go kayaking that day

- we will get caught in the rain, what a disaster
- listening to you chattering is hard
- not knowing the way is hard
- the slope down to the river is hard
- getting into the water and then the kayak is hard
- paddling towards the same direction is hard

Yet, I chose not to speak these thoughts out loud and silently prayed for an intervention so that I could keep putting into practice what I have learned and embrace an attitude of of gratitude and excitement.

If you ever want to challenge this attitude and know who is in control - get into a tandem kayak with your spouse. Here communication, patience and grace are key - working with each other instead of against each other is critical - there was no room for my irritability, self-centeredness, need to be right, or warden voice. Even Sean's frustration was left at the shore line. It was a glorious unfolding.

PS - As I reflected on the roots of my attitude and misgivings, I found it difficult to put into words why I often behave in such ways.

So I identified the toxic thought - if only
Then associated the emotions - frustration and irritability
Connected to the information - I messed up
Then associated the emotions - regret and guilt
And connected the information - if only I had done it differently

Time and time again this circular reasoning has set me up for a negative feedback loop. Yet I still can't put my heart into the root cause of it. Clearly, I self-sabotage a fun and good time as you can tell from my thinking prior to my kayak journey. Clearly, I prefer to be in control of everything. Neither of these mindsets serve me well yet they cling to me like a dirty rag. And, despite that fact, I have hope for change as I learned a few things from this experience.

The root of my toxic thinking is about how I feel about myself, not others. Although these words were penned by  Melissa Maimone, Radiant Midnight, they aptly put into words my own feelings. " I feel ashamed that I so easily fail at being the person I want to be." and "realizing how little control I have had over my mind is terrifying. All of it makes me feel vulnerable and naked."

Secondly, it is never too late to change my attitude or start a new practice. God's mercies are new every morning.

And lastly, pausing before I speak will go a long way to decreasing regret and guilt.

Practice the Pause!
Pause before judging.
Pause before assuming.
Pause before accusing.
Pause whenever you're about to react harshly,
and you will avoid doing
and saying things that you will
later regret.
- Lori Deschene

The following is a link to an article that describes catastrophizing and what you need to know to stop worrying. (Healthline article re. catastrophizing )

Saturday, 27 June 2020

In honour of my sister in love

I saw a honeybee yesterday, she assured me that everything would be okay and encouraged me to carry on and bee the change we want to see in the world. We beelong together - Together like the hard-working and loving community of a beehive coming together for a higher purpose. The honeycomb reminds us that nothing is impossible when we stick together.
At the time of our last visit with Michèle and Jeff, we had a few minutes “just us girls”, precious minutes that I will cherish forever. The words she spoke seemed insignificant at the time, merely more words about the beauty of nature, the differences between species and a great analogy for community and sisterhood. Upon further reflection, I began to truly reconcile, the power of such imagery – the glory of God’s creation and how Michèle, despite her buzzyness, knew and enjoyed the desires of her heart!
The bible tells us that “gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Proverbs 16:24 (ESV). From the first time I met Michèle she had only gracious words for me. She adopted me as her sister in love and affirmed how beautiful I was (something I struggle with accepting for myself to this day) by calling me Bella. She was a fountain a joy, a blessing to us during Sean’s cancer journey, and loved us even though our goals and dreams were not her own. You could say that we were a different species working toward the same goal of helping others but in different ways.
As we spoke, I identified with her description of the bumblebee’s daily journey - traveling from flower to flower – up to 100 kms a day to collect pollen. While bumblebees also produce honey, they do so in small quantities because come winter they each go their separate way and fend for themselves as a lone ranger who finds some real estate and settles – I identify with this behavior because as an introvert, I often need to go off by myself to recharge and Michèle respected that. 
Michèle was more like a honeybee; living it up, making her home above ground allowing others to experience her joy as she deployed her sting to rally her 50,000 sisters to hit their mark and come together fashioning a honeycomb filled beehive that has certainly changed the lives of many.
The life of a queen honeybee is truly one of community. She doesn’t travel without an entourage. She isn’t left alone. She has enough help to take care of her and her young. The sole responsibility of the queen bee is to lay eggs – she is a life-giver. She does not hibernate, buzzing in the hive until the weather allows her to go out again. In the meantime, her daughters cluster around her to keep each other warm. A strong hive like Michèle’s has community that numbers in the tens of thousands.
Yet, now she rests in the Promised Land – a land flowing with milk and honey. And her legacy lives on through her daughters.
Keep the hive alive, sisters!