Monday, September 23, 2013

I think I'm Feeling Something...Wait, No I'm Not.

Hey hey everybody! This week I thought I'd write about a conversation that I had with a very intelligent and highly competent friend of mine. She was telling me about an argument that she had with her hubby (another intelligent and competent friend of mine). Of course she was convinced that he had "made her angry", but by now I'm sure we know better than that!  Anyway, during the course of our conversation, we inevitably came to the topic of feelings.  I then found myself discussing with her the difference between thoughts and emotions and how even the highly intelligent tend to fall prey to a simple case of mistaken identity when it comes to these two! And how that has lead to many an unnecessary coulpe's spat!

It's important to understand that not only is there a difference between thoughts and emotions, but it's also important to understand that mixing them up can have a catastrophic effect on your relationships and on other interactions!   It also has huge implications for the discussion about emotions that has come before.  Now, to get us caught up, what I've been suggesting so far is that people can't make us feel anything! We make ourselves feel in the way that we respond to them. (That will now become our mantra) Now I think it's important that I make a point here. Feelings are a big deal. They're real and powerful and they are a major part of what makes us uniquely human. And I am convinced that no feeling we experience in invalid! NONE!  The problem arises when we start to confuse thoughts with feelings... Here's why.  Feelings are immutable. They are ours, and are not subject to interpretation or refutation by others. If I say to you, "I feel sad😢" you can't very well respond by saying, "No...I disagree!"  Sad is an emotion, a feeling, and it is mine! I own it, and you can't tell me otherwise! And since it's an emotion, you can't disagree with it. A thought, on the other hand, you can disagree with. In fact, a thought can be flat out wrong!  I might tell you that I think it's going to rain and you might say, "No...I disagree!" Or I might say "I think this steak weighs 2 pounds!" (I love steak), and I might be wrong. No one would bat an eye if you responded, "No way! That steak couldn't be more than 1.5!" But instead, we say things like, "I feel like you don't care about me anymore." And our significant other replies, "no...I disagree! I care very much about you!" But that reply falls on deaf ears because, since we told ourselves that we feel like it's true, we experience it like it's an emotion! And remember, you can't argue with an "emotion"!  The problem is, this is a thought, not and emotion! And thoughts can be wrong!  So our significant other argues with that thought and we respond as though they are "invalidating our feelings".  This is a classic case of mistaken identity. We expressed a thought, told ourselves it was a feeling, and got even more upset when our significant other told us that the thought was wrong! Here are some more examples of thoughts that we tell ourselves are feelings. Tell me in the comments section if you've heard any of these:
"I feel like we never talk any more."
"I feel like you never want to spend time with me!"
"I feel like you put your work/school before me."
"I feel like everybody is staring at me."
"I feel like nobody is going to like me at this party."
"I feel like you're always judging me!" 
"I feel like I'm really gonna mess up in this interview!"
"I feel like everybody else knows what they're doing and I'm the only one who doesn't!"

Each and everyone of these is a thought.  And, for the most part, they are all likely to be wrong!  None-the-less, because we tell ourselves that they are feelings, we experience them as though they were TRUE! And we'll defend them as though they really were our emotions!

Wanna know the first cue that you're expressing a thought (which could be wrong) and not an emotion? Well, emotions are usually only 1 word! In fact, I'd be hard pressed to think of an emotion that's more than one word:
"I feel lonely."
"I feel abandoned."
"I feel amused."
"I feel embarrassed."
"I feel enthusiastic!"
"I feel anxious."
"I feel shocked!"
"I feel euphoric!"

Each of these is an emotion.  If we are experiencing them and we express them to someone, they do not immediately find themselves prepared to argue with them. They are ours!  So when you find yourself starting to say, "I feel like... " just stop!  And ask yourself, "What emotion am I feeling?" If it's a single word, you're probably on the right track! 

There's so much more to be said about this, but I'm feeling tired. I think next week I'll talk with you guys about cruddy ways that we talk ourselves into being more upset than we deserve to be!

📢 If you have questions, comments, or challenges please feel free, no, feel encouraged, to post in the comments section below! Oh, I accept positive feedback, too! I'm just kind like that. 😉

Dr. Saz

p.s. When all else fails, take it from Steven:

Sunday, September 22, 2013

What's it all About?

      As soon as I agreed to write a blog, people started asking me what I was going to blog about. Of course, being a university professor, I figured it would have something to do with the classes that I teach. In order to make good use this medium, it would make sense to tie it to something academically related. I mean after all, what is the use of having all of these resources, such as blogs and other online devices, if not to increase academic outcomes? But as I thought about it, I considered that not only am I a university professor, but I'm also a clinician.  And as with most clinicians, I feel called to attempt to share with others things that I have found helpful in the past. But I figured that probably wasn't what this blog was going to be about. Besides, it will be much easier to simply blog about things that I am doing in class or to supplement the things that I'm presenting in class. This would be based on the idea of providing an additional resource for my students to glean a greater amount of information from my courses.  Then I had the conversation that I shared with you in the last post! 

     Since my last post, I've had so many people asking questions, making challenges, or simply imploring me to have more empathy for people's emotional experiences! They said things like "Saz, don't you know how hard it is when people do things to upset you?!" and, "That's the whole idea about getting pissed off, Saz! People piss you off and you can't do anything about it! People just act stupid and you end up getting pissed off and then you have to do something about it! or, "Oh Saz. You can't just pretend things don't upset you. If you do, you'll keep all that emotion bottled up and things will be really awful for you then." (These are the ones who are concerned about my emotional well-being). And then there are the more erudite among the naysayers who say such things as, "You know, Saz, [and by the way, as an aside, I wonder why people who disagree with you make a point to use your name in every sentence… I wonder if that's significant.] research has shown quite clearly that stress can cause memory problems, inability to concentrate, poor judgment, constant worry, irritability, depression, aches and pains, loss of sex drive, immune suppression, even diarrhea!" They're even willing to go so far as to cite peer-reviewed studies and websites in support of their contentions! 

     But here's the thing. They all have very legitimate concerns.  However, I believe that they are each missing a vital point. And that point is, neither stress nor emotional upset is some mysterious external force that acts upon us. Each of those things come from within ourselves. It comes from the way that we talk to ourselves. It comes from the way that we respond to our world.  It comes from unrealistic demands that come disguised as expectations. It comes from a lifetime of being taught over and over and over from earliest childhood that other people control our emotional experience.  That other people make us feel.  That our happiness depends on the behavior of others just as our frustration and our emotional upset is dependent upon them. Living this way we are relegated to often futile hopes that others will behave in ways that we anticipate they will behave. So what happens when their behavior is not consistent with our expectations? What happens when their behavior is not consistent with our hopes for how they will treat us? If I am dependent on others to make me feel; to make me feel happy, to make me feel fulfilled, to make me feel worthy or valuable, then I experience joy and happiness and fulfillment and a sense of worthiness wholly and completely at the whim of others.

   Let me give you an example. Have you ever been cut off by another driver and traffic? If so, and most of us have, I want you to visualize that experience. Did it piss you off? Now I want you to ask yourself, did it cause you to be pissed off? We talk about it as though it does cause these pissed off feelings when, in fact, being cut off is not what caused the pissed off feelings at all! But let's take it one step further. Now think back and remember the things that you said to yourself in your head (your thoughts as the incident occurred).  Were they such things as,  "Oh my god that guy such an *%~£x!! Or "Wow! They could've run me off the road!" or "He's such a jerk! He's endangering everyone around him!!!" Chances are, you were saying such things to yourself if you ended up feeling pissed off. Anybody might feel pissed off if they're saying those types of things to themselves! By the time you're done pissing yourself off by all the things that you're saying in your head, the person who cut you off is probably long gone! What's the likelihood that they actually had more control over your emotional experience at that time than you did? Are we really prepared to suggest that this individual who cut us off had more emotional control over us than we had over ourselves? Or is it possible that we maintained control over our own emotional experience and only gave that event and that individual driving an illusion of control over our emotional experience?  What if what you were saying in your head, your self statements, had been different in nature when the cut off occurred? What if you had instead thought to yourself, "Oh my!  I hope that driver is not having a seizure or a stroke!" Do you think you would've experienced the same pissed off feelings? Or do you think you might have felt worry instead? We often fail to recognize the power of these self statements. And we often fail to recognize our own power to change them! The philosopher Epictetus said,  "People are not disturbed by things but by the view they take of them." Once we come to realize that, guess what… we'll feel a whole lot better! And we will begin to take ownership of our own emotional experience! 

     By the way, didn't I start this post out by giving you the impression that I would tell you what this blog was about? Are you feeling disappointed? Does it make you sad that I didn't? Does it really? 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Wherein Lies the POWER?

It occurs to me that it would be AMAZING if people actually recognized how much power they have to affect their own lives. You might wonder what brought that thought on. I think I'll let you in on it. So I was having a conversation with someone today (yes, I have conversations with people) and the person was telling me how horrible their day had been. Of course, being the incredibly supportive person that I am, I inquired, "Oh?" My conversational partner replied, "Yes! Absolutely awful!" Looking at this person, their facial expression, their body language, everything about them exuded awful and horrible. Of course you would think, seeing this, that something awful and horrible really had happened to them. As it turns out, this person had plans to go and see a movie this evening with a friend and had to change the time that they were going because of a conflict. I asked the person if the conflict resulted in them not having an opportunity to see a movie with their friend. The reply was,  "No, we'll still see the movie, but we're gonna have to see it later than I planned. It's just so annoying! I know this is just going to ruin the whole night!" My insightful and supportive response… "Hmm". 

So what occurred to me was if a person is saying such things to themselves as "this is awful, this is horrible, this is that than which nothing worse can be conceived!" (said in a very melodramatic voice), can we really be surprised that they start to feel like things are horrible, awful, or terrible? I wonder what would happen if we said different things to ourselves. I wonder what would happen if instead of filling our heads with this catastrophizing way of looking at events that occur in our lives, if we might feel differently.  If we might even feel better! So this brings me to the question, wherein lies the power? I contend that the power lies within ourselves. The way that we talk to ourselves goes a long way in determining how we feel and how we experience the world. We do such an amazing job of convincing ourselves that all these external events can determine how we feel. But I am convinced that those external events have no power to make us feel. We make ourselves feel in the way that we react to them.  I know, I know. That is an incredibly bold statement. So what. I'm standing by it.