Has there been a situation that occurred today, last week or several years ago that keeps triggering you? Are you stuck in thinking how could that person have done this to you? Maybe you believe it’s what he said that keeps you feeling and acting angry.
Here’s a question- When angry, do you avoid this person? Or, when you see him, do you act indifferent or argumentative? Of course you do; welcome to being human! The good news is you are reacting in a very normal way when someone hurts or disappoints you. Who wouldn’t feel hurt and anger when wronged? It’s only natural and it is your body’s way of defending itself from an inherent attack according to evolutionary psychologists.
I help my clients understand how their emotions are instinctive to their survival. Emotions are neither good nor bad. Emotions are automatic and just a part of our needed survival mechanism.
The job of emotions is to either warn of impending danger so we may fend off, run from or freeze during an attack to our personal safety. Our emotions also allow us to create close connections to others as part of our survival need for bonding.
That means all emotions- (anger, fear, resentment, jealousy, sadness, love, excitement, joy, peace, etc.) are with which every human body comes self-equipped.
The not so good news arises as you notice you are feeling more of the negative side of your emotional spectrum, and as a result, you act in self- defeating ways preventing people from getting too close to you and preventing you from getting your true bonding needs met.
So what can you do if your emotions are normal but not helpful to your overall sense of well-being?
It becomes less about focusing on changing the emotions or the behaviors and more about starting a basic practice of ABC’s of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (Dr. Aaron Beck).
The (A) action is the situation that happened that made you react.
The (B) belief is your interpretation of the situation (A)
The (C) consequence is your reaction- i.e. – yelling, anger, anxiety, drinking, etc.
Here’s the basic premise … your perception of the situation may or may not be accurate, but the manner in which you perceive the situation is what contributes to your reaction more so than the situation itself. I know this is hard to believe, but it is true! Maybe you should reread that last sentence as it is very hard to believe.
*Why not try and look at what happened with a particular situation or event that has caused you to get highly agitated and see if your perception is absolutely true…Ask yourself, what were my beliefs about this situation? For example, if your boss didn’t give you a promotion and you felt hurt and resentful and started to avoid work, think to yourself, what beliefs were going through your mind? Maybe you thought-“he doesn’t think I’m worth the promotion.” Well, that exact thought is the reason why you are hurt, angry, avoidant and self-destructive. What if there was another explanation for not getting the promotion? Couldn’t it be less about your personal capability and more about something happening in the company such as downsizing? Also, if you did not get the promotion, maybe this gives you an opportunity to look at other career options that you have been thinking about for a while. What helps is coming up with alternate explanations and trying them on for size. Maybe you will feel better and act differently. *
After reading this, I suggest going back to a certain situation that keeps you stuck in your negative feelings/behaviors and re-examine the beliefs you hold.
Remember, you are not forced to think these thoughts, you have the freedom of choice to focus on any thoughts at all times. So, why not try noticing your thoughts and choosing those that result in better moods and behaviors. Just a thought….
Melissa D. Fenton, PhD, LMHC