I have mentioned in previous posts about my participation in John Townsend’s Counselor Training Program. I’m with talented people who inspire me to grow. We get down deep into our own issues, letting all parts of ourselves rise to the surface in a sweet dance of vulnerability. I have a history of being a people-pleasing, perfectionistic co-dependent. In December, Dr. Townsend gave us a chance to practice leading a role-play method of group counseling. I really wanted to take a shot at it, but I felt a lot of fear as I blurted out, “I’ll volunteer!” Dr. Townsend sensed my fear and asked me about it. Over the next ten minutes tears streamed down my face while I faced the group and let them know how fearful I was of their judgement and rejection. It was a pivotal moment for me. After hearing authentic affirmations from the group, I dried my tears and bumbled my way through leading Dr. Townsend on a mock role-play. After the initial fear died down, I felt exhilaration coursing through my veins. I got into it and put aside any need for approval. It didn’t matter if i did it “right”. I was totally open to the journey of learning, not the destination of perfection. In that moment I crossed the threshold into freedom. This was one of those experiences that you simply must have for yourself to fully grasp the power of that moment. Some of us get so locked into wondering what others want and trying to please them, that we miss out on actually living our own life. That is not how we must live. For me, freedom was found in opening up with a trusted group and sharing my deeply ingrained fear of rejection. Vulnerability was the path and genuine acceptance of me, flaws and all, was the antidote.
In An Alternative to the Emotional Band-Aid I introduced an awareness technique that is useful for processing emotions. This is a follow-up to that post. One of the steps in the process is validating your emotion. I am a firm believer in the concept that our emotions never lie to us. They simply let us know our reaction to our thoughts. When we question the validity of an emotion, it would be helpful to question our thoughts. Our thoughts are where we run into trouble. Think about this for a moment. I can stand here and tell myself horrible things are happening to my children. I can actually get myself to panic and even cry. Actors do this frequently to create authentic tears. The tears may be real but the thoughts are not. This is called creating a story or catastrophizing, making things much worse than they really are.
To help us in our quest for emotional health, it is imperative that we look at the thoughts behind our emotion: are they real, based in fact? Imagine standing before a judge in a court of law, would the evidence for your emotion be admissible or thrown out? Here is an example: Let’s say your boyfriend just broke up with you. You are heartbroken by the loss of the relationship. As you are crying about the break-up, you start to imagine yourself alone for the rest of your life and you go into an emotional spiral. What is true and what is the story? The truth is that you are heartbroken by the loss of the relationship (I’m assuming it was a real relationship and it meant something to you). The story is you will be alone for the rest of your life. How do you know that? Can you look into the future? I don’t believe we have the ability to know for certain what is going to happen to us. I don’t think a psychic can even do that with 100% accuracy.
The facts are sad enough sometimes. The last thing we need to do to ourselves is add to the intensity with some created story. As you go about your day, notice your emotions and the thoughts behind them. Are you creating stories? Separate the facts from fiction; as Joe Friday on Dragnet would say, “Just the facts ma’am [or sir!].” Allow yourself to feel the emotions tied to facts and let go of the things that are not.