- Angelica Bennett
This Is How You Change How You Feel
I have been a therapist for 20 years. Despite this, and thankfully, I have much more to learn. I find comfort and joy in knowing that every time I read a book, listen to another person, pay attention to the growth that I have to do, I will learn something new and keep on moving toward being the best version of me that I can possibly be. Life also has a way to remind you that you are still human, and that there are times where we really just go through something that just sucks. Life can be very hard sometimes, and sometimes, we feel like we are stuck - sometimes people call these "seasons".
Right now, I can say I am experiencing a "season". I started to notice that I was having a lot of negative thoughts. As a therapist, I talk to people every day about how their cognitions affect their behaviors, I talk about having cognitive distortions and how to recognize them; I use a lot of clinical language that people receive well and use to challenge these irrational thinking patterns that are creating a negative feeling or experience that they would no longer like to experience.
As a mother, as a wife, as a woman, as a working professional -- I have to remind myself to pause when I start to notice that I am feeling a lot of something I am not comfortable feeling or cannot seem to shake. I am human, after all. I stop and I have to remember what I tell other people about how to change the way that they feel.
Before I tell you how to do this simple yet mindful and intentional action, I just want to acknowledge something that you, as the reader, may need to hear, as I need to hear sometimes too. If you are a mother, and you have moments where you feel exhausted, defeated, guilty, saddened, worried - it does not mean that you are "crazy", which is a word I never use. It means that you are a human, a woman, a mother, doing her very best for the people that you love most in the entire world. It also means that there is room here for exploration, because it means that you have placed judgements on what the facts are of your life.
Let's take the example I spoke of earlier, of "seasons" of our life. There are facts about the things that happen to us and around us, and then there are thoughts about the things that happen to us and around us. Let's break down the difference, as this is the key to changing how you feel.
Facts are just that, facts. They are cold, boring, provable concrete statements that provide a framework for what is happening to us and around us. They do not have feelings, they do not have judgements. They do not have opinions. Facts sound like, "I have a daughter who is 16 and in high school"; "I have a newborn"; "I have a job where I work from 9A-5P in an office"; "I weigh 155 pounds". These are all facts. I can prove I have a daughter who is 16 and in high school, I can prove that I have a newborn, I can prove that I have a job where I work from 9A-5P, I can get on a scale and prove that I weight 155 pounds. Cold, boring, provable.
We start having feelings when we have thoughts about the facts. Thoughts are sentences in your brain. Thoughts are judgements about the facts that are happening to you and around you. Thoughts create feelings based on the judgements you place on the facts. Thoughts are not facts, and oftentimes, thoughts lie. Once you start having a thought about something, our brains start looking for evidence to support it; for example: husband comes home, says "looks like you had a long day of work". That is the fact. If you are already feeling disconnected, or guilty, or angry, or whatever -- you may have a thought of, does he think I don't do enough while I am home? And your brain starts looking for evidence to support your thought. See? He had a tone. He looked away and I know that look, I know what it means. Before you know it, you are in an argument, and your husband is super confused, because perhaps this was the farthest thing from his mind, but for you, it was reality. Makes sense?
Let's simplify this with an example. When someone says, "I am going through a hard season", I would ask them to give me the facts of that season. What is happening? Usually, the answer is, "It is just a really hard time in my life, things are really hard to deal with, I feel overwhelmed and alone, and I don't know how I will get through this. Nobody understands what I am experiencing or what I am feeling". Did you hear any facts about what was going on in this person's life? I hear a person that has a lot of negative thoughts about the facts of what is occuring in their life, and I know that if they take the time to examine their thoughts and the judgements they have placed on the facts, they will change the way that they feel.
We are quick to stay in the feelings place of things, and this is the biggest difference in talking with your friend, versus talking with a professional therapist. When I say that kind of thing to my friend, I expect my friend to comfort me, give me advice by telling me to do something, usually an action of some kind, it probably sounds something like, "I am sorry that you feel so sad, and overwhelmed, let's take a break and go to the park and take a long walk by that lake you love so much, that always makes you feel a little better. Maybe you just need to get out of the house for a little while and take a break". There is nothing wrong with this, and it will not challenge me to see how I can change the way that I feel.
A professional therapist will ask me to pause and unpack my answer, in an effort to shed some light on how I am thinking, which is really what is creating my feeling or my experience of this "season" in my life. Looking at the facts is the number one key in understanding that we do have the power and the ability to change how we feel by looking at the facts. It is helpful to list these out on a piece of paper, so you can look at them. If the facts are not cold, boring and provable, they are thoughts.
An example of a thought sounds like this: "I am 155 pounds, I am so fat, I cannot believe I weigh that much". "My 16 year old daughter is so difficult, she is just a negative person that disrespects me and I just can't talk to her". "I have a job that I am stuck in until 5P, I hate it so much, I play on the computer until it is time for me to leave". Do you see the difference? With thoughts like that, it will be 100% true that your feelings about the facts in your life will be negative, filled with sadness, guilt, doubt, fear, you name it, the answer is the feelings will not feel good.
So- to change the way that we feel, we have to change the way we think. We have to start with examining these "seasons" of our lives, which fill our lives until God calls us home. What are the facts? List them all out. Now on a separate piece of paper, list the thoughts you have about the facts. Examine your thoughts-- look for evidence for the thoughts you are having. If your thoughts are filled with judgements, get rid of the judgement. Intentionally and purposefully, create another new opportunity for the "season" you are in. If your fact is that you have a job from 9A-5P, and your thought is that you hate your job because you feel like your boss does not appreciate you, I invite you to consider how much the way that you think is affecting the way that you show up and participate while you are at your job. These thought patterns affect the way we behave, because they create negative feelings. Negative thoughts = negative feelings = negative action.
So if I do the work and I examine my thoughts and judgements of hating my job, and honestly look at what I am doing or how I am contributing to the way I feel about my job, I realize that I can change my outcome by changing the way that I think about my job. What part of my job do I enjoy? What brought me to this company? What am I not doing or saying that I can be doing or saying to improve my situation? What has this job provided me with?
It is also very important to validate that things in life are hard sometimes. Having a teenager is hard sometimes. Having a doctor tell you that you have cancer is hard. Experiencing a death is hard. Things are hard sometimes. Acknowledging that things are hard, and, at the same time, also acknowledging that you can do hard things, is empowering. I guarantee that in your life, you have gone through something that when it was presented to you, you had no idea how you were ever going to get through it. And somehow - you did. Saying the simple words of, yes this is hard- and I was made for this, or yes this is hard - and I can do hard things, or this: yes this is hard, and God is with me and I can do all things through God who strengthens me- will change your thoughts and ultimately change the way you feel.
If you want to learn more, or want to walk through something with my help, reach out. I'd love to chat with you more about this. You can live a better life, no matter what your "season" is.