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Saturday, October 16, 2004

Feeling Good - the book

A while back I mentioned the book, Feeling Good. I would like to say a word or three about it and its companion book, Feeling Good Handbook today. I haven't read through all of these two books, but just getting through the first few chapters has especially helped me greatly. Some of the main ideas that it talks about have helped me to see the relationship between thinking and feeling. In particular, often times, our moods are affected by the way we think, and Dr David Burns, the author pointed out that there are ten forms of twisted thinking that can negatively affect our moods. Each of the twisted thinking leads to a corresponding negative feeling, which when we dwell on it will lead us down a downward spiral of depression, anxiety and irrational fear. I would like to quote from the Handbook at length:

1. All-or-nothing thinking. You see things in a black-or-white category. If the situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, "I've blown my diet completely." This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream!

2. Overgeneralization. You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as "always" or "never" when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the windshield of his car. He told himself, "Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car."

3. Mental filter. You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

4. Discounting the postive. You reject the poisitive experiences by insisting that they "don't count." If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn't good enough or that anyone could have done as well.

5. Jumping to conclusion. You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion. There are two kinds of jumping to conclusion: (i) Mind reading: Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you. (ii) Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, "I'm really going to blow it. What if I flunk?" If you're depressed you may say to yourself, "I'll never get better."

6. Magnification. You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the "binocular trick."

7. Emotional reasoning. You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: "I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly." Or "I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person." Or "I feel angry. This proves I;m being treated unfairly." Or "I feel so inferior. This means I'm a second-rate person." Or "I feel hopeless. I must be really hopeless."

8. "Should statements." You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, "I shouldn't have made so many mistakes." This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. "Musts," "oughts" and "have tos" are similar offenders.
"Should statements" that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general lead to anger and frustration: "He shouldn't be so stubbon or argumentative."
Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn'ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. "I shouldn't eat that doughnut." This usually doesn't work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get teh urge to do the opposite. Dr. Albert Ellis has called this "musterbation." I call it the "shouldy" approach to life.

9. Labeling. Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying "I made a mistake," you attach a negative label on yourself, "I'm a loser." You might also label yourself "a fool" or "a failure" or "a jerk." Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but "fools," "losers," and "jerks" do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration, and low self-esteem.
You may also label others. When one does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may say to yourself, "He's an S.O.B." Then you feel that the problem is with that person's "character" or "essence" instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves little room for constructive communication.

10. Personalization and blame. Personalization occurs when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn't entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulties at school, she told herself, "This shows what a bad mother I am," instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman's husband beat her, she told herself, "If only I were better in bed, he wouldn't beat me." Personalization leads to guilt, shame, and feelings of inadequacy.
Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways that they might be contributing to the problem: "The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable." Blame usually doesn't work very well because other people will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It's like the game of hot potato-- no one wants to get stuck with it.
These insidiously paralyzing twisted thinking styles can affect us so much that it becomes automatic and we don't even realize we are thinking in such ways. When I first bought the two books, I started reading the first couple of chapters and discovered how such twisted thinking affects our feelings, it was like my eyes were finally opened to how I was thinking, and the many false assumptions that I have kept in my mind. Then I became aware of the people around me having these false assumptions. That is the most frustrating part. You have the knowledge, but you have not yet internalized it, so you are not yet exemplifying it in your own experience (in other words, you are still twisted in your own thinking). But, while you are trying to change the way you think and therefore, the way you feel, you can see others having the same disastrous thinking patterns. Especially those who are close to you. And because both of you are having twisted thinking patterns, your relationships rub against one another. You cannot point out their flawed thinking to them, not convincingly anyway, because three fingers will point back at you, and if you do, they will think that you are using blame anyway. All you can do is be patient, and learn to "un-twist" your own thinking. Over time, the two of you, as you learn to replace the negative thinking patterns by healthy thinking patterns, will eventually learn to break out of the vicious cycle of negative thinking and moody feelings.

This was what happened between me and my daughter. It took a while before things got back in order, but when it did, it was like a huge burden was lifted off my shoulders. Initially while I was working on my own thinking patterns, it was frustrating to me that she had all these false assumptions in her as well. Eventually as I internalized the new healthier ways of thinking, my behavior was changing and she could see it. Eventually she changed her own way of thinking and gradually we began communicating again. We now could talk with each other, and laugh with each other and the barrier between us was slowly disintegrating. Eventually I earned her trust enough to be able to draw closer to each other. It was so sweet that yesterday morning as I was driving her to school, I waved my hand as I was talking to her in the car, and she grabbed my hands and slipped her fingers in between mine and held them all the way to school. We haven't done this for a long time. She used to do it when she was a little girl, as she had seen my wife and I hold hands this way as we drove and whenever she had a chance to sit up front in the car when I was driving her, she would do this. I thank God for His healing work in our lives and I know he will also heal her life and bring her closer to Himself as well. It will be a long journey and it will be rough at times, but I thank God that He travels along the road with us, if we let Him.