Give up all those bad feelings

Coping Means:

Managing Our Thoughts

Dear Friend,

We have the answer for getting rid of all those bad feelings that plague you.

The Coping Series is made up of modules that teach you how to resolve old bad feelings. These modules are built on the principle that it isn’t the people or events in our lives that make us troubled; it’s our thoughts about those people or events that trouble us.

From: Ken Johnston

author and coach

In other words, we can’t avoid negative people or events in our lives; they are normal and to be expected. What we can do is manage the way we think and feel about those adversities so we can cope with them effectively.

If you suffer a loss, it is normal and right to suffer the pain of that loss. Sometimes those feelings overwhelm us, or keep us from coping or carrying on with our lives. If that happens it’s important to regain control over our thoughts, feelings, and actions so we can bounce back from life’s adversities and return some normalcy to our lives.

Learn a Calming Technique

The first module in the six-module series gives you a technique you can use anytime the feelings overwhelm you, or the thoughts race through your head. If you already have a calming skill or technique, you're free to use it. If you don’t, we’ll give you three you can use. One of them will be easier for you than the others, so you’ll decide which one to use.

Listen to Your "Self-talk"

All of us have thoughts and judgments going through our minds. It is so normal and natural that you may be scarcely aware of it.

When you use one of the calming techniques, it's easier to notice the stream of thoughts that are flitting in and out of your mind (we call this “self-talk"). We help you become aware of those thoughts and notice what they are saying.

Some people find it difficult to listen to their thoughts without reacting and engaging with them (“looping”). We help you learn to listen to them and just notice them and then let them go.

When you can do this, we will ask you to write down your thoughts. We help you become like an observer of your own stream of self-talk. We ask you to write them down so you can examine them for certain helpful or hurtful patterns.

Identify Unanswerable Questions

We each have a wonderful capacity to think, recognize patterns, and figure things out. This thinking capacity is bound together with our question-answering ability. That means that we typically can answer only one question at a time.

For example, if I asked you to figure out how many miles you would drive if you went 35 miles an hour for 45 minutes, you would engage your thinking capacity and figure out the answer. But, until you had the answer, or gave up, you couldn’t handle another question.

When we run into one of life’s difficulties, we need our thinking capacity so we can cope. It’s pretty easy to clog up our thinking capacity with questions that have no answers, but cause us to search for one.

So, if my company laid me off, but kept Murphy, I could clog up my thinking capacity by asking myself an unanswerable question like, “Why did they like Murphy better than they liked me?” This causes my mind to have to search for every possible thing I did wrong, or who I might have offended, or any possible weakness I have.

Or, if my partner wanted to split up, I could clog up my thinking by asking, “What’s wrong with me?” or “Where did I go wrong?” Either question will send my mind on an endless chase for an answer that I’ll never find, and each possibility that my mind brings up will be something that hurts.

So, we will help you identify unanswerable questions, and teach you how to keep questions out of your mind for which you have no answers. We’ll also teach you to replace the useless and hurtful questions with productive questions that will help you get on with your life.

Replace thoughts or pictures created from hurtful imaginings

We all have wonderful and creative imaginations. We use our imaginations well when we use it to rehearse the future so we're confident that we will be prepared. We use our imaginations well when we imagine how great the movie will be, or the concert, or the ball game. We get the benefit of good feelings of anticipation.

We can also use our imaginations to hurt ourselves. We can imagine things that bring pain, stress, and anxiety.

For example, if my wife isn’t home when I expected her, I can use my imagination to picture things that could explain her lateness. I could create a picture of her in a terrible automobile accident. I could imagine she’s sick and dying in a hospital from a stroke or heart attack. I could imagine that she’s in the arms of a lover.

Using my imagination in these hurtful ways can only make me anxious, worried, and hurt. If you discover some of these kinds of imaginings on your list of thoughts, we’ll help you replace those with productive imaginings. For example, if my wife is late, I could imagine how happy she’ll be when she comes home and discovers that I’ve fed the dog and started preparing dinner.

People with active imaginations have a wonderful capacity, and they should use it. We help them to use their imagination more positively and less hurtfully.

Let go of memories of past hurts

Some of us are haunted by memories of past events or people that have hurt us. It seems so easy to fix, if it isn’t happening to you. If Sally still feels bitter about something her husband said to her a week ago, it’s going to take a lot more than simply saying to her, “Get over it. It’s history,” or “Don’t let yourself hurt today from the pains of yesterday.”

I can say those things to Sally until I’m blue in the face, and Sally will still feel her pain.

We help Sally recognize the painful feeling immediately when she feels it, and teach her to ask four questions. Two things are happening when she does that. First, she is using her thinking capacities instead of reviewing her memories, so it stops the hurt. Second, one of the questions we teach her to ask is: “Is this (feeling) what I want for my life?” This question engages her thinking capacity to examine her goals for her life, to see if creating pain by nursing hurtful memories is what she wants for her life.

If Sally practices responding to the painful memories by asking the four questions, when she is ready Sally will say to herself, “Get over it. It’s history. I don’t want to hurt today by remembering the pains of yesterday.”

When Sally says this to herself, she will truly be over it, and can get on with her life.

The benefit of having our hurtful thoughts down on paper is we can examine them for accuracy.

Check each thought for accuracy. Test each thought. Counter each catastrophic conclusion.

Some of us have a tendency to make “catastrophic” assessments. Catastrophic thoughts are hurtful and can be debilitating.

For example, Joe thinks, “I’ve been laid off. I’ll never work again.” When Joe checks his list for accuracy, the first thought passes the test. He has been laid off. The second thought — his catastrophic assessment, “I’ll never work again,” — is probably not accurate. Joe needs to use his thinking capacities and test his thought about never working again.

If Joe is 97 years old, his thought might be accurate. Maybe nobody would hire a 97-year old person. If Joe is educated, has a skill, and only 30 years old, then his thought about never working again may not be accurate.

We invite Joe to marshal evidence to counter his hurtful thought. We help Joe see that he is educated, skilled, and young. Each of these pieces of evidence suggests that Joe is very employable and will work again.

You'll learn to scan for words like “always,” or “never,” or “everybody,” or “everything,” as clues to thoughts that need to be made more accurate.

By the time you've have reached this point, you've pruned your list of swirling thoughts. You’ve eliminated the unanswerable questions that clog your thinking. You’ve learned to use your imagination in positive ways, and not use it to hurt yourself. You've learned how to keep memories of past hurts from hurting you in the present. You've learned to test your hurtful thoughts for accuracy, and marshal evidence to dispute catastrophic thinking.

So, we only have one thing more to teach. Whenever you experience a bad feeling, you'll learn to ask four questions, and make one of four choices.

Replace swirling, hurtful thoughts with productive questions

Any hurtful thoughts still on the list are to be taken one at a time through four questions.

1. What’s happening?

This question asks you to consider your thinking. The usual answer is some variation of “I’m feeling a bad feeling.”

2. How am I creating this feeling?

This question reminds you that it’s your thoughts that create your feelings, and asks about the specific thought that brought on the bad feeling. Typical answers might be:

“I’m asking myself an unanswerable question.” Or

“I’m imagining something terrible that scares me or makes me anxious.” Or,

“I’m recalling something that happened in the past that produces bad feelings for me now.” Or,

"I’m using catastrophic thinking and concluding that something is much worse than it really is."

3. Is this what I want for my life?

This question brings out your goals and choices for the future. It asks you if you want to produce bad feelings the way it's happening now.

Sometimes, the answer is yes.

“Yes, my dog died. I ache with the loss. That is an authentic feeling and while it is painful, I choose to always grieve with the loss of a loved one.”

Usually, the answer is no.

“I don’t want to create bad feelings for myself, if I can avoid it. What can I do to move closer to what I want for my life?”

The fourth question asks for a wise choice for handling the thought that brought up painful feelings.

4. How can I move toward what I want?

The wise choices for this question are Act, Ask, Accept, or Forgive.

Act when action is called for, or schedule an action.

If the adversity is something happening in the present, then action may be the best choice.

For example: Sara is thinking about her retirement savings, and worries, “Will I have enough money saved for my retirement?” This may be a stimulus to action. Sara might decide that she doesn’t have a good answer to the question, so she chooses to create a retirement budget to check her planning. If this isn’t a good moment to start, Sara can act by scheduling the time when she will create her budget. The worry will be resolved.

Ask, when asking is appropriate, or schedule negotiation

When the wisest choice for a thought is to talk to someone else, then negotiation may be called for. Mary is undergoing divorce and has the thought that the children may be torn away from their grandparents. She can’t know the answer to that unless she talks to the grandparents. So, she can resolve the bad feeling by asking them.

Accept what can’t be changed.

Oftentimes, especially when thinking about something from the past, acting or asking won’t help. Sometimes the only wise option is to accept that “what is” is just the way it is, and nothing you can do or say will change it. When that is the case, it is usually the wisest choice to simply accept what can’t be changed, and get on with your life. It’s hardly ever useful to keep hurting yourself about something that is in the past. The expression, “It’s no use crying over spilled milk,” comes to mind.

Forgive anyone who has hurt you … including yourself.

If there is no action that can be taken, no talking to be done, and you still can’t accept something that has been done and can’t be changed, then perhaps the only wise choice available is to forgive someone. Maybe, even yourself.

The End ... or the Beginning

We know that this is a powerful lot to learn. After the first pass through the course, many people just get the whole picture, without building the skills. So, we invite them back to the first module. Each time they come to a module for the second time, they are different from the person they were when they saw it for the first time. Everybody tells us that.

When the person reaches the end the second time, generally they’ve learned the skills but may not feel confident that they can continue to practice them forever more, in the future.

Obviously, it’s up to each person to decide, but many elect to go through the course a third time, this time practicing the skills so well they’ll be able to continue using them by themselves for the rest of their lives. Those who have gone through the third time tell us that each time through is different, because they are different.

Ken Johnston

Download the Coping Series Text and Workbook.

Download the How To Be Happier Series Text and Workbook.

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