I am not sure if it is therapy modalities which profess to be deterministic, or the way in which ‘mental illness’ is treated like a pathological disease – Read Thomas Szasz for more on this – but I am continually amazed with how little control many people seem to believe they have over themselves.
A recent client stated that he felt down or upset a lot of the time. “I have no control over the way I feel,” he said. When he learned that his thoughts were largely responsible for his feelings, he was able to gain much more control over his disturbing emotions. He found that, with a bit of effort and application, it became possible to control and alter many of his negative thoughts.
In cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy and other related fields, myself and many of my peers give our clients a thought form for practical use and many other thought disputation methodologies to show them how easy it actually is to take control of one’s own thoughts… And demonstrate once and for all that no alien has a remote control and is making you feel crappy, and you are not just some passive recipient to all the crappy stuff that has gone on in your life before.
Almost everyone has heard the saying “mind over matter.” While it’s doubtful that the human mind can control objects with pure mind power… Though I am open to proper documented evidence of such and would definitely attend any subsequent course that person ran… What is becoming increasingly clear is that thoughts and perceptions can dramatically influence moods, feelings, and emotions.
We all knew that though, right? You regular readers knew this already, of course you did, this is nothing new, is it?
Yet how many times have you said, “that really made me angry,” or “she upset me,” or “it bothered me,” as if external events had a direct control over our moods? The fact is it’s not events that trigger our emotions, rather it’s how we think about events that determine our feelings.
I write this often. Really often, in a wide variety of forms of media. Yet I still catch myself having to dispute the thought, police it and replace it with something better.
Our knee-jerk emotional reactions to external stimuli are really the combined effects of the external event and our interpretation of that event. That’s the cognitive connection, the link that joins together events and emotions in the chain of our experiences.
This concept is at least two thousand years old and is often attributed to the philosopher Epictetus, who said “Men [and women] feel disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them.” Many centuries later, William Shakespeare rephrased this thought in Hamlet when he wrote: “There (is) nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.”
The fact is, we have tremendous control over our emotions and are not helpless stimulus-response creatures who are powerless over our moods.
Simply recognising that thinking influences emotions is a very important step on the road leading to a happier and healthier life… Noting it down on a regular basis is even better…
I have a theory of my own devising, espoused to my students and clients on a regular basis… It is called the candy floss brain theory.
A regular thought is just like a stick.
Our brain is a bit like a candy floss machine – at least in terms of this metaphor. (No pedants start critiquing the works of brains and fun fair machines here please.)
When a thought is running rampage and left inside the brain, the brain being the fantastical and wondrous thing it is, can make the thought seem exponentially more than it actually is. Like the stick being turned into a big, pink, fluffy gooey thing when left inside the candy-floss machine.
I recall a client telling me about his depression. I asked him how he did it. He explained the process and I repeated it back to him “So in order for me to do your depression if you stepped off the planet, I’d have to do this, this and this, right?”
“No Adam, it is more than that.”
“Ok, so explain it to me again then, I may have missed something.”
To which the client then repeated and explained the way he did his depression. Giving a detailed account of it.
I replied again ” So for me to do your depression, I’d have to do this, this and this?”
“No Adam, it is much more than that.”
This could go on and on. It is not more than that. It is only more than that when it is left inside the head rattling around, catastrophised about and made all the more fantastical by the brain, being turned into candy floss. I am not saying the unpleasantness is not real and experienced as unpleasant. I am saying that when thoughts are written down, and disputed in a structured manner, we see them for what they really are.
We often realise how silly they are and the thoughts become vulnerable. Very much more open to change and updating.
Negative thoughts can be challenged and changed. This, in turn, leads to more positive feelings and emotions. We do have much more control than we give ourselves credit for.