Don’t assume anything

Picture this. You are walking down the sidewalk one day and across the street, walking towards you is a friend that you haven’t seen in a while. They look up and you wave. They don’t wave back, they put their head back down and keep walking.

What’s the first thought that goes through your head?

Many people’s gut response to this situation would be to think that the person was upset with them about something.  This one thought then propels them into a waterfall of negative thinking and subsequently, negative emotions. They have made an assumption that the friend that they waved to both saw them and purposely ignored them. As a result, they are angry, hurt, irritated and have a hard time letting the incident go and getting on with their day.

We make assumptions all the time. We take a situation, assess it, decide what is happening, all based on our perception and often not based in reality. We believe our assumptions with great conviction, as if we had actual proof that our read on the situation is accurate.

Making assumptions is a sure-fire way to keep yourself stuck in negative emotions. Assumptions are often automatic, and many of us have patterns of making negative assumptions that have been in place for  years. If you experience a great deal of negativity in your life, no doubt you are making assumptions. Learning how to recognize, interrupt, and transform them can completely change your level of stress and your feelings of happiness in your daily life.

So take the scenario above, and imagine if your first thought when the friend doesn’t wave back is, well, maybe they didn’t see me or maybe they are having a tough day and are distracted. How do you think you might feel if your automatic assumption was this instead of , they must be mad at me or they purposefully ignored me?

How to Stop Making Assumptions

To change any thinking or behavior pattern in our lives, we must first become aware that it is happening, then we must be willing to put the work into changing it. This is mind work, all based on working with your thoughts to create more happiness.

Step 1. Pay attention to when you are feeling negative emotions such as anger, sadness, hurt. Ask yourself, am i making an assumption about anything?

                                 in the example above, the answer to this question would be yes. the assumption is that the person purposefully ignored you

Step 2. Do I have proof that this is 100% true?

                            in the example, the answer is no, you have no evidence that your assumption is true.

Step 3. Ask yourself, what else could it be? Are there any other explanations other than the one you have chosen?

                              in the example, the alternative explanations are that the person didn’t see you or is having a tough day and distracted

Step 4. Ask yourself, is there anything I can do to get more information so I can stop assuming and let this go?

                             in the example, it might be giving the friend a call to see if they are upset with you.

Step 5. If you are unwilling or unable to do step 4, choose the rational thought, the one that helps you feel less negatively and keeps you more grounded in reality.

FEELING CHALLENGE: Try to become aware of how assumptions impact your feeling state, your attitude, and your daily life. Give the steps above a try and see if they make a difference in how you feel. Remember, assumptions often come from a place of fear and insecurity, not reality. Getting a handle on them is another tool to set yourself free from stress and unhappiness.

Is anybody listening?

I believe that one of the main reasons therapy is such a powerful experience for people is that they get to have the experience of being heard –   really listened to – in a way that most of us don’t get to experience very often. Therapists are trained listeners, skilled at knowing how to read people’s true feelings and reflect those feelings back in a way that a person feels deeply understood and heard. So what happens if you’re not in therapy?

People have a natural instinct to help problem solve and fix things, especially for those that they love or care about. When you are talking to someone in your life about an upsetting issue, they will often respond with well-meaning advice like,  ” Have you tried….” or ” Maybe you could….” or even the one that really drives us crazy, ” That happened to me one time….(and let me tell you all about it right now)”. If you go to someone looking for specific advice or input on a situation, then this response is probably fine. But if you are just venting, and need someone to hear how you are feeling, these kinds of well-meaning responses can be hurtful, even infuriating.

The reason situations like this are so upsetting, is because in that moment, what you really need is for the person to just listen. To witness what you are feeling and not necessarily try to make it go away. When someone tries to make the feelings go away by offering solutions  to fix it, you don’t get that need met, and you are left with more bad feelings. This dynamic causes a number of conflicts in relationships and leaves people feeling alone and like they have no one to turn to for support. Even worse, it can leave you feeling like you don’t have a right to feel the way that you do or to express it.

So how do you get people to listen to you? Well, sometimes you can’t. Some people, for one reason or another, do not know how or are unwilling to really listen to another person. Many other people, however, can and will if you tell them what you need.

If you need to talk about something that is bothering you, start by choosing the right person to reach out to. Is it someone you can trust with your feelings? Is it someone who cares about you and will want to lend you support?  Next, tell the person what you need. Remember, people have a natural impulse to fix the issue when you are feeling bad. This comes from love. When someone cares about you they don’t want to see you hurting. If you don’t want advice and you don’t want them to try to make your feelings go away, you need to tell them.  Ask if they can listen, that you just need to vent or process and really just need someone to hear you. Tell them you are not looking for advice or input, just a good listener. If you choose the right person, chances are, they will be able to give this to you.

When you are brave enough to ask someone for what you really need in this situation, you will have that wonderful feeling of truly being heard by another. This has the power to help you just naturally move through all of those negative feelings. One little moment to get it all out, and not have anyone try to stuff it back in, can set you free from it. See?  Problem solved anyway.

Remember, you are responsible for asking for what you need from other people. They are responsible for trying to give it to you. No matter how much you want them to, they cannot read your mind.

FEELING CHALLENGE: Next time you really need to vent, find a safe person, ask them for what you need, and let it out. See how you feel afterwards. Did the heaviness lift a little? Do you feel any relief? Go ahead. Wear your crazy on the outside.

I’m gonna cry

In therapy, people cry. Sometimes a lot, sometimes only after many sessions because they are so skilled at holding it back. Some people have an amazing ability to keep the tears at bay and push through a moment in conversation that I as their therapist am having trouble not being tearful at. When the moment comes where someone cannot control the tears, they usually acknowledge it with something like “I don’t wanna cry” or “I don’t know why I am crying” or even a warning  that tears are about to appear, “I’m gonna cry!”. When I started to see this pattern in others, I began to think about my own relationship with my tears and sadness. I give warnings….”I’m gonna cry!”, you know just in case you wanna run or take cover. I guess I am letting people know that I can no longer hold back the tears, that I have lost the battle of controlling my emotions and the tears are inevitable. INCOMING!

In the last decade I have been able to come to terms with my tears. Instead of masking them with anger or coolness, I have become better at just letting them be there, giving them room. I am able to cry now and it passes quickly most of the time. I don’t walk around a bawling mess, but there are moments where the effort to hide them just isn’t worth it.  And instead of feeling embarrassed or ashamed or full of incredible fear that I am being judged, I feel relieved. And free. And amazingly, the sadness moves through me and out of me.

There are still moments where I wish I could hide the tears and sadness, because I’d rather feel angry and powerful than sad and vulnerable. Or because I am feeling insecure and don’t want others to think I am weak, even though I know better.  The  thing is that letting the tears be there is actually an incredible act of courage. In that moment of sweet vulnerability, you release the steam valve on your mind and heart. You set yourself free just a little bit from some of the pain that might be holding you back or getting in your way. You also give others the permission to feel, just by opening up to your own emotions. When it’s over, you feel better. It’s like magic.

What kind of relationship do you have with your tears and sadness? Do you let it out or hold it back in fear? How would your life change if you were able to have a good cry and not have your sense of strength or self challenged?

FEELING CHALLENGE: The next time you feel tears coming to the surface, make room to let them flow. See how you feel afterwards…I am guessing it will be a little bit better than before. You won’t cry forever, I promise. It will stop, and you will regain control, and you will have that much less pain to carry around.

I Wear My Crazy On The Outside

I come from a family of big personalities. We have opinions and we are not afraid to share them. We also have feelings, lots of them, and aren’t afraid to share those either. When somebody thinks something or feels something, it will come out eventually. That doesn’t mean it is always healthy or kind or timed correctly. But at least it’s honest.

Because of this we also have a lot of conflicts, some of them brief and loud and other more drawn out and peppered with stubbornness. We often get it right, and say what we feel first thing, without stuffing it first and letting it stew until it turns into a resentment. These are the best conflicts, because nobody’s angry and nobody’s yelling, we get through it relatively quickly and painlessly. Then there are the conflicts that result from feelings that were held back and not expressed and as a result are 100 times more intense by the time they are actually expressed. These are not any fun at all. These are the conflicts that make people hate conflict and avoid them at all costs.

What I have learned from my family is that how you feel matters and matters enough to say it out loud and directly to the person who needs to hear it. I have also learned that not expressing this is what leads to anger and resentment and fights that go on too long. Learning how to recognize when someone has hurt us and talk out loud about it in healthy, meaningful, productive ways is one of the most important things we can do in our lives. It can mean the difference between connections with others that feed our soul and lift us up or connections with others that keep us angry and lonely and hurt.

FEELING CHALLENGE: There’s a lot to be learned about yourself when you look at how you deal with conflict. Do you dive in or run swiftly and silently in the other direction? What did your family teach you about honesty and conflict? This may be the most important question because it has everything to do with who we are now and why we do what we do. How would your life change if you were able to speak up when someone has hurt you? or if you already speak up but perhaps too harshly, how would your life change if you learned to speak up in a way that did not hurt others?

The next time you recognize that you are feeling hurt, spend some time trying to figure out why you are hurt and if you need to express that out loud to really move through it and let it go. Diving into conflict with people in our life isn’t always safe, and you have to look at that as well. Just because you tell someone how you are feeling doesn’t mean they are going to respond the way they should or the way you would like them to. Processing the hurt still needs to happen though, and that means acknowledging the feeling and giving it room.