One of the toughest part of my days--is controlling how I think! As a mom--I tend to personalize every bad thing that happens. For instance, moments ago, I struggled with a distorted thought, when my prodigal left for work, late.....only to announce that he didn't have any gas in his car OR money in his wallet. He didn't know where he left his cash (perhaps at his apt.); but could he borrow gas money and he will pay it back later?
My shoulders are tense from hugging my earlobes as I struggled to get him out the door. The tension fills my back as I know there is no way in heck...he can get to the gas station, fill up his car, and get to his new job by 11:00 a.m. These are my thoughts:
"He is never going to keep this job, he'll be fired before he gets his first paycheck! Why didn't you teach him better when he was a little boy about the importance of time management? "
"He really didn't misplace his cash--he spent it! You failed him in teaching him the importance of budgeting!"
"How will he ever move forward if he keeps falling back into his irresponsible ways? By giving him gas money--you are enabling him to continue in this pattern? But what was I to do? He needs to get to work!"
Can you feel the anxiety? Can you hear the stinkin' thinkin'?
David Burns, MD, psychotherapist and an Adjunct Clinical Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, has published a very interesting "thought" tool: Cognitive Disorders. Very specifically, my distorted thinking this morning falls under several of his cognitive disorders labels:
1) All or nothing thinking: Seeing things in black-and-white-thinking, right or wrong, good or bad--no shades of gray. If your perfermance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure. Hmmmm!
2) Catastrophizing: Viewing everything as a catastrophe--fearing the worst. (ahem!)
3) Fortune Telling: You anticipate that things will turn out badly, convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact. (Well?)
4) Overgeneralization: Leaping to overgeneralized conclusions. (He will lose his job!)
5) Emotional Reasoning: You feel it...therefore, it must be true. (Whenever I feel anxious--something bad happens)
6) Discounting the positive. Self-explanatory.....(O.k., so it is a huge positive that my son is going to work....but!!!!)
7) Mislabeling: You tend to paint a picture of reality that you fear, rather that what is actually happening. (He's going to get fired for this irresponsibility.......rather than, he'll be late for work just this once.)
8) Personalization: It's NOT always about me! ("I am a bad mother because my son is irresponsible.")
Phew! Eight distorted cognitions in less than a 4 minute interlude. Amazing! The good news is: Burns identifies 12 cognitive disorders---at least I didn't think all of them! :)
My point is this--stinkin' thinkin' does no one....any good. It distorts the reality of most any situation. Certainly, distortions are not what I want to model to my son--I want him to see reality for what it is. Until he does, he will not make the necessary changes necessary to become well and whole. Distortions only enflame the firey fuel--they steal opportunities to distinguish the flames of destruction.
Reviewing these 12 distortions allows me to rephrase:
" I am thankful that my son has this job. He IS learning about time managment each day he gets up to go to work. "
" I acknowledge that my son has problems with money management. I will look for ways to teach him during a more relaxed time. I responded to this emergency in the best way I knew how. I will respect his right to make poor decisions and will encourage him by sharing, when asked, the better way. I will also respect his right by allowing him to do without when he has not budgeted properly. "
"I acknowledge that there are lessons learned when we fall on our face. Rather than protecting my son from his self-imposed collapse, I will prayerfully remain available to him. I commit to being here for him when he makes the decision to get back up! Until he makes that decision, I will continue to pray for him while modeling healthy behavior....and thinking!"
Ah--can you feel the anxiety leaving? My burden is lifted as I rethink the events of those 4 minutes! Whether he has 4 more minutes, 4 days, or 4 years remaining in his prodigal journey, I do not have to join him in his craziness! As mothers, as fathers, it is important that we remain balanced in the midst of a crazy-spiraling-out-of-control world! I am grateful that I can bring my stinkin' thinkin' to the One who restores our soul; the fragrance of our words improves with each prayer we offer.