Swept Away by Thoughts
In nonviolent communication we make a distinction between thinking and feeling. But often feeling is the result of how we are thinking. When this is the case, we need to find ways to deal with thinking.
Here is an example. Recently I saw a young woman who was overcome with feelings of anger and jealousy. She herself said that these feelings were irrational but that did not stop them from plaguing her. Her mind raced thinking of her boyfriend having conversations with other women. She had no data supporting these thoughts but she was unable, on her own, to stop them. She was so pre-occupied with them that she stopped looking after her children and became instead obsessed by what her boyfriend was doing every moment of the day.
This woman was flooded by overwhelming feelings sweeping her away. What was the cause? Her thinking. She thinks, “My boyfriend goes to bars at night. He probably talks to women there. He might get their phone number and then go out for coffee. If that happens, he might get interested in them and then start having an affair. That means he is lieing to me when I ask him if he is dating someone else, etc.” She says she does not believe her thoughts are true. Still, on her own, she has not been able to stop them or the overwhelming feelings that accompany and fuel them.
In this case, the feelings stem from her run-away thoughts. So the easiest solution is through questioning these thoughts. Unfortunately, she has been unable to successfully question these thoughts. As soon as she thinks about them, she moves toward them. They have a strong gravitational energy that pulls her toward them, even though when she thinks them, she feels very upset and very unhappy. She had no idea how to get out of this obsessional pattern.
This is what I said to her” “Would you like to be happy?” “Yes!” “Would you like to enjoy your life more?” “Yes! I’m tormented by the way I’m living!” “Would you like to be able to trust your boyfriend?” “Yes!” “Are you willing to be disciplined in order to get these things?” “Yes!” “Ok. Please listen carefully. You see that front door over there?” “Yes.” “Do you see that it’s closed?” “Yes.” “Also, please notice, there is a lock on that door. Do you see that? What do you think that lock is for?” “Yes. It’s there so you can make sure no strangers come in your house when you don’t want them there.” “That’s right. And do you notice that the door is closed right now? Why do you suppose that is?” “Well, it’s because you don’t want anybody coming in and bothering you right now.” “Yes. That’s right. Now what do you suppose it would be like if I left that door open and anybody who wanted to could come in here, lye down, check out the fridge, take over my office, make some phone calls. What do you think that would be like?” “That would be terrible! You couldn’t get any work done and you would be upset all the time.” “That’s right! So that’s what you are like. You let your front door open so that any thought that wants to come in to bother you, you welcome in. In fact, you say, please sit down, make yourself at home, come on in and take some food. Stay for as long as you like. Sleep in my bed, take a shower. Make yourself at home! Now you know these thoughts make you unhappy but you still let them in. Why do you do that?”
“I don’t know how to stop them! They just come in by themselves!”
“Yes they do. They come in by themselves. Just like strangers would come in by themselves if I left my front door open and forgot to lock it. Now let’s say someone comes to my front door and wanted to come in. Do you think I’d let them?” “Only if you wanted them to come in.” “That’s right. I would check them out. I’d see if I knew them. If I wanted them to come in, I’d invite them in. You don’t do that. Your door is open. You are not paying attention to who you let in the front door. Every stranger who wants to comes in and makes themselves at home in your place.”
“But how do I stop them? I’m not in charge of my thoughts. They just appear!”
“Yes, they just appear. And it’s your job to check them out carefully when they do appear. You need to ask yourself- is this thought going to lead to me being happy or unhappy? Will it make me anxious or calm? Will I enjoy it? If you say, ‘yes, I would enjoy it.’ Then you let that thought in. If it will make you anxious, you keep it out. You don’t let it in. In other words, I want you to pay very close attention to what these thoughts are doing to you. You need to have a system. When the thought appears, check it out. If it has even the slightest anxiety attached to it, a huge red flag needs to go up. Alarms should sound. The loud speaker should come on and blast out this message: “Call to attention!! Call to attention!! Anxiety thought appearing at the door! Take all prevention measures at once. Close the door and to not permit entry! Repeat, close door and do not permit entry!” Do not permit any anxiety thought to enter your house. You need to keep it to yourself so that you can remain calm. Then you will have more time to pay attention to your kids and enjoy your life. Do you think you can do that?”
She was smiling now. “Yes, I think I can.”
“And I’d like you to do two more things. Find one act of generosity to do each day. And at the end of each day, make a list of 5 things you appreciated about yourself that day.”