Mood Log: Exposing the Triggers of Self Defeat

Even though self defeating  actions and feelings seem to appear out of thin air, they always have a trigger. Most of us would not think of analyzing and dissecting every mood change on a daily basis, if we did our emotional triggers would be forced out into the open like moths to the light of reason.

A trigger is our interpretation of an event that generates a thought which creates an emotional wave disrupting our neutral disposition. For example, we may hear a song that leaves us feeling depressed, an off the cuff comment from a co worker causes us to explode or while working on a task or project we suddenly feel hollow, useless or angry. Let’s call an event a “trigger moment” and the thought a “trigger thought”. The trigger moment can be internal like a thought or memory or external like hearing a song or the smart ass co worker’s comment.

Imagine you’re trying to fall asleep and you have a nightmare that you will wake up in hell, however you don’t believe in hell so you roll over and fall back to sleep, even though the “trigger moment” was a dream, your interpretation of it as meaningless resulted in it simply as a harmless dream. However if you do believe in hell and that dream upsets you, that is the “trigger moment” based on your perception of it. The subsequent thought of fear, shame or guilt is the “trigger thought”.

Keeping track of emotional triggers even for one day will reveal patterns in our thoughts and actions. You might be shocked at how often a negative thought will come at you, especially if you are doing something you don’t want’t to do. (I have experienced one every 15 or 30 seconds at times.. usually ignored but still irritating)

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Date Time: Do not let this over whelm you, try it while at home or at the office for a little while, if need be give it a rest for a few days… the only way it fails is if you refuse to do it at all.

Mood Change: is how you feel in that moment, was there a change? Often we are feeling many things. stressed, bored. worthless, lonely, despondent, sullen…

What Where Who: is your immediate surroundings and who was there, what you were doing, weather, at the office, in the warehouse.. ambient conditions… anything of note in your settings

Self Talk Thoughts: what words did you use to interpret and process the emotions. I don’t want to do this. it’s a waste of time, people walk all over me. i have been disrespected, I don’t think I can do this.. did you see a good or painful memory come up, you feel it’s catastrophic

Accept Avoid Impulse:  describe your initial impulse: become angry, take a nap, smoke a spliff, have a beer or a shot, eat a gallon of ice cream, drain the bank account on roulette, burst into flames. Self defeating behavior is called into action to alleviate the uncomfortable emotions. Procrastination, tardiness, failure start or to complete anything are also avoidance tools to remove us from the uncomfortable situation. Avoid and Impulse always work together. Avoid removes you from the situation and impulse often will try to desire to medicate it away. If you feel negative impulses, that is normal, that’s what we do… we always have the choice to replace the impulse or ignore it  

Acceptance by replacement:  This is extremely important because life is upsetting at times. If you look at your log and realize your feelings and emotions are valid then the worst thing you can do is invalidate them. Depression, loneliness, grief, sadness are normal reactions to difficult situations. Accepting the way you feel will often bring a sense of peace and hope knowing these things don’t last forever. However if one realizes the emotions are coming from the accusing judging self talk voice, it’s time to replace those with honest, true evaluations of yourself in the situation.

Acceptance in our example: While golfing with Joe Biden the person changed from excited to lonely sad and restless. He mentions he has lost 5 balls, hates golf, losing and should have stayed home with the kids. His impulse is to throw the clubs in the lake or focus on how much he loved his kids. Even though we don’t know him, we can imagine that losing at golf, plus 5 golf balls(“Trigger Moment”) triggered the feelings of loneliness, sadness and restlessness. How did he interpret the feelings about his shitty golf game? I suck at golf, I hate losing and I could be with my kids right now. (Self critical/Shame) Well, who is gonna feel good with all that going on? If he replaces his self defeating thoughts with good thoughts about his children, replaces his thoughts about his game with ones like, it’s good to be out here with the squirrels and birds, fresh air and all that, and accepts that he’s always sucked at golf… he stands a good chance of not throwing his clubs in the river.

                              Reviewing Your Mood Log Will Change Your Behavior

Analyzing Your Analysis:  

Our subconscious is a virtual storehouse of memories painful and wonderful, it is also where are fears and defenses are stored among other things. At any given moment our inner mind is constantly uploading data from our past for our safety. A trigger is an alert from our subconscious that it has detected something harmful based on data it has stored from the time we were born. The problem is our mind has misrepresented  the dots. When a fear comes at us quickly it is up to our conscious mind to scan it in a flash and determine whether this (happening now) is like something that was painful in the past. Most of the time our subconscious alert has gotten it wrong. It is up to us to sort through the mistaken thinking and replace it with the truth.This is one reason why our fears almost never come true.

In a short time you will see patterns in the mood log. You may recognize that your impulse is to repeat an old self defeating behavior when conflicted. Also, your thought patterns may include putting yourself down, shame of unmet expectations. the feeling of being controlled when you do not want to do something, or longing for a time when things were better. Exposing the darkness is always scary and disturbing, however a fear that is not defeated will never leave.This mystery is on the verge of being solved.

The Good News

What is more upsetting than falling in the same hole over and over? It’s maddening and hopeless. The first time you understand the pattern, you will experience hope. The first few times you replace a thought or behavior you will experience a little joy. It won’t take long for these replacement thoughts and actions to become automatic, then you realize that you are not a victim of phantom mood swings and behavior, you will realize that you are in control no longer bounced around by triggers and negative emotions.

Please download the Mood Log and Good Luck…     Mood Log Download

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Forgiving God II : Shame and Forgiving Yourself

Leaving your home church can be a stressful mixed bag of emotions. Leaving a dysfunctional, controlling and very condemning church is a complete crisis.  Were there good people who loved God in that church? Absolutely.

When you leave a church like that, you don’t feel like you fit in anywhere else. There was a part of me that was drawn to that harsh, judgmental preaching style. That part of me is called shame.

 A person who experiences shame feels flawed at the core. The bad feelings carried within the self [such as guilt, self loathing, and feelings of failure] are not a result of what they did, but instead are about “who they believe they are.”

What a perfect fit. A pastor who motivates through shame and guilt, a dad who did the same and this deep feeling inside of me that I’m no good and never will be.

The sad part is that further down the road that feeling inside me is going to tell me to end my life because no one will care.

Shame is a grid that one views the world through. It is a hyper critical self image that demands perfection. A person who has shame as a core issue will beat themselves up endlessly without mercy. My head was not a safe place for me to be, an endless loop would play in my head saying how stupid I am or what a piece of shit I was. For me trials and hardships were seen as punishments or lessons from God. Simple bad fortune or cause and effect sequences that went against me, like flat tires or traffic tickets was payback for something I had done wrong.

 Hell, with a friend like God, who needs a devil?

The Book of Job was taught not as “Wisdom Literature” even though the reader should understand that because it is written in poetic prose. We were told that it was a literal historical document giving the reader theological insight about why bad things happen to innocent people.

God and Satan having a wager on how an innocent man will react to having his family wiped out is not good theology. Job being joyful in the end because he is wealthier and his new daughters are prettier than the old ones should turn any ones stomach. ( It is one of the most incredible books ever written. Notice, after he meets God face to face and is declared innocent he gets back much more than he lost. Jobs story is a beautiful Old Testament picture of being justified and receiving our reward at the end of our life of faithfulness.)

For a person like me with shame issues, the story of the devil tempting God to do evil so God can prove the devil wrong made sense.  That is exactly the way the world looked to me. God allows people to suffer because he likes to teach lessons that way.

 “Ouch I just broke my rib falling out of the tub… welp, what lesson do you have for me today Lord?”

My bad theology and the real world were on a collision course. I found it difficult to pray. I felt a deep sense of loss and isolation from God. I battled self condemnation constantly.

   This crushing feeling that I didn’t “do my Christianity right”, was tearing my theology apart. Suffering and the problem of evil had been the focus of my studies for many years; I had all the answers for everyone else’s pain, but not my own. My safe and secure beliefs, my world view, my center of gravity began to collapse. My marriage, business, home and family disintegrated in a matter of months. The only thing that made sense was that God was cursing me.

 Shame has many faces, but one common characteristic is a difficulty with receiving God’s love.

 I have always understood that God loves me. I have so many times felt his grace and mercy. As I started recognizing my shame issue, I realized that the only way I could experience God was in repentance. I also started listening to my prayers to God in my head as I would drift off to sleep. I would keep repeating “Lord forgive me.”  “Lord I’m sorry.” “Lord please help me.

What am I repenting for? Is this the only way I can pray?

 The only way I could accept and receive Gods love is if I was telling him I am sorry for being a bad person. As long as we both understood that I was not worthy of his love and a sinner, then I could receive his love.

When I was a child the only time my dad would say he loved me was after he yelled at me.

Making peace with God and ourselves is extremely difficult when shame is blocking the way.

(I really hope someone is helped by this because it’s really making me sick to write it.

Man, I was really screwed up.)

More thoughts on this later… A lot later..

B.F.C.

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Forgiving God: Expectations and Resentments

It is possible to hold a grudge or become bitter at someone without having all the facts. One may feel justified in their anger towards another based simply on a false perception of a situation. Many times when all the facts are laid out, we learn that our anger and resentment was not justified. Our anger may also be directed at God in the same way.

     Our world contains the most horrific, violent, senseless acts of cruelty and pain. Heartbreak touches our lives, our children, our loved ones everyday. God does not micromanage the world to the extent that we are protected and insulated from real evil, at times, we may feel forsaken or invisible to God. We do not possess the perspective of God to make sense of it. All we grasp is suffering of our fellow-man. Our tears of rage come from the fact that others suffer and we suffer with them.

Forgiving God

     Forgiveness not only involves real injustices committed but also perceived ones.

               “Love God? Sometimes I hate Him!” ~ Martin Luther

Most of us, naturally take it personal when we face suffering,  Job took the tragedies in his life personally. Sometimes the most difficult act of faith is to believe that God loves us and gives a damn about what happens down here.

It has been said, “Expectations are resentments waiting to happen”. Many believers have been taught, If I do this.. God will reward me with that. If I live a good clean obedient life surely God will begin to bless me and my house.

I have heard many say, “I tried Christianity and Jesus and it did not work.” Old school preachers used to say, you tried drugs, now try Jesus.  
People who have come to faith in Jesus hopefully do so… not because it works or doesn’t work, but because they have had an existential encounter with an eternal being.. they recognized to be Christ. An event like that in someone’s life is a huge paradigm shift. I still remember thinking, “Oh God help me, this Jesus thing is really real… now I have dress and act like a dork?”

I don’t claim to know a whole lot, but I know this.. Only one who has believed in God and known God, if only for a moment.. can truly mourn his absence, demand he show himself, curse him and demand answers.. Tell him they will never believe in him again… This belongs to people who feel they have a right to be angry at him, because they know he exists and yet He is silent. Almost every person in scripture has been angry with and wrestled God…  Being angry at God is not a bad thing; it sometimes means the belief in Him…. will not die.

For us in this natural order, we can barely even grasp the concept of God and his attributes. We would never allow our children or friends and family to be destroyed by disease and famine. However, in this life tragedies and suffering grind up believers and non believers every day. Anger should be a natural response when tragedies destroy lives, If one becomes so “spiritual” as to not grieve and feel a sense of frustration over pain and suffering then that person might just be a sociopath.  Is there a better answer for evil and suffering than, “Everything happens for a reason?” Yes there is but I will leave that for another day.

 

Making peace with God may involve giving up the false expectations of what we were taught about Him. In other words, our peace may begin with forgiving God for not running things the way we thought He should. Many times, forgiving God also involves forgiving ourselves for unknowingly being misled. I had to forgive myself for wanting to believe that God will always provide for and protect us. One should hope that He would but there is no guarantee. The Bible has examples where He does protect and provide for people, and in many other places where He does not. Gods’ ways are not mechanical cause and effect movements.

Losing faith in God is a traumatic experience; however the journey back is also equally traumatic, because not only do you not trust God, you may also have a difficult time trusting yourself.

I have been there. It is a process, it takes time and yea, it is humiliating and painful.  More thoughts on this later

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What to do.. If you are not able to forgive?

If you have tried many times to forgive someone and feel you just can’t. This simple outline may open the door for you. Forgiveness is counter intuitive for most people and usually only achieved after years of vexation.

 * What if one defines forgiveness in such a way that it ensures they…                cannot forgive?

 * What if forgiving has more to do with the way one defines it…. than              actually having an ability to do it.. or not?

 * What if one could expand their definition of forgiveness… to actually            enable them to do it?

              Recently I asked a group of 15 people to define what forgiveness is, not surprisingly, I got 18 different answers. Some said, forgiving is forgetting. A few said, the forgiver should never forget. Some said never trust them again, others said, trust them and wipe the slate clean. I then asked for a definition of unforgiveness and got a fairly good consensus on what that looked like. In a nutshell, it looks toxic and unhealthy. I don’t think a concrete black and white definition of forgiveness is going to be easy to find. It may depend on what needs to be forgiven, our relationship to that person and the frequency in which we will ever have to see them. 

             What if we were able to define the core of forgiveness this way?

1. Give up the desire to see judgment and punishment carried out on the perpetrator  via personal revenge, Divine intervention or natural events.

            What if we were able to define the core of unforgiveness this way?

2. Retain the desire to see judgment and punishment carried out on the perpetrator via personal revenge, Divine intervention or natural events.

 I purposed these definitions for this reason: The element that is so toxic in unforgiveness is a need to control someone else’s future or fate. (a difficult task..at best) One who is very determined in this matter is not able to let it go, until their personal vendetta is satisfied, as long as the one who has wronged them never gets what they deserve the one wronged will never be at peace. Transcending the fate of the offending person to the extent that their punishment is now none of our concern, we are now free to move forward in determining what our future relationship will involve with that person.

           Using this perspective on forgiveness is valuable for another reason:

1. It does not entail that you need to confront the person or even let them know you have forgiven them. (very important if you don’t think you could confront them)

 2. It works well if the person you need to forgive, is in fact.. dead.   In speaking to people who hold on to contempt for dead people, the same issue always remains, that the dead person never paid for what they did. With this new perspective on what forgiveness is.. their punishment is no longer a concern of ours.

Brossie Cerniglia

Anger Monkey Anger Solutions

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What to do when your brain gets… “High-Jacked”

Walking along a hiking trail out of the corner of your eye you see a bear or a snake lunging at you. For a split second you could describe in detail the color and size of the apparent threat, distinct markings the whole nine yards. Letting out a yelp, your body goes into fight or flight mode, adrenalin pumps through your muscles, your heart races and your senses become keen. At the last second, you realize you have made a fool of yourself because you are preparing to fight an old tree stump or a well placed twig in the dirt.

What just happened to you? Why did your brain fill in so many details that actually were not there? The short answer is your brains normal neural path which travels through the logic and reason center (neo cortex) has been bypassed in favor of the emotion and passion center (amygdala) to protect you from the real or imagined oncoming threat. Growing up, I have probably stepped on hundreds of dead birds or mice,  my pet cats had strategically left around the house. To this day, if my foot so much as touches something soft and mushy on the floor at night, I squeal and scream like a little girl. (not to mention my horrific phobia of dead animals)

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Freaking out on a hiking trail or stepping on a stuffed toy, at most, is embarrassing.. However, at work or in a heated discussion with a family member or friend… Freaking out is not too funny at all. We have all seen it happen to someone… One minute they are fine, joking and laughing, then something is said… and they snap.

     We have all been there. A word, phrase or facial expression, tone of voice, sets us off. The mind roars into high gear, a torrent of thoughts, fear, anger and outrage. We blow up and out of proportion what was said, what was done. After our apologies are accepted, our behavior dismissed,  we are left asking “What the hell just happened?” Again, the amygdala has been activated, this is the part of the brain that houses instincts, fears and troubling experiences, it is the epicenter of our emotional catalog . It’s the part of our brain that should not drive a school bus or perform brain surgery. When the amygdala is our active filter it is extremely difficult to accurately process the data rushing at us. When this occurs the brain adds information and strong emotions to provoke a fight or flight response. We may hear things that were not actually said or imagine things that were not actually intended to enrage us.

During times of great stress or anxiety a person is more likely to experience this kind of low grade “high-jacking” where they are responding emotionally to even the slightest threats. Well times are tough, and we are all under a lot more stress…

Here are a few tips if you realize your brain has become “High-Jacked”:

1. Retreat : Stop your train of thought and try to suppress your over reaction. If you feel too emotional, change the subject or drop the conversation until you realize what set you off. This may take 30 seconds or three days… the point is leave it there.

2. Realize :  Analyze your emotional catalog. Who or what does this trigger remind me of? Mom shaming me?… Dad criticizing me? A tragic or painful experience that “mirrors” a few key elements? A childhood hang up being exposed?

3. Respond :  This is different than reacting, this is responding. Reacting is the raw emotional data “coming outside”. Responding seeks clarification of the triggering moment, moving the thought pattern back through the neo cortex. You may want to ask, Is this what you meant? (Are you calling me a “slut”?)(Dads overused noun for me.) or This is what I thought I heard. ( Are you saying I’m a “dirt bag”?)(Moms favorite name for me because I used to have long hair and no job)

After some practice, you will get good at this. The person may never know they momentarily high-jacked your brain. Often our brain can run this three step process in seconds or minuets. Hopefully, the chances might be pretty good, you have misunderstood what was being said. A simple clarification clears up the angst and you can have a laugh about it. However, if you actually are on the receiving end of a sharp insult, you won’t need to think about it or rationalize it… You will know it.

( For more on “The High-Jacked Brain” see Emotional Intelligence. Goleman, Daniel. Bantam Books, 1995 This book is an extremely rewarding read.)

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Anger: The Unpopular Emotion

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