**The ideas contained in this post are the opinions of the writer and communicated without reference to supporting documentation. Any uses of “she” or “he” in the communication of ideas are not intended to covey sexual bias. Breakaway MHE Disclaimer
Author: Peter Miller
In this part of the presentation, you are presented with a model borrowed from Cognitive Appraisal Theory that gives you a way to break down the events of your life (in the way YOU experience of them) into smaller parts, therefore giving you a way to finally OPEN YOUR EYES to what’s real and live a better life. Making improvements to experience and how it goes for you has a lot to do with being able to SEE what happening INSIDE as it’s happening. Much of the human population, including people who do not suffer from high-intensity emotions (and disorders like BPD), do not learn how to do this. Most people tend to live their lives entirely blind to self, on “autopilot,” mindlessly moving from one experience to the next.
As your teacher and a fellow human who has endured the awfulness of full-blown Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), I am here to inform you that learning this model will be one of your greatest tools in altering the BPD pattern into something less destructive. The basic premise is this: 1) things happen, 2) we think and feel about what happens, and 3) we react (impulsively) or respond (responsibly) to what happens. Learn it, love it, embrace it!! I will show you how to imprint this model into your mind and make it part of your everyday life so that you can function better.
When you experience your emotions in such a high-intensity way (as in cases of BPD), you cannot afford to live your life entirely blind to self, on “autopilot,” mindlessly moving from one experience to another. Living mindlessly like this as a sensitive human means ongoing chaos, drama, and wasted time and energy. No matter how hard you try to be caring and loving while living like this, you will still experience repeat instances of chaos and drama, and then be left asking “why me?”.
You wouldn’t be here if you hadn’t already become somewhat acquainted with the destructiveness of mismanaged thoughts and emotions in relationships and other critical areas of life. No doubt you have experienced the torture of being lost to yourself, and of trying to make life work but it keeps turning into suffering. No doubt you know how much this sucks and you are seriously ready to learn another way to live, right?! Good!! Let’s continue.
When “things happen” (an event), we instantly interpret that event. Making meaning of things is what we do as humans; it is automatic and “hardwired” in us. Therefore, when we interpret we are determining what the event means to us. The interpretation/meaning of every event of our lives is very personal and unique to our life experience, brain development, and particular knowledge base (including all past experiences, all past relationships, all past traumas, all things learned in school, cultural conditioning, morals held, values held, beliefs held, etc.).
The time-frame between an event happening and making an interpretation of the event is so “lightning fast” that we usually fail to notice we even did something. Likewise, the time-frame between making an interpretation and experiencing an emotion is so “lighting fast” that it can seem like the emotion just came out of nowhere, or else was “caused” by something else other than us (another person, a place, a thing).
However, the emotion and everything that we do with the emotion isn’t caused by someone or something else other than us – it is entirely our own making. The outside world may influence the direction that our thoughts and emotions take, but it does not create them. WE DO IT TO OURSELVES. This reality can be hard to embrace! If you’re frustrated with this idea, and you want to give up your learning, this is very understandable! But please don’t give up! You can do this!!
**Owning (and therefore taking responsibility for) these facts about making our interpretations, and likewise for creating our own emotions – MAKING OUR REALITY – is one of the most significant milestones that can be reached by anyone learning about their mental health. Refusing to embrace this concept will surely leave you stuck in a pattern of chaos and dysfunction within yourself and with the world, possibly indefinitely. The good news is that you can make life better as you learn how to take this type of responsibility.**
The “ST” part of the model below refers to “self-talk.” Self-talk happens when we are in the midst of experiencing our emotions. These are all the things we say to ourselves (or say out loud) to try and make a case for our interpretations. Our self-talk is often used to convince ourselves and others that our interpretations are “right” or “the only possible interpretations.” While we are engaged in self-talk, it is common to start making judgments about ourselves and others. Self-talk can also include many of the “cognitive distortions” that we discussed in slide set 2 and slide set 3 of Step 3.
Once we have convinced ourselves that our interpretations are “the only way of looking at things,” then we usually react (do something), and then this becomes a new event. You can probably start to imagine how much our thoughts and emotions could pile on top of one another as the events of our lives unfold. Indeed, it can be overwhelming and exhausting! Below is one such example of how I succumbed to my thinking and feeling traps, and how I also used the model to find my way out…
In my example above, I was driving to work in the morning as per my usual routine. In the oncoming lane was a school bus that had stopped and had the little red stop sign extended (you know, that sign attached to the left side of the bus, right behind the bus driver?). Of course, this little stop sign means that drivers coming from behind and in front have to stop and wait for kids to cross the street. My unintentional mistake that day was to drive right through the little stop sign when the school bus that was stopped in the oncoming lane. I only realized what I had done after the bus driver had honked at me and luckily no harm was done to anyone.
As soon as the bus driver honked at me and I realized what I did, things started happening fast in my thoughts and feelings. As you can see in the example, I began assuming lots of things, thinking in extremes, looking into the future, and turning a relatively small situation into a big catastrophe. I was feeling several emotions, but most predominantly fear and shame feelings. My self-talk followed a similar theme as my first interpretation of the event and included several cognitive distortions, including mind-reading (MR), fortune-telling (FT), over-generalization (OG), labelling (LAB), magnification (MAG), and should-thoughts (ST).
Because I initially had a high level of belief in my cognitive distortions (that I was “for sure” in trouble), I felt the immediate urge to look up information about fines on the internet, and so this action then became the next events in this situation. I recall that to effectively slow things down and take a closer look at the situation… my thoughts, my feelings, and my behavioural urge. I also needed to have a conversation with one of my co-workers. During the discussion with my co-worker, my feelings were noted and validated, and some of the facts I hadn’t considered (see below) were pointed out.
I used the model to see how everything played out, and as you can see everything I thought and felt was truly ALL ME… all my creation. The bus (nor the bus driver) didn’t “make me” think or feel anything – I did all the thinking and feeling myself. My thoughts and feelings got triggered so fast (and I felt things so strongly) that it might have SEEMED like the bus and bus driver “made me” feel a certain way, but in reality they didn’t invade my head, didn’t force me to think anything, and therefore, didn’t make me experience any particular emotions either.
After considering some of the facts about the situation and myself (not considered immediately at the time the event happened), it then became possible to think differently about things. You can see that I was able to use some of these unconsidered facts to make some adjustments to my thoughts, resulting in becoming more rational in my thinking.
Instead of assuming the worst would inevitably be happening to me, I switched to acknowledging that nothing had happened yet and that I could face whatever happens in the future if indeed anything happens. I also decided to be less hard on myself, since it’s genuinely not my pattern or intent to ignore driving rules, especially when it may put children in danger. I also gave myself permission be an imperfect driver (and flawed human) when the situation includes something novel… something I haven’t seen or practiced for a while.
I switched from heavily judging myself (and experiencing massive guilt and shame) to more appropriately feeling guilt and shame on a smaller scale because no one got hurt in the situation and I did not have the intention to cause harm. I started thinking about the situation as an opportunity to grow, and likewise, what I might do differently next time to pay closer attention.
I believe I found some contentedness in lowering my expectations for myself and accepting the world as it is. In other words, I understood and recognized that everyone could be a little off in their judgment sometimes (stuff happens), but may still be required to face the consequences of their actions (no matter if intentional or unintentional) if consequences appear.
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