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Posts tagged ‘irrational thoughts’

Self-Image: Three Questions

SOURCE:  Taken from the book by Ed Welch

So much of life comes down to the following three questions:

  • Who is God?
  • Who am I?
  • Who are these other people?

You might not wake up in the morning with these questions on your mind. In fact, you might never have asked these questions. But, as a human being, those questions are part of your DNA. You will find them sneaking around in your anger, happiness, contentment, jealousy, sadness, fear, guilt, cutting, sense of purpose, life meaning, decision making, moral choices about sex, friendships, school, work, and so on.

Notice, for example, how jealousy answers these questions.

Who is God?

“He is someone who should give me what I want.”

Who am I?

“I deserve better—better looks, better athletic ability, a better boyfriend or girlfriend.”

“I am a judge who is authorized to stand over others.”

Who are these other people?

“They are below me. They have things that I deserve more than them.”

 

Sadness or depression? Listen and you will hear their answers too.

Who is God?

  • “He is far away and doesn’t care.”
  • “He is someone who didn’t give me what I wanted.”
  • “He could never forgive me for what I have done.”

Who am I?

  • “I am nothing, literally nothing. It isn’t that I am trash; I am just nothing.”
  • “I am needy, and I haven’t gotten what I need.”
  • “I am alone.”
  • “I am God. I deserved something and I didn’t get it.”

Who are these other people?

  • “They are my life. I put my hope in them, and they let me down.”
  • “They don’t care, so I am trying not to care about them, but it isn’t working.”
  • “They can’t be trusted.”

You can see what’s happening. You already have answers to these questions. You just have to uncover them. You might know some right answers, such as “I am a child of God.” But our hearts are complicated. The right answer is rarely your only answer. Instead, you usually have at least two sets of answers: those that are “right,” and those that actually guide the way you live. To discover your real answers to these questions, watch how you live. In particular, track your emotions. Look for what makes you upset, depressed, angry, and anxious, or what makes you happy, calm, excited, and peaceful.

Once you settle into one of your less comfortable moods, who do you say God really is?

  • Angry
  • Far away and not aware of what you are doing in secret
  • Far away and uncaring about what is bothering you
  • Picky
  • Unfair

What about other people? Who are they?

  • Objects you manipulate so that they serve you
  • Protectors
  • Threats
  • Jerks
  • Things that can make you feel really good or really bad
  • Idols that you worship

And you? Who are you? Try to capture your view of yourself with a picture. If the picture is “child of God” don’t stop there. Find some others.

  • I am alone, living behind thick walls. I can see out, and everyone else looks normal, but I am isolated.
  • I am a leper who has to live with other lepers far away from everyone else.
  • I am the black sheep—unwanted, standing out in a bad way and not fitting in.
  • I feel like a baby bird, vulnerable, needy, waiting to be pushed out of the nest.
  • I am a piece of a puzzle, happy to fit in but not stand out.

Any you would add?

When it comes to being controlled by the opinions of others—the fear of man—there is one image that fits most of us: a vessel, cup, bowl, or some kind of container. Listen for words such as need, want, and empty. They hint that we want to be filled with something that only other people can give us. Ever feel empty?

Any thoughts on what you think would fill you?

Picture a cup, something like the animated walking teacups of Walt Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. There is already something in it; call it self-esteem for now. Some people have more, some less, but no one feels like they have much. You waddle around, hoping that no one bumps you so hard that everything spills out. You also hope that someone close by is in the shape of a pitcher so you can be filled.

What would cause a spill?

  • “Loser!”
  • “We decided not to hire you.”
  • “We regret to inform you that you weren’t accepted to . . .”
  • “Can’t you do anything right?!”

What would fill you up?

  • “Nice outfit.”
  • “Awesome game!”
  • “Good job.”
  • “I love you.”

“I love you” fills you up best. Sometimes it is enough to hear it from a parent. More often, parents can’t fill you with their words of affection, though they certainly can cause you to spill all over the place with words of rejection. The job of filling you is usually reserved for your peers. Get an “I love you,” or even an “I really like you,” from the right person, and life is wonderful. You feel great. Full. Who cares if someone bumps into you? “I love you” is high-octane fuel for your self-esteem.

If you don’t get filled, bad things happen. You wander around with a case of the blues, though you might not even realize it. Some people try to fill themselves with other things: achievements, sex, drugs, music, video games, Internet porn, and fantasy. But none of it really works. Even if you receive love it doesn’t work for too long. It is like a drug that fills you for awhile—about an hour or so—and then you need more. And there will be days when you feel so bad that even “I love you” won’t make any difference. Either your cup has a leak in it, or you weren’t intended to live like a cup. Which one do you think it is? (Both answers are correct, so you don’t have to worry about getting the wrong answer.)

Do you have any ideas why life as a love cup doesn’t work?

There is nothing wrong with wanting love. It would be positively inhuman not to want it. The problem comes when we desire it too much—when our desire for love becomes the center of life—which, when you think about it, makes us the center of our own lives. The problem is when we want to be loved more than we want to love. If only life could be a little bit less about us.

Then it gets worse. When we live as love cups, we will get hurt. There is no doubt about that. We can never get filled enough. When the hurts pile up, we feel ashamed and protect ourselves. We hide behind masks. You can’t let others see you or really know you. You try to spruce up your facade with grades, thinness, or some other accomplishment, but you never feel covered up enough. When other people are staring, it’s as if they can see through the mask. So you move on to something less revealing—if masks won’t work maybe walls will. But walls have problems of their own. Have you ever experienced the transition from love cup (or approval cup or success cup or . . .) to mask to walls? We all have, so what was it like for you?

What masks do you wear the most?

  • Intelligence
  • Athletics
  • Popularity
  • Creativity, being different

One problem with masks and walls is that, though their purpose is to protect you from hurt, they hurt you even more because they don’t allow relationships. You can’t have a deeper relationship if you won’t allow yourself to be known. All this leads to a dead end: if you allow people to know you, you get hurt; if you protect yourself from people, you get hurt. It ends in misery. But there is another way. This better way allows us to be open and honest and part of a community where we don’t have to put up self-defensive walls. Ever been there? Have you ever had the pleasure of being open with another person?

Think about it. What’s better than having relationships that let you be yourself? If you have ever experienced that, be sure to thank those people.[1]

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[1] Welch, E. T. (2011). What do you think of me? why do i care? answers to the big questions of life. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press.

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Depression: God Is Not Silent When We Suffer

SOURCE:  familylife.com/Edward T. Welch

If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Never has so much been crammed into one word. Depression feels terrifying. Your world is dark, heavy, and painful. Physical pain, you think, would be much better—at least the pain would be localized. Instead, depression seems to go to your very soul, affecting everything in its path.

Dead, but walking, is one way to describe it. You feel numb. Perhaps the worst part is that you remember when you actually felt something and the contrast between then and now makes the pain worse.

So many things about your life are difficult right now. Things you used to take for granted—a good night’s sleep, having goals, looking forward to the future—now seem beyond your reach. Your relationships are also affected. The people who love you are looking for some emotional response from you, but you do not have one to give.

Does it help to know that you are not alone? These days depression affects as much as 25 percent of the population. Although it has always been a human problem, no one really knows why. But what Christians do know is that God is not silent when we suffer. On every page of Scripture, God’s depressed children have been able to find hope and a reason to endure. For example, take 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (ESV):

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Come to God with your suffering

You can start to experience the inward renewal that the apostle Paul experienced when you come to God with your suffering. God seems far away when we suffer. You believe that He exists, but it seems as if He is too busy with everything else, or He just doesn’t care. After all, God is powerful enough to end your suffering, but He hasn’t.

If you start there, you’ll reach a dead end pretty quickly. God hasn’t promised to explain everything about what He does and what He allows. Instead, He encourages us to start with Jesus. Jesus is God the Son, and He is certainly loved by his heavenly Father. Yet Jesus also went through more suffering than anyone who ever lived!

Here we see that love and suffering can co-exist. And when you start reading the Bible and encounter people like Job, Jeremiah, and the apostle Paul, you get a sense that suffering is actually the well-worn path for God’s favorites. This doesn’t answer the question, Why are you doing this to me? But it cushions the blow when you know that God understands. You aren’t alone. If we know anything about God, we know that He comes close to those who suffer, so keep your eyes open for Him.

God speaks to you in the Bible

Keep your heart open to the fact that the Bible has much to say to you when you are depressed. Here are a few suggestions of Bible passages you can read. Read one each day and let it fill your mind as you go about your life.

    • Read about Jesus’ suffering in Isaiah 53 and Mark 14. How does it help you to know that Jesus is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief?
    • Use the Psalms to help you find words to talk to God about your heart. Make Psalm 88 and Psalm 86 your personal prayers to God.
    • Be alert to spiritual warfare. Depressed people are very vulnerable to Satan’s claim that God is not good. Jesus’ death on the cross proves God’s love for you. It’s the only weapon powerful enough to stand against Satan’s lies. (Romans 5:6-8, 1 John 4:9,10)
    • Don’t think your case is unique. Read Hebrews 11 and 12. Many have walked this path before you and they will tell you that God did not fail them.
    • Remember your purpose for living. (Matthew 22:37-39, 1 Corinthians 6:20, 2 Corinthians 5:15, Galatians 5:6)
    • Learn about persevering and enduring. (Romans 5:3, Hebrews 12:1, James 1:2-4)

WHAT YOU NEED TO DO

Try one step at a time

Granted, it seems impossible. How can someone live without feelings? Without them you have no drive, no motivation. Could you imagine walking without any feeling in your legs? It would be impossible.

Or would it? Perhaps you could walk if you practiced in front of a large mirror and watched your legs moving. One step, wobble, another step. It would all be very mechanical, but it could be done.

People have learned to walk in the midst of depression. It doesn’t seem natural, though other people won’t notice either the awkwardness or the heroism involved. The trek begins with one step, then another. Remember, you are not alone. Many people have taken this journey ahead of you.

As you walk, you will find that it is necessary to remember to use every resource you have ever learned about persevering through hardship. It will involve lots of moment by moment choices: 1) take one minute at a time, 2) read one short Bible passage, 3) try to care about someone else, 4) ask someone how they are doing, and so on.

You will need to do this with your relationships, too. When you have no feelings, how to love must be redefined. Love, for you, must become an active commitment to patience and kindness.

Consider what accompanies your depression

As you put one foot in front of the other, don’t forget that depression doesn’t exempt you from the other problems that plague human beings. Some depressed people have a hard time seeing the other things that creep in—things like anger, fear, and an unforgiving spirit. Look carefully to see if your depression is associated with things like these:

Do you have negative, critical, or complaining thoughts? These can point to anger. Are you holding something against another person?

Do you want to stay in bed all day? Are there parts of your life you want to avoid?

Do you find that things you once did easily now strike terror in your heart? What is at the root of your fear?

Do you feel like you have committed a sin that is beyond the scope of God’s forgiveness?Remember that the apostle Paul was a murderer. And remember: God is not like other people—He doesn’t give us the cold shoulder when we ask for forgiveness.

Do you struggle with shame? Shame is different from guilt. When you are guilty you feel dirty because of what you did; but with shame you feel dirty because of what somebody did to you. Forgiveness for your sins is not the answer here because you are not the one who was wrong. But the cross of Christ is still the answer. Jesus’ blood not only washes us clean from the guilt of our own sins, but also washes away the shame we experience when others sin against us.

Do you experience low self-worth? Low self-worth points in many directions. Instead of trying to raise your view of yourself, come at it from a completely different angle. Start with Christ and His love for you. Let that define you and then share that love with others.

Will it ever be over?

Will you always struggle with depression? That is like asking, “Will suffering ever be over?” Although we will have hardships in this world, depression rarely keeps a permanent grip on anyone. When we add to that the hope, purpose, power, and comfort we find in Christ, depressed people can usually anticipate a ray of hope or a lifting of their spirits.

FREQUENTLY-ASKED QUESTIONS

Is it okay to get medication?

The severe pain of depression makes you welcome anything that can bring relief. For some people, medication brings relief from some symptoms. Most family physicians are qualified to prescribe appropriate medications. If you prefer a specialist, get a recommendation for a psychiatrist, and ask these questions of your doctor and pharmacist:

    • How long will it take before it is effective?
    • What are some of the common side effects?
    • Will it be difficult to determine which medication is effective (if your physician is prescribing two medications)?

From a Christian perspective, the choice to take medication is a wisdom issue. It is rarely a matter of right or wrong. Instead, the question to ask is, What is best and wise?

Wise people seek counsel (your physicians should be part of the group that counsels you). Wise people approach decisions prayerfully. They don’t put their hope in people or medicine but in the Lord. They recognize that medication is a blessing, when it helps, but recognize its limits. It can change physical symptoms, but not spiritual ones. It might give sleep, offer physical energy, allow you to see in color, and alleviate the physical feeling of depression. But it won’t answer your spiritual doubts, fears, frustrations, or failures.

If you choose to take medication, please consider letting wise and trusted people from your church come alongside of you. They can remind you that God is good, that you can find power to know God’s love and love others, and that joy is possible even during depression.

What do I do with thoughts about suicide?

Before you were depressed, you could not imagine thinking of suicide. But when depression descends, you may notice a passing thought about death, then another, and another, until death acts like a stalker.

Know this about depression: It doesn’t tell the whole truth. It says that you are all alone, that no one loves you, that God doesn’t care, that you will never feel any different, and you cannot go on another day. Even your spouse and children don’t seem like a reason to stay alive when depression is at its worst. Your mind tells you, Everyone will be better off without me. But this is a lie—they will not be better off without you.

Because you aren’t working with all the facts, keep it simple. Death is not your call to make. God is the giver and taker of life. As long as He gives you life, He has purposes for you.

One purpose that is always right in front of you is to love another person. Begin with that purpose and then get help from a friend or a pastor.

Depression says that you are alone and that you should act that way. But that is not true. God is with you, and He calls you to reach out to someone who will listen, care, and pray for you.

Anxiety: UNDER PRESSURE

SOURCE: Cameron Lawrence/InTouch Ministries

We might be people of faith, but that doesn’t mean we’re immune to anxiety.

It’s a weekday morning, and the coffee shop fills quickly, a line snaking around tables from the counter to the door. The machines answer back to their handlers—hissing steam, grinding beans—in a kind of waking song. I watch patrons sip from the day’s first cup, souls once again easing into their bodies.

And yet, I am drinking decaf—an unpardonable sin, I realize—just as I have for a decade. Not as a demonstration of dietary conviction or some obscure religious observance, but because of how years ago caffeine became a destructive force in my life. No, let me try again: I gave up caffeine because it revealed a destructive force already latent within me—a propensity toward anxiety of the sort that overtakes the mind.

It started in the weeks leading up to my wedding and then intensified after the honeymoon. Beneath my usual calm demeanor, irrational thoughts were inexplicably taking over my interior life. It was as if I had been walking through the familiar landscape of my existence, when suddenly I discovered a solitary door in the middle of an open field. I walked through, and at first nothing seemed different. But then I sensed them—specters creeping among the tall grasses, rustling the high branches. The world of my mind had become populated with shadows of my hidden fears. I looked for an exit, but the door had disappeared.

I prayed. I read the Bible. I went to church and talked with my pastors. Still, the anxiety persisted, affecting my work, relationships, and faith in God.

After several months of this, my wife had an idea. “Why not try giving up caffeine?” I’d been drinking a lot of coffee, and it hadn’t occurred to me that the daily intake might be exacerbating my condition. As a solution, it seemed too simple, too small to matter. But what did I have to lose?

I cut out caffeine, and within a week something was different. My mind was becoming clearer. After two weeks, thought patterns that had possessed me were weakening. In a few months, I felt more myself than I had in a long, long time. Since then, I can’t say I’ve ever been quite the same, having by grace passed through terror and found what I didn’t know lived in me. In truth, it lives in me still, even if not in the same ways. I feel anxiety flare up from time to time, trying to intrude. Trying to push me out of my own life. And what I’ve learned is that I’m not alone.

Just the other day, I was having dinner with a friend, when he confessed that he’d been suffering from panic attacks. Work had been tough—tougher than ever—but the anxiety he was experiencing transcended typical job stress. This easy-going, happy guy had found himself crippled by fear that had come with a suddenness and severity that left him sobbing in the morning’s wee hours. Medication has been helping, but the fear is still there, lurking. And a few months ago, I was on a retreat with some fellow writers, only to discover that due to all manner of hardships, several of the group were taking pills of their own.

No, this isn’t about coffee. This isn’t about caffeine or whether I think you should consume it. This is about the simultaneous strength and fragility of the human mind, and how powerful it is in shaping our lives for better or worse. This is about the problem of anxiety we each face in our own way. This is a conversation about faith.

Yet I hesitate to write that last line, because far too many Christians have abused their brothers and sisters struggling with anxiety. “Just have more faith,” people say, not comprehending the complexity of fear. Faith is more than the mental assent to a tidy system of beliefs. It requires more than a list of affirmations we repeat to ourselves, as if mantras can overcome our deepest existential crises. These fears, these anxieties, often lurk beneath the veneers of our theological systems and churchly behavior. We can’t always identify them, but they’re shaping our lives, guiding our reactions and decisions, whether we realize it or not.

Faith is an encounter—sometimes with a presence, and sometimes with an absence. Underneath all our apprehensions is one fundamental fear: that there is no God, or that if there is one, He isn’t good—despite our biblical training or the inspiring testimonies we’ve heard. Despite our own mysterious experiences, even if intermittent, of Love Himself. Deep down, we are often still afraid. So what to do?

Praying, reading Scripture, confessing sin, attending services, speaking with professionals—and yes, even taking medication—can all be redemptive. And we should submit ourselves to wise counsel, whether pastoral or medical. But in the end, the ultimate solution must be an encounter with God Himself, an ongoing communion we struggle toward—not through works that any man should boast, but through a humble, repentant heart.

This is how we open our hearts and minds to Him: We call out from within our desperation, and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me,” and wait for Him, who in due time will come shining in—liberating our plains and forests, rivers and oceans, of every haunting ghost.

The Top 10 Types of “Stinkin’ Thinkin’”

SOURCE:  David Burns

One of the most common types of skills learned in psychotherapy today focuses on our thinking. Unbeknownst to many of us, we often engage in internal conversations with ourselves throughout the day. Unless we’re trained to examine these conversations, however, many of us don’t even realize we’re having them! For instance, imagine looking in the mirror at yourself. What’s the first thing you think when you look at yourself? That thought is a part of our internal conversation.

Having these kinds of conversations with yourself is perfectly normal and in fact, everybody does it.

Where we mess up in our lives is when we let these conversations take on a life of their own. If we answer ourselves in the above example with something like, “I’m fat and ugly and nobody loves me,” that’s an example of “stinkin’ thinkin’.” Our thoughts have taken on an unhealthy attitude, one that is working against us instead of for us. Psychologists would call these thoughts “irrational,” because they have little or no basis in reality. For instance, the reality is that most everyone is loved by someone (even if they’re no longer with us), and that a lot of our beauty springs from inside us — our personality.

It is exactly these kinds of thoughts that you can learn to identify as you go through your day. Often times it will be helpful to keep a little journal of the thoughts, writing down the day and time you had it, the thought itself, and the type of irrational thought — or stinkin’ thinkin’ — from the list below. As you learn to better identify them, you can then learn how to start answering them back with rational arguments. In this manner, you can work to turn your internal conversation back to being a positive in your life, instead of a running negative commentary.

1. All-or-nothing thinking – You see things in black-or-white categories. If a situation falls short of perfect, you see it as a total failure. When a young woman on a diet ate a spoonful of ice cream, she told herself, “I’ve blown my diet completely.” This thought upset her so much that she gobbled down an entire quart of ice cream.

2. Overgeneralization – You see a single negative event, such as a romantic rejection or a career reversal, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by using words such as “always” or “never” when you think about it. A depressed salesman became terribly upset when he noticed bird dung on the window of his car. He told himself, “Just my luck! Birds are always crapping on my car!”

3. Mental Filter – You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water. Example: You receive many positive comments about your presentation to a group of associates at work, but one of them says something mildly critical. You obsess about his reaction for days and ignore all the positive feedback.

4. Discounting the positive – You reject positive experiences by insisting that they “don’t count.” If you do a good job, you may tell yourself that it wasn’t good enough or that anyone could have done as well. Discounting the positives takes the joy out of life and makes you feel inadequate and unrewarded.

5. Jumping to conclusions – You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion.

Mind Reading : Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you.

Fortune-telling : You predict that things will turn out badly. Before a test you may tell yourself, “I’m really going to blow it. What if I flunk?” If you’re depressed you may tell yourself, “I’ll never get better.”

6. Magnification – You exaggerate the importance of your problems and shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities. This is also called the “binocular trick.”

7. Emotional Reasoning – You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel terrified about going on airplanes. It must be very dangerous to fly.” Or, “I feel guilty. I must be a rotten person.” Or, “I feel angry. This proves that I’m being treated unfairly.” Or, “I feel so inferior. This means I’m a second rate person.” Or, “I feel hopeless. I must really be hopeless.”

8. “Should” statements – You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be. After playing a difficult piece on the piano, a gifted pianist told herself, “I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes.” This made her feel so disgusted that she quit practicing for several days. “Musts,” “oughts” and “have tos” are similar offenders.

“Should statements” that are directed against yourself lead to guilt and frustration. Should statements that are directed against other people or the world in general, lead to anger and frustration: “He shouldn’t be so stubborn and argumentative!”

Many people try to motivate themselves with shoulds and shouldn’ts, as if they were delinquents who had to be punished before they could be expected to do anything. “I shouldn’t eat that doughnut.” This usually doesn’t work because all these shoulds and musts make you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite. Dr. Albert Ellis has called this ” must erbation.” I call it the “shouldy” approach to life.

9. Labeling – Labeling is an extreme form of all-or-nothing thinking. Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” You might also label yourself “a fool” or “a failure” or “a jerk.” Labeling is quite irrational because you are not the same as what you do. Human beings exist, but “fools,” “losers” and “jerks” do not. These labels are just useless abstractions that lead to anger, anxiety, frustration and low self-esteem.

You may also label others. When someone does something that rubs you the wrong way, you may tell yourself: “He’s an S.O.B.” Then you feel that the problem is with that person’s “character” or “essence” instead of with their thinking or behavior. You see them as totally bad. This makes you feel hostile and hopeless about improving things and leaves very little room for constructive communication.

10. Personalization and Blame – Personalization comes when you hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. When a woman received a note that her child was having difficulty in school, she told herself, “This shows what a bad mother I am,” instead of trying to pinpoint the cause of the problem so that she could be helpful to her child. When another woman’s husband beat her, she told herself, “If only I was better in bed, he wouldn’t beat me.” Personalization leads to guilt, shame and feelings of inadequacy.

Some people do the opposite. They blame other people or their circumstances for their problems, and they overlook ways they might be contributing to the problem: “The reason my marriage is so lousy is because my spouse is totally unreasonable.” Blame usually doesn’t work very well because other people will resent being scapegoated and they will just toss the blame right back in your lap. It’s like the game of hot potato–no one wants to get stuck with it.

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Parts of this article were exercepted from the book, “The Feeling Good Handbook” by David D. Burns, M.D. © 1989.

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