I just had to share this story with everyone I can as soon as I saw it. I’m 1000 miles away but I can still pass on the light that my talented and bright siblings bring to the world.
[Continuing my series on some of David Burns cognitive distortions. It helps me to really see them for what they are and how I apply them to my thinking. Hopefully you may have a “me too!” moment.]
I think our society is getting worse about this distorting heuristic, because we are continually building up a tolerance for mean-spirited and extreme language; consequently, our perceptions follow that language, our beliefs follow those perceptions, and so on.
“You’re making a mountain out of a molehill,” is intuitive and common enough to know what this distortion is about, but it becomes an even more sophisticated weapon. It goes beyond fear and worrying to enable humans to continue to keep people and things in the boxes they have mentally put them in, and then can go on with their regularly scheduled program. Lemme ‘splain.
Distorting certain aspects of a particular situation or memory of a situation such that they do not respond to objective reality is an easy way to incapacitate ourselves. They either inflate these aspects to make them more significant and powerful than they really are (Magnification), or they downplay aspects to make them less significant (Minimization).
We all just went through another Christmas, in one way or another. I think this Distortion is implemented heavily at Christmas time. How often have you had a family member tell you to remember, or forget, about a certain state of affairs simply “Because it’s Christmas”?
You: I don’t want to be around that Uncle. He is abusive, unrepentant, and brings everybody down.
Them: It’s Christmas, sweetie. Let it go this one day. Nobody wants to be around bitterness.
Feel free to leave your own example in the comments. 😉 How about this one?
You: How am I supposed to be thankful that you bought me sugar cookies. I’m diabetic.
Them: Oh, well, hey, at least I remembered to get you something this year. That’s progress!
Catastrophizing–focusing on the worst possible outcome, when really it’s just something uncomfortable–accompanies a lot of hand-wringing. I begin with a what if and then picture it playing out in my imagination, and then it just proceeds down the suckward slide (as one blogger put it.) “What will I do? Then they’ll be pissed. Then I’ll feel like crap. Then I’ll have guilt. Then they will tell their family and…” you get the picture.
Once again, the truth is always the best way to go. Maybe I can’t NOT imagine a catastrophe, but I CAN look at the situation and state what is really happening. I can’t even observe most of the stuff I’m worried about anyway! If I can keep that focus perhaps I can let go of my hangups and finally start making decisions.
So you want a recipe for disaster? You want to sabotage your relationship with your number one? Sure, everyone believes they are going to succeed and be happy at the outset. Nobody really marries expecting to fail. But some of us get to a point where our pride just becomes far too important and suddenly seems to be a better lover. Here is a list of critical steps to unravel what is supposed to be the most important relationship in your life:
DON’T push yourself to make your spouse proud of you.
DO expect them to accept whatever issues from you no matter how bad it is.
DON’T seek out new things to put smiles on his or her face.
DO continually plan to do the same old same old. Your spouse should be no better than your old college roommates who never liked change, wanted to be left alone, and to be as messy and play as many video games as he wanted.
DON’T apologize sincerely or let your spouse vent.
DO plan exactly how to retaliate, get defensive about things beside the main point, and use sarcasm whenever possible.
DON’T let your spouse challenge your family. When they go up against your mom, they will lose every time.
DO compare your dysfunctional family systems to each other all the time, and let your family justify and coddle you and your problems while villainizing your spouse.
DON’T put your spouse’s well being ahead of your children.
DO use your children as weapons, collateral, allies, and bargaining pieces.
DON’T take them out on dates, adventures, and open-ended excursions where you don’t care about getting home at a certain time.
DO come home and take off the shoes and belt and let the family know you need “me time.”
DON’T worry about proving love anymore or doing what’s right because it’s right.
DO get defensive and tell him or her their love is “conditional” if they are going to hold you to the truth or to your own words.
DO apologize and move on. Shrug if necessary.
(*Even though I’m being facetiously ironic here, I have personal experience with these. I’m sure the list will be added to. May it be a warning sign. We don’t have to relive the mistakes of others.)
I realized today that I have long been nominated and enabled to be the family scarecrow.
Scarecrows have one job—one state of being—and that is to intimidate. They are to scare away the intruders who come to steal the crops. Unfortunately, they make us all sad for probably the same reason: once their bluff is called, they cannot fight. They cannot come down and take action. They become a joke when even the birds realize it’s just another perch.
I have stood long behind my family, silently, trying to ward off evil forces, but only as a façade.
I intend to keep getting down…
Today made me really pause and reflect on those events in our lives in which nothing can prepare us or help us through–we just have to go on through it.
In my blog entry Blessing of fear, I talked about fear in fiction, fantasy, or play helped children grow to cope through dealing with real fear later on. But sometimes there is nothing that can prepare a child, no coaching to guide them, and no delayed gratification that can incentivize them. But you the adult know (hopefully, theoretically) that they will be okay and this can turn into something that can help them later on.
You’ve probably seen something like this in the form of a small child’s first real separation from mom and dad. That one kid on the first day of kindergarten that absolutely panics when mom drops him/her off, clinging to her pant leg–“NOOOOOO!!!”
It’s almost comical to everyone on the outside because they know better. But that child is being devastated before our eyes. He has no past experience to draw from; no confidence to take care of himself; no reason to think everything will be ok. In the end you just have to pry him off and turn your back on him–walk out and know it will work out.
You’ve probably seen adults go through it too. When they are abandoned by their partners, betrayed by friends or family, lose a child, find out they’re terminally ill…
“Experience is a brutal teacher. By you learn–my god, you learn.”
There are two parts to my post about this Fathers’ Day. They are hardly related by anything other than fatherhood, but they are both catalytic for positive change.
Although I do wish every dad a happy Padres’ Day today, in lieu of gifts I genuinely want to receive (and give) prayers for dads. I think most of us are aware of the consequences of fatherless households, and the burdens that too many mothers bear alone, but we don’t grasp the magnitude.
Fathers: please step up and claim the love we have for you. Like building a wall in a strange and dangerous land, keep building with one hand and holding a weapon in the other to protect your families. I’m not talking about physical weapons (per se, of course), but mental and emotional ones. Love your wife and kids with reckless abandon, and defend your hope for them and in them until the end.
If you haven’t seen the movie Smoke Signals, I highly recommend it. This poem comes from that film. It is dour but purposely driven towards healing.
How Do We Forgive Our Fathers?
by Dick Lourie
How do we forgive our Fathers?
Maybe in a dream
Do we forgive our Fathers for leaving us too often or forever
when we were little?
Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.
Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?
And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speaking
or never being silent?
Do we forgive our Fathers in our age or in theirs
or their deaths
saying it to them or not saying it?
If we forgive our Fathers what is left?