cognitive distortions

I Need You to Need Me

Actions have consequences. In scientific terms, this is cause and effect. Effects aren’t evil. They don’t have intent. They just are. There are natural consequences to everything. Some are easy to understand. Touch a hot pot, burn your hand. Combine bleach and ammonia, create a noxious gas cloud that could kill you. Throw a ball for the neighbor’s dog, gain a friend for life. Pinch your younger brother, draw the wrath of your mother. Even if he started it.

Sometimes the consequences aren’t what one anticipates. This usually occurs with people. My cousin was often quite mean to me when we would visit. He was only two years older but would act like there was a ten year gap between us. One day he was teasing me, calling me a baby. And then he dropped the gauntlet. There was no way I could complete a “highly” complicated Star Wars Rebel Fighter out of LEGO. I was just a girl. And a baby at that. Really, my friend? You’re going to challenge me to a task that married two of my greatest loves at the time – LEGO and Star Wars? You bet I handed him his ass. I was expecting my cousin to act the way my brother would whenever I bested him: to pout, call me names, and break apart the Lego creation. Instead my cousin looked at my Rebel Fighter with respect and invited me to play with all of his Star Wars Lego sets. We remain friendly to this day.

Sometimes consequences are confusing. They don’t seem to fit the situation, or the consequence comes in two parts that appear to negate each other. I remember one day I stood up to my brother’s bully. Sure, I got punished for punching the girl’s face, but I was also rewarded with praise for standing against those who wished to do harm. The message I learned? Hand someone their ass but don’t get caught doing it. The intended message? I’m fairly certain my parents meant for me to learn that standing against injustice is good, but there are ways to do so that do not involve violence.

I have a friend who loves her boyfriend so much she would do anything for him. She wants to take care of him to the point I start to feel smothered on his behalf. He is very independent and hasn’t had the best luck with girlfriends in the past. It’s not that he isn’t willing to share his life with my friend. He is very open and kind. But he doesn’t want her to take care of him. On a rare occasion where he and I went out for coffee without my friend, he told me his perfect relationship was with someone who wanted to be with him, not someone who wanted to be needed. In his mind, need was a slippery slope to inequity and losing one’s self. Wouldn’t it be better, he argued, to be with someone who doesn’t need you, who chooses to be with you because they love you. They want you. Out of all the people in the world they choose you.

I thought about this as it applies to action and consequences, trying to map out the logic of how this young man felt. There are far more potential consequences when dealing with people. Unlike the science experiments we had in high school, people can be unpredictable and the consequences may not be what we expect, therefore it is almost impossible to create a logic tree that includes all potential outcomes. But I had to give it a try. I wanted to understand.

So I asked him, that if a woman has a strong desire to take care of her boyfriend/spouse and is motivated by a need to be needed, what might be some possible consequences of this action. Together we came up with three:

  1. She could develop a codependent relationship with the boyfriend and be set up to play the role of caregiver throughout the life of their relationship, which could lead to resentment and inequity on both sides
  2. He could push her away or end the relationship because he doesn’t want to be the object of need for another
  3. By doing for him or taking care of him, she could be denying them both opportunities to grow into their human potential

These are by no means the only consequences that could be experienced, but they were the ones that were foremost on this young man’s mind. So why these consequences in this situation? He looked up at me and told me that his mother took care of his father. She anticipated all his needs and desire. Her life was about him. She often said she was nothing without him. And his dad? He once shared with his son that he felt smothered at home, which was why he often had “business trips” out-of-town. He didn’t want to be his wife’s sole focus. He wanted her to have a life that was rich and rounded. He wanted the same for himself. He felt trapped.

So this young man watched and learned and went to therapy to start to figure out what a healthy relationship looked like, because his parents’ relationship seemed to be one of the many opposites of healthy. One of his conclusions was that he didn’t want to be needed and he didn’t want to need. He recognized this as an extreme view and acknowledged that over the lifetime of a relationship there is give and take. But he didn’t want the foundation to because of need. It had to be choice.

My friend wants to take care of her boyfriend because that is the model she learned. You show someone you love them by taking care of them. She didn’t realize her family of origin had some serious codependency and caretaking issues. She didn’t know how dangerous these things could be to one’s health and wellbeing. The good news is that she is open to discussion and willing to see another point of view. She is willing to learn. This may lead her to therapy where she can begin to learn examples of a healthy adult relationship and gain the language and skills she may need to build her own.

Her new actions will have new and fascinating consequences. This is the process of growing toward our better selves. Beliefs lead to choices. Choices lead to behaviors and actions. Actions lead to consequences (or results) that lead back to beliefs and choices. I wish these two the best as they walk their relational journey together.

Human relationships are so messy sometimes. At the end of the day, we have to do the best we can with what we know and be willing to learn and grow. Sometimes growing means saying good-bye to beliefs and behaviors that no longer serve us. Sometimes it means learning that what we think is healthy is actually maladaptive behavior that is hurting instead of helping. Sometimes it means there will be pain in the process. Ultimately it means we become closer to that better version of ourselves we are striving to be.

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Who Are You, I Really Wanna Know

Confession time. I’m not trying to be cute with my blog post titles. The vast majority of them are lines from songs, titles from songs or plays on lines from movies. This is not to be cute. This is how my brain draws parallels between what I’m learning in the spirit or the abstract and how it applies in the natural. Said differently, it’s my own personal mnemonic device.

Thanks for letting me get that off my chest. Now back to our regularly scheduled post.

I’ve been thinking a lot about identity lately. Claire and I seem to be on similar paths in this season of our lives. Our conversations seem to always circle back to identity. The dreams I wake up remembering all have this component that relates to identity. We even attended a seminar this past weekend where the focus was on identity from God’s perspective. I’ve decided to go with it. If this is the area God wants me to focus on right now, that’s where I’ll focus my time and effort.

I’m not new to the idea of identity. In my graduate work in psychology we discussed theories of personality and core identity. How when behavior deviates from how a person presents themselves you have a window into where there may be hurts, distorted beliefs, mental illness, or potential gaps in a person’s development and internal integration, or a window into what that person really believes. For example, if I say I love and respect my parents, but am always mocking their decisions or putting down their beliefs, then I either have a very distorted and disturbing view of love and respect that needs to be addressed, or I’m showing you my true colors and I really don’t respect my parents at all. Or something in between. Either way, something needs to be addressed so my beliefs and my behaviors can align.

It’s similar in the spiritual. What I believe about myself, about God needs to align with what is true about God and how He views me. It’s sifting through the stories I’ve told myself about who I am and letting go of anything that isn’t reality. It’s being willing to shed the labels others have placed on me so I can find out who I really am underneath all the labels I’ve accumulated over the years. And being willing to reclaim parts of myself I’ve allowed to diminish over the years.

After Saturday’s seminar, I had a dream that I was a superhero with a benign every day persona and a larger than life superhero persona. Then God reached down and ripped off my mask. He told me that when I wore the mask, I only wore the parts of myself I thought had value, that were accepted and admirable. The parts I considered strengths either because they were needed by others or because I believed they were what other people wanted from me. Everything else about me faded and became so very small no one could tell they were there.

When I wasn’t wearing the mask, those larger than life parts of myself diminished and these other parts of myself started to grow and develop. People who saw me with my mask didn’t recognize me without it. I didn’t recognize myself.

So when God took away my mask, I was devastated. I need it! In order to be what everyone else was telling me I was, I needed it, otherwise I was lost. No one wants to be lost.

Just before I awoke and the dream started to fade into the misty memory it is today, I remember God whispering in my ear as I was panicking. He said it was time to reclaim myself, to be reacquaint myself with the parts of myself I’ve let go in order to live up to these other expectations, including expectations I’ve heaped upon myself. It’s time to meet the me God created me to be.

I figure in order to grow as a prophet, or to grow in any of our spiritual gifts, we need to really know who we are. This takes work. Sometimes difficult and trying work. But always rewarding work. Identity is the next step for me. It’s time to mine my inheritance words and the prophecies I’ve received and layer by layer dig and sift and dig some more to learn all about who God has already said I am. The answers are there, waiting for me.

It’s there for you, as well. Who are you? Who does God say you are? Don’t you want to know?

Suspicious Minds

After a long day of work and putting out fires and snow (please, God, no more snow!), I find myself in a reflective mood as I bake my husband cookies. Cookies that are full of gluten, which I cannot eat. Cookies that will never pass my lips and melt in my mouth.

Baking is a mundane task. I have made these cookies what seems like hundreds of times over the years. Measuring and mixing and baking. It’s a task that doesn’t require much in the way of thought or critical thinking. There’s almost an automatic rhythm to the task, and within this rhythm I find my mind wandering. Why am I making cookies at 9pm when I could be relaxing for the evening? When I can’t even eat the fruit of my labor? Why have I given up my entire evening to cook and bake and clean up the kitchen, not once, not twice but three times? Why does my husband sit on the couch watching television, never mind that he put in a full day’s work and just got home from evening classes at a local university? Why? Why? Why?

When I have too much time on my hands and I do not guard my thoughts,  my thinking tends to shift toward the negative. My mind goes to all the dark places, the nooks and crannies in my soul that are quick to doubt, quick to blame and slow to forgive. Every interaction I have had throughout the day, week, month is suspect and I start to question actions and words, looking for hidden meanings and disapproval. Especially if those actions and words are from my husband. Cognitive distortions abound between my husband and myself. And it wasn’t until recently that I started to call a spade a spade and started to deal with the scripts that run my life.

I’m a trained therapist. I haven’t worked as a therapist in years, but I have the training, I keep up on the research and, let’s be honest, I know better. I have coached couples on how to fight fair, how to take their thoughts captive before their thinking can grow roots and cause deep rifts in their relationships. I know this stuff. And yet, I haven’t been applying it to my life or my marriage.

Let’s take a look at some of my automatic negative thoughts (ANTs), shall we? First, there’s the should fallacy. “Why isn’t he helping me, can’t he see I’m tired? He should offer to at least do the dishes.” He should know I want help. He should just step up, be a man and a partner and do it. Ah, but does he know? How many times have I shooed him out of the kitchen when I’m in the middle of cooking? I’m expecting him to read my mind and understand my wants and needs without having to speak up. This isn’t fair to him, and it sets me up for disappointment.

Then we have my mind reading and jumping to conclusions. He hasn’t thanked me for making the cookies. Or even for making the casserole we will eat tomorrow for dinner. He came home grumbling and growling, slammed doors and drawers, yelled at the dog and then went up stairs and sat down. Is he angry at me? What did I do now? I know I didn’t pull the garbage can down from the garage, but really, is he mad about that?  Did I forget to do something he asked me to do? Is he still upset from the fight we had this weekend? Get over it already!

And these are just a few of the scripts that play when my mind plays in the dark corners. When I spoke to a woman at a church we attended about these thoughts, she told me the thoughts were from the Enemy and I should ask the Holy Spirit to take my mind captive and expunge this evil thinking. That was a mind trip, let me tell you. And completely untrue.

Oh, I know the Enemy can influence our thinking, but you know what? We do such a fantastic job of playing mind games with ourselves, the enemy doesn’t need to do it for us. Again, something I know from my training, but I was vulnerable at the time, disavowing my spiritual gifting and desperate to trust someone. So I prayed and asked God to take away these thoughts. To purge this negativity from me.

And nothing happened. Why? I think it’s because I wasn’t doing the work of renewing my mind. I was trying to take a short cut and I was blaming all my issues on Satan and his minions instead of taking responsibility for my own faulty thinking. In the mean time, patterns of thought and behavior have become entrenched in my relationships – personal and professional.

The bad news, these entrenched patterns of behavior have been robbing my husband and I of intimacy in our relationship. The good news is that as I submit to my identity in Christ and embrace my Heavenly persona, all this negative is going to bubble up and, much like an extinction burst, the negativity will end. God’s goodness and my negative thoughts cannot exist in the same place. God is drawing the negative from me. My job in this is to take every thought captive so I am not made captive to the thoughts. This involves recognizing the ANTs and knowing that these negative thoughts are not a reflection of my identity.

How we think has a great impact on how we see our world and how we interact with the people in it. How we think impacts how we behave. And what we believe about ourselves. Taking every thought captive means recognizing ANTs and other thoughts that don’t reflect the reality of who God says we are. It also means rejoicing. This is a hard one for me but I’m learning to find joy and thanksgiving in the every day. It helps with Acedia and I believe it is crucial to the development of our identity.

About halfway through making cookies tonight I called a time out for myself and I named the cognitive distortions that were clouding my thinking. I acknowledged the negative thought patterns and the scripts that were bubbling up within me, working my emotions into a frenzy through self-talk and automatic negative thinking. I called my thoughts up one by one and determined what was true and what was distorted thinking. And I let the distorted thinking go.

I reminded myself why I was making cookies at 9pm after a long day’s work. In looking for ways to streamline the budget and eat somewhat healthier, I committed to making cookies once a week. And I had made the choice to put off making cookies until tonight. And it is an act of love toward my husband. He loves homemade cookies and he lights up like a little kid when he sees a full cookie jar.

As for my husband, he received some news from his college about a course he was trying to petition from taking. It wasn’t the news he was hoping for and he was dealing with his own disappointment, cognitive distortions and emotions. It had nothing to do with me. When I finally acknowledged I was expecting him to mind read and just know my needs, I asked him to help with the final load of dishes, which he did more than willingly. He’s now in bed, after sampling what he calls very tasty cookies. I’m finishing up this blog post while waiting for the casserole to cool enough to put in the refrigerator. And I’m able to find the joy in this quiet moment where it’s just me and the Holy Spirit, where the Holy Spirit reminds me that God delights in me. I can almost hear him chuckle as he tells me I’m catching on to what God wants for me right now and that in this season of divine acceleration, this knowledge is going to come in very handy. Finally, I’m in on part of the joke. And it feels good.

cognitive distortions anyone?

Am I always going to be able to recognize and resist cognitive distortions? No, probably not. But today I have experienced a sweet victory. I didn’t sleep walk through mindlessness, I exercised intentionality in my thinking. As a prophet, I need this in order to truly hear God. As a person, I need this in order to have healthy relationships with others and with myself. With each victory I believe it will become easier to take my thoughts captive. These thoughts, they aren’t who I am. They are a part of my old nature, the nature that died with Christ. Acknowledging them doesn’t give them strength, it helps me to let them go. And in letting go, I reveal more and more of my true identity in Christ. I’m looking forward to seeing that part of myself more clearly.