Yesterday, my biggest trigger struck: feeling powerless. I was tempted to get suicidal. Instead, I got really angry and I journaled in all caps for a while. Then, I talked to Dr. Allison. She said that seeing your biggest trigger for what it is and not getting suicidal is progress. While we talked, she helped me to see that I am not 100% powerless—I do make decisions for myself and my daughter that count everyday. Most importantly, she helped me to see that I’m actually in control of something very important all of the time, whether I take advantage of this fact or not—I’m always in control of my thoughts; and, since thoughts create feelings, I’m also always in control of my feelings, too. My anger quickly faded as I embraced this truth.
I could see there was actually a lot for me to be hopeful about because I’m always in control of quite a lot. This was the real key to overcoming my biggest trigger of feeling powerless—I always have control over my thoughts and since thoughts lead to feelings, I’m always in control of my feelings, too!
One of my favorite writers, Victor Frankl, was a Holocaust survivor who wrote the classic memoir, “Man’s Search for Meaning” about his time spent in the concentration camps. His insight is simple and deep: the prisoners couldn’t change their situation, but they could choose their attitudes. The Nazis took away every conceivable freedom from the Jews in the camps, but there was one freedom that no one could take away from them: their mindsets, their abilities to decide what to think.
Most of us today have our outward freedoms and yet still we sometimes feel overwhelmed with feelings of powerlessness. But, this is where the wisdom of Buddhist mindfulness mirrors Frankl’s freedom to choose your attitude: you might not be in control of everything in your world, but you are in control of your response to your world. There is a space between a stimulus and your response, and the space is where your freedom lies. You are in control of your response. Your response creates your feelings.
Self-defeating thoughts eventually led people to give up and die in the concentration camps, according to Frankl; and according to Buddha, “the mind is everything—what you think, you become.”
How liberating it is to see that feelings are the result of thoughts and that we are actually in control of them. It’s like having a remote control for your mind—if you don’t like the feeling, then you can change the thought.
I find it comforting now that know I always have the power—the power to control my thoughts, and therefore, my feelings. So, if powerlessness is leading me to feel suicidal or angry, then it is up to me to stop and examine my thoughts and reconstruct them, which will automatically reshuffle my feelings—positive thinking really can lead to positive feelings. Just like Buddhism or Frankl’s philosophy of Logotherapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy teaches us to recognize the distortions in our thinking, to change those distortions, and to reimagine our thoughts so that we feel better.
This approach feels a lot better than my old way of thinking. It is a promising beginning and so far a defeat of my biggest trigger, and for this I am grateful and much happier moving forward.
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