In my last post “Is your Perception Fact or Fiction” I explored the subject of perception and how it is actually a choice. Well, today, I wanted to expand that further to explore how much our perception affects our thinking and how much of our thoughts influence how we feel.
Feelings feel like facts, right? How often have you felt the need to defend, justify or explain your feelings to someone… or even to yourself for that matter? How often have you tried to talk yourself out of what you feel because it is uncomfortable? How often have you really been successful? We generally accept that we are emotional slaves.
Let me start by giving you a scenario:
You send your bestie a PM on Facebook. It contains a funny reference to a private joke between the 2 of you. You know it will have her in stitches and although it seems trivial and actually doesn’t need a response, you anticipate her reply anyway. You continue scrolling and enjoying your social media experience. You smile when you see signs that she is “online.” Maybe you see the green dot next to her name in messenger chat, or maybe she posts something or likes or comments on someone else’s post. You check your message to see if she has read it….. Unread. You think to yourself that she will read it any minute now and try and make justifications in your head such as:
“Maybe she didn’t read it because she was with someone and that would be rude.”
“She must be on her way home from work, she’ll read it when she gets home.”
“She’s probably making dinner and will read it after she has eaten.”
You get the drift. You are trying to avoid feeling unimportant to her because she saw your message and didn’t bother to read it. Or did she? She has been online, so she must have seen your message notification?....
A few hours go by and you notice that she still hasn’t read your message. Your justifications get more extreme (think – “there must be an issue with her messenger?”) At this point you can’t think of many other reasons she hasn’t read your message. So your thoughts get a bit darker. They might go a little something like this:
“Have I done something to upset her?”
“Is she angry with me?”
This is when your thoughts start filtering through your last interactions with bestie; looking for clues or missed signs that you did or said something wrong, bad or upsetting. “Did I offend her when I joked about her partner’s hair?” Your thoughts get defensive. “She even told me herself that she hated it and thought it didn’t suit him. I never would have mentioned it if she didn’t!”
You start fretting and feeling really bad and worried. You think to yourself “It’s not like her not to respond, there must be something wrong?” You send her another message saying “Is everything ok? I’m always here for you.”
By the time you go to bed that night there is still no answer. She still hasn’t read your message. You wonder if you should call but start to feel scared that she won’t answer or that you won’t like what she has to say to you. You go to bed, but it plays on your mind and you can’t stop thinking about it. You are so sad. You start to feel abandoned. You hardly sleep. You are physically and mentally exhausted.
In the morning, your insecurities get the better of you and you send her another message that says “I’m really sorry if I have done something to upset you? Please talk to me?” You can’t eat because you are so worried and although you go to work, you are unproductive, mostly just watching her online movements. She has been online 12 times and not read your messages. Your thoughts tell you unequivocally she is definitely upset with you! It is fact. You start to feel angry. That is also fact.
You message her, yet again. “I have been over all our recent interactions in my head and I can’t think of a single thing I have said or done that would cause you to ignore me. Clearly I have upset you but if you don’t talk to me I don’t know what I have done?! I thought our friendship was worth more than this to you? I guess I am not important to you after all! How could you just stop talking to me like this? Maybe you aren’t the person I thought you were.”
Still no response when you get home from work. By now you are crying and thinking to yourself “I guess she never really liked me that much at all. It was always me sending her funny messages. She never sent them to me. I just wanted to make her smile and she can’t even be bothered reading my messages? I always respond to her straight away. I am excited to get her messages and she can’t even be bothered reading mine?! Why does this happen to me? Why is it that I always like other people more than they like me? I should just give up on all my friends. Nobody likes me. I am such a loser.”
You have slumped into a depression. You try and watch a movie to distract yourself but you can’t concentrate. You re-read all your messages and cry as you again look at the joke that was supposed to bring you together. You feel broken hearted. That is fact. Everything that has happened is fact in your mind. And everything you feel is real.
You are so upset that you speak to someone else close to you about it. When they defend your bestie you won’t hear of it, and you insist that the only possible explanation is that your bestie is ignoring you! You justify your thoughts and feelings on the matter. When the person you are speaking to cannot convince you to change your perspective, they instead tell you not to think of it. You feel disgruntled by this and misunderstood. If you could stop thinking about it, you would!!! You are too self-absorbed to ask the person you are speaking to about themselves or their lives/problems and they find an excuse to end the interaction. You tell yourself it is just another person who doesn’t care about you and that you’re better off alone. You think of all the little signs that you have missed that your friend has been pulling away for a while.
Does this sound familiar? I know this is an extreme example, but extreme thinking is just that – extreme. And your extremely negative thoughts have left you feeling extremely bad. (This may also work when you allow yourself to believe anything is extremely good too. Such as the friendship you believed to be extremely good until now.) I don’t deny that what you feel is real, but what you feel is a direct results of your thoughts.
The following morning you get a message from bestie. It reads “Hi! OMG! I am soooo sorry. My kid ran off with my phone to play candy crush and hid it from me in his room. I didn’t find it for 2 days! I was not ignoring you and I am not upset. Really funny joke by the way, I almost wet myself! Haha. Love Bestie x”
Relief floods over you. You feel a bit embarrassed at your response. You laugh at your stupidity. But your friendship with bestie is never the same because you still always secretly wonder now and can’t forget all the things you thought about. How she is pulling away. How you always make the first contact and so on. You are cautious around her because you are hurt and embarrassed and afraid to be vulnerable. You stop messaging her as much because you decide you probably do message her too much and she probably doesn’t know how to tell you to stop. You hope she will notice and message you more, but she feels your distance and thinks maybe you don’t believe her and need space. She feels your reaction was extreme and no longer feels safe with you to trust her positive intentions. She is defensive about your anger. You slowly drift apart and you miss each other. Neither of you really understands why you aren’t besties anymore, but you slowly gravitate towards other people.
Each of you believes your feelings are fact, but they are not. They are simply products of thought. Also not fact.
Alternatively, consider this scenario:
You email (as opposed to PM) your bestie the same joke. As you have no way of knowing if or when she checks her emails (Thanks Facebook! There’s another post topic!) You assume she will reply when she can and you forget about it. You haven’t heard from her by the next night which seems odd, so you give her a quick call. It rings for a while before someone answers. It is her kid. You tell them to get mummy for you. Bestie comes on the phone and laughs and tells you that she’s glad you called because her kid ran off with her phone and she didn’t know. She thought she lost it – she hadn’t had it for a whole day and it was so stressful. She says she has to now go and discuss this with her child, but you set up a date to chat and drink wine on the weekend. You both feel happy and supported and connected. You stay close.
Yes, in this scenario, your actions were slightly different, but the point is that you didn’t overthink the situation and didn’t make it all about yourself. You didn’t have negative thoughts, nor feelings. You see?
Feelings are not facts. They are products of thought. Thoughts are not facts. They are often assumptions. If you can’t figure out the answer, and you can’t stop thinking about something – engage in something you find stimulating. Learn something. Help someone. Get active. Start a new project. Anything that isn’t mindless and allows you to overthink. Because the real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind….. The kind that blindsides you at 4pm on some idle Tuesday… ~ “The Sunscreen Song” by Baz Luhrmann.) Love this song. I am off to listen to it!
Your Best Friend ForNever