|Posted on 20 June, 2018 at 11:15|
Have you ever asked yourself that question?
Sometimes you can wake up and feel helpless, hopeless, depressed, want to cry in frustration, and yet nothing is vastly different to what it was yesterday, same job, same house, same partner etc. but today negativity overshadows all other thoughts and feelings, and whereas yesterday you may have felt like you could face all obstacles and take on the world, today you feel like you cannot take one more setback or feel so low that it seems nothing could make you happy.
So, what has changed?
Well, chances are, it is you! Or at least your perspective, the way you are viewing the world and your place within it is different today. Sounds straightforward, but let’s talk a little about how our cognition affects feelings and behaviours.
We go through life with many automatic thoughts, many established in our early childhood, and which have become our default way of perceiving and feeling about things. As a consequence of our thinking patterns we have adopted behavioural patterns in response to those thoughts and feelings. We often do not think to question why we think or behave the way we do when facing particular circumstances as our own learned experience has taught us what to think and do about the situation because we have done it so many times before, and it has appeared to work.
Developing automatic thoughts
Billy was bullied by some of the other kids in his class, making him anxious and feel like an outsider. In order to try to improve his situation he decided to make himself more popular with the rest of the class, so he used to take gifts for the other kids and do their homework, he also became much more agreeable, following their lead and liking the things they liked, pushing aside his own thoughts and feelings. This greatly reduced the bullying and cruel taunts and gave him a certain amount of peace during his school years.
Our Billy has learnt that being agreeable, doing what others say and putting their wishes before his own has made him more popular than previously experienced.
Do you think what he has learned has afforded Billy a positive lesson in how to think, feel and behave?
It won’t be difficult to understand why he may have adopted these strategies as his coping mechanisms. Unfortunately, many years later, our Billy is still suppressing his own feelings and prioritising those of his friends and work colleagues, as in his eyes, it allows him to ‘survive’ day to day experiences without being bullied. It is likely that once he left school this sort of bullying would have ceased, however his pre-learned behaviours in dealing with those emotions has not changed, so he is now ‘programmed’ to continually think and behave this way.
It’s a bit like a child scared to open a door to the attic, fearing there is a monster inside, and then remaining fearful of opening the door for many years. As we mature and garner experience we learn that there are no such thing as monsters and so we challenge our fears by rationalising the likelihood of there being something on the other side of the door. However, Billy has only learnt that being compliant stopped the bullying and so reduced the feelings of anxiety when getting ready to face the day, and as he is now an adult, and still no longer experiencing the bullying, apparently his learned behaviours are keeping him ‘safe’.
So, compliance and servility = Reduced anxiety/no bullying
Billy is very likely to continue with these feelings, thoughts and behaviours until they are challenged, often with the help of a therapist. However, if Billy perceives that he isn’t facing anything too traumatic then he may never stop to question his thinking and his accommodating persona may remain unchallenged. While there is no judgement on his way of coping, you can see that Billy may never recognise his true potential if he doesn’t work to prioritise his own needs and wishes above others.
The way we think, feel and behave is easily maintained if not challenged
No question, life and everyday struggles that we encounter can sometimes weigh more heavily on us than at other times. Often, our mood can be somewhat different when we wake with no real explanation as to why we were feeling much better yesterday. There is a great deal of evidence to suggest our sleeping patterns, and particularly sleep inertia may explain changes in temperament.
We will discuss this in a future blog
And doesn’t it usually appear to be the case that when we are feeling negative about one thing it often filters into other areas of our daily experiences, adding to the negativity and increasing the intensity and duration of the feeling of hopelessness?
The reasons we don’t feel today, the way we did yesterday are many. The good news, however, is that we can make significant positive change to our day, if we try to re-think it.
It can take a great deal of work, there is no denying that. It seems that we are hard wired to go easier from a positive frame of reference to a negative one than we are a negative to a positive one, the work involved to change our perspective to a more positive one can mean that a great deal of commitment and energy is required.
So maybe the question isn’t, ‘Why can’t I feel today, the way I did yesterday’? And instead,
What do I have to do to feel the way I did yesterday?
If we take the can’t out of the equation then it becomes a ‘can’, and therefore something that can be changed. It will just take more work today.
Yesterday’s mood isn’t going to come so easy for us today, we are going to have to put in some effort.
Our next blog will discuss ways of improving your mood by helping you change your perspective