Bully-Beating Thoughts

You can do many things with your mind. With your thoughts. It would take a whole book, I’m sure, to sum up the many nuances of our brain and how it can affect our reality.

I was confronted with the power of thoughts again today- in a very empowering and perhaps even miraculous way.

Here’s a little back story.

My oldest son has lived with us for 4 years. His adoption was finalized a year and a half ago. Previous to that, he was our foster son. He missed 8 very important years of quality education, stability in his home, and the brain-training that occurs in those first five years. This, along with his personality, has made school very difficult. We have had him tested for learning disabilities, attended therapy sessions, tried home schooling, independent study, after school tutoring, after school programs… you name it, if it was offered we tried it. He came to us performing at two grade levels behind his actual grade. In those four years he has progressed considerably. In some subjects he is performing at the lowest level of his actual grade. In other subjects, he’s performing at the higher end of the grade below him.

We finally came to the conclusion, along with his school’s administration, that repeating his sixth grade year would be in his best interest.

This was not an easy decision.

But we believe it was the right one.

We shared this whole process with him. He agreed that having an extra year to really catch up would be beneficial in the long wrong. Did he like the idea? No. Who does? But he “bought in” and was willing to own it and give it a go. This, we all hope, will give him the chance to catch up educationally as well as emotionally and in maturity.

End of backstory.

Today is his second day of his second year in sixth grade.

As I drove him to school I asked about yesterday. Day one.

“How was your day?” I asked

“It was good!” he said, sounding very genuine.

“Did anyone say anything about you being back?”

“Yeah,” he said, “there’s a boy who teased me quite a bit about it. He’s in my class and he kept making surprised faces at me. He also kept telling the other kids in class that I was held back- as if they couldn’t tell.”

“Wow. I thought you said you had a good day. How was it good with all that going on?” I wondered aloud to him.

He went on to tell me about a book that we are very familiar with. It is called “You Are Special” by Max Lucado. It is one of our many (many) children’s books.

Here is the Amazon synopsis:

“Every day the small wooden people called Wemmicks do the same thing: stick either gold stars or gray dots on one another. The pretty ones–those with smooth wood and fine paint–always get stars. The talented ones do, too. Others, though, who can do little or who have chipped paint, get ugly gray dots. Like Punchinello.

In this heartwarming children’s tale from the best-selling pen of author Max Lucado, Eli the woodcarver helps Punchinello understand how special he is–no matter what other Wemmicks may think. It’s a vital message for children everywhere: that regardless of how the world evaluates them, God cherishes each of them, just as they are.”

When Punchinello meets his creator, Eli the woodcarver, and comes to see himself as special and unique… the stickers he has acquired begin to fall off. When the other wood people try to stick more on him… they don’t stick! Punchinello isn’t swayed by popular opinion of himself- he knows who he is! A creation with purpose.

This is the story my son reminded me of this morning.

“Our teacher read it to us in class. And it’s true. The things that mean kid says don’t matter to me. They just roll off.” (Thanks Mrs. Platt!!!!)

This was especially beautiful in light of our last couple of weeks with this child… which have been challenging to say the least. He has so many amazing qualities and gifts and talents- and it’s easy to forget just how great he is when I’m only focussed on all the dots.

And I’ve been known to be a giver of dots and stars.

And I’ve been known to wear dots and stars around- in pride and in shame.

But not today. My son has reminded me that when we choose to believe and know that we are someone special- that God has made us for purposes far greater than any human can label for us- then nothing anyone says matters. Our Creator longs to share with us the many reasons we are who we are- and how we can be used to better our world, ourselves, and His Kingdom.

You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you. – Isaiah 26:3

You have searched me, LORD, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, LORD, know it completely. You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you. For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be. — Psalm 139: 1-16

Will you let the opinions of others stick to YOU today? 

Feelings from a Thinker’s Perspective: Part 1

“Feelings are just feelings.” I’m sure you’ve heard it.

Feelings are just feelings.

Many agree with that statement. I, however, do not. Maybe it’s because I’m a Thinker 🙂 A Deep Thinker, even, according to the RightPath4 Assessment. I’m also a Thinker according to the Keirsey Temperament Assessment. Of course, I could have told them that.

Or maybe I disagree because I’m a Behavior Analyst at heart. Or maybe that’s why I’m a Behavior Analyst at heart.

See? Too much thinking.

Are feelings just feelings? It’s very cliche. Right? We’ve all heard it. We just want our feelings to be validated, even if they don’t make sense (hey, me too!).

I believe, though, that all feelings have a cause. Cause and effect. Something happens and a feeling follows. We may not undersand the feeling, be able to control the feeling, or even recognize where the feeling came from… but it came from somewhere.

Feelings can come from past experiences creating a sort of conditioned response to a trigger. For example, if every single time I went to Disneyland I smelled popcorn and that made me happy… then it would be natural for me to think of Disneyland and feel happy every time I smell popcorn. I’m trying to use a positive example with this scenario but many situations of this nature have had negative tolls as well… a smell can trigger a painful memory or poke at a deep wound. In fact, it’s often these negative emotions that seem to attach themselves to our experiences.

Feelings can also come from chemical reactions in our brain. Without enough of the happy hormones (Seratonin, Endorphins, and Dopamine) our brains can alter the function of brain behavior… leading a person to feelings of lethargy, sadness, emptiness, and so much more. Depending on the extent of the imbalance, a person can actually become unable to function in every day tasks, so overwhelmed by feelings. With medical attention, this imbalance can be treated and help restore a person to the more common of human experiences, without the additional brain-chemical challenge.

Feelings can also come from thoughts and actions. If I allow my thoughts to take their own course, I will wind up feeling something. This, fortunately, is something I can control. I can filter my thoughts. I can restrain them. I can guess where they are headed and stop them. I can even change my thoughts.

I don’t believe that feelings are just feelings. I believe that’s a fatalistic approach to handling ourselves. In that phrase I hear, “I don’t have to control my thoughts or actions… I just am what I feel- and feelings are just feelings and I can let them take their course; I’m powerless to them.” But I don’t think we are powerless to our feelings. Even a chemically imbalanced brain can receive some aid in restoring balance. I believe that our feelings need to be held accountable and tightly reigned.

For example (this is fictitious): I’m feeling really sad. I don’t understand why. I’m just down. I don’t see any perceivable cause for my feeling. Later, someone mentions my mom. That sadness pops up again. I realize that it’s the same time of year that she passed away, though it’s been a number of years now. I connect that earlier feeling of sadness with this new realization. Does it make the sadness go away? No, but now I have a source and can find some ways to help walk through my sadness with some direction. I can pull out an album and spend time remembering- grabbing hold of that sadness until it washes me clean. I can write her a letter in my journal. I can call up my sister and reminisce. I can act on my feeling, bringing it some resolution. I can channel it in a healthy way. It hasn’t just popped up for the sake of making me sad. It has a purpose- a place within me that needs some attention.

Feelings can be warning flags, like a sting on the bottom of our foot. A way of letting us know that something needs our attention. Because they are the effect, we must take a look at the cause. Knowing the cause can even help us change our feelings.

There. I said it. Feelings can be changed. I know that’s a very unconventional thought. It’s not new, though.

Feelings can be changed.

I can be angry at my husband for not doing the dishes. I can build it up in my mind too. I can decide that he’s lazy. That he must not really love me. That he’s selfish and rude. I can get become quite furious with this run-on of thoughts. But when I find out that the dishes weren’t done because he received a call from a friend who was in a crisis and rushed off to help our friend- my feeling changes. I’m not mad at his selfishness or rudeness. I don’t even question his love for me. Understanding the cause can change the effect. How often our feelings get the best of us over a misunderstood cause!

Or maybe he really was just being lazy and didn’t do them so he could watch a show. I can choose a number of ways to feel about this. Uh oh. I did it again. I said you can choose your feelings. Well, I think sometimes you can. I can choose to think he hates me because he picked a show over the dishes (which is the easiest route to take) and feel furious. Or I can consider that he works a full time job, is finishing his full-time Masters, and has four children… and just needs a break. So would I. I can feel some compassion and understanding. Very different feelings, same cause.

This, of course, is not a call to invalidate someone’s feelings. Feelings are very real and very strong. But YOU are stronger. There is a way through them that can make you a better person on the other side.

At least that’s what I think 🙂

Well, I’ve meandered quite awhile and think this has become the first of a three part series 🙂 The next part will focus on the value of pain and how we can use it to grow and better ourselves (instead of let it fester and wilt us). Stay tuned!  Oh, and please feel free to respond (nicely). 🙂 I have many thoughts, as you can see, but love to hear other opinions, consider them, and maybe even change my own accordingly! 🙂