Odds are that at one point or another, you have been referred to as “crazy”. If you are anything like me, you question your sanity on a regular basis. Oftentimes this declaration follows an emotional response that seems out of proportion to the intensity of the situation at hand. In this blog series, I would like to explain what is truly happening here and what we can do about it.
Emotions are OK
Let me point out that your emotions, regardless of how illogical they appear, are not wrong. In fact, your feelings probably would make a lot of sense if you understood where they came from: Our feelings are based on thoughts, and while these thoughts can sometimes be inaccurate, the feelings that result are perfectly logical consequences. I’ll illustrate with an example: It’s Monday morning and you are attempting to get the kids ready for school so they don’t miss the bus and you aren’t late for work. Your child decides that this would be the perfect time to show you the cute pug video they discovered on YouTube or impress you with a story about their latest accomplishment in “Fortnite” (a popular video game that my boys play incessantly). While there is a subtle, internal voice encouraging you to listen patiently to these precious words, a string of commands erupts from your mouth, usually at a high volume. Your intense reaction is then met with looks of confusion or some form of the aforementioned declaration that there must be something wrong with you. Why would you get so upset about an adorable pug video? It’s crazy right!?
Emotionally Charged Thoughts
If the only thing happening here is an excessively emotional response to an everyday situation, then I would agree with you. However, just as you need each word of a Bob Dylan lyric in order to understand his meaning, we need to complete this picture in order to make sense of the response. The part of the equation that is missing, and the piece that makes it illogical, is the thought. Our thoughts occur so quickly, especially in emotionally charged situations, that we are generally unaware of them. Just in this short example, thoughts such as, “You’re going to miss the bus,” “I’m going to be late to work,” “I’m the worst mother/father ever”, or my personal favorite, “You’re going to end up homeless on the street,” may have been swirling around in your head. While these thoughts can be debated for their legitimacy, the fear, and subsequent anger, that they trigger makes complete sense. Being fired from your job would be a tragic situation, leading to a host of other consequences for you and your family. While my son’s acceptance to college this year provides good evidence that he isn’t actually going to end up “homeless on the street”, the thought itself retains its scariness. When we understand other people’s “automatic thoughts”, we are able to empathize with them rather than pass judgment and when we understand our own core beliefs or assumptions, we can begin to make changes that help us to interact with others more effectively.
In future posts, I hope to expose some of the common “thinking errors” that people entertain, where they come from, and what we can do about them. But for today, I hope that you find some solace knowing that pulling your hair out over puppy videos doesn’t mean that you are crazy, even if your kids think differently.
Ron Fallansbee is a Licensed Social Worker with the Arc of Monroe. He also facilitates different groups for the people we support like Dialectical Behavior Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Men’s Group, Independent Living Skills, and the Relationship Group.