Inferiority. Insecurity. Irritability. Frustration. Guilt. Stress.
Have you ever felt these feelings before?
Grab a nice cup of coffee. Or tea. ‘Tis a rather long, but hopefully helpful post!
The Feeling Good Handbook, Book
I shared my thoughts on this huge book here. So, I won’t review it so much as discuss a few chapters that have particularly caught my interest.
The first chapter I’m covering is Chapter 8. “Cognitive Therapy in Action: How to Break Out of a Bad Mood”
To break out of bad moods, The Feeling Good Handbook suggests applying certain cognitive therapy methods.
What is cognitive therapy?
“Cognitive therapy is based on the simple idea that your thoughts and attitudes–and not external events–create your moods.” It also suggests that,”…by learning to change your thoughts, you can change the way you feel.” The purpose of cognitive therapy is to transform your emotions & your perceptions of yourself and your life, to develop profound feelings of joy & happiness.
The Feeling Good Handbook is careful to mention that at certain times, negative feelings (like anger & frustration) are healthy & appropriate. Some times it’s best to just accept bad feelings & pamper yourself. Ride things out until the clouds pass and you feel better again. It’s when your thinking is way off base (and your anger & frustration isn’t particularly valid) that you may find cognitive therapy methods useful.
The author doesn’t believe that you should be happy all the time, or in TOTAL control of your feelings, as you cannot always be completely rational & objective. He states that having moments of self-doubt, periods of irritability, and sharing shortcomings give us the opportunity for growth, intimacy, and a deeper comprehension of what it means to be human.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of The Feeling Good Handbook, go here.
Let’s take a look at more specific examples of bad moods. I’ve made some of the following instances up, as some in the book are a little less relatable, I think.
Feelings of Inferiority & Insecurity
Marcy’s hair doesn’t have a loose, natural curl, like many other naturally curly-haired women. Aside from this, Marcy has great skin, and is good-looking. But, whenever she thinks about going to a natural hair meetup, she feels so self-conscious that she decides to stay home instead. Marcy says that she can never go to a meetup without her hair in twist-out or braid-out style because she tells herself: I’m inferior to all these other women who have such better hair textures. If I show up with my afro, everyone will stare at me and think I’m ugly.
The book suggests putting yourself in Marcy’s shoes. There may have been a time when you felt inferior to other people because you felt you weren’t good-looking enough, thin enough, rich enough, or smart enough.
To break out of feelings of inferiority/insecurity (and bad moods in general), the book suggests that you first identify the automatic negative thought(s) you’re having. What are you telling yourself? What are you thinking? Next, consider the distortion of that thought. Then, ‘”talk back” to the automatic thought by examining the evidence. Is there any hard fact, truth, occurrence, proof to support that automatic thought? You could also use the Experimental Technique to test the validity of automatic negative thoughts.
Using the experimental technique, Marcy could go to a meetup without her hair in a twist out or braid out style. She could find out if it’s true that everyone will be staring at her. How many people are staring? How long did they stare? Doing this, Marcy would most likely discover her automatic thoughts are exaggerated. She’ll also be confronting her fears & getting over them.
What does an automatic negative thought sound like?
It may sound like the following examples:
• “I’ll probably blow it. My mind will go blank & I won’t be able to think of anything to say.”
• “This is just awful! I just have too much work. Just think of everything I have to do!”
• “They won’t pick me. I never win anything!”
In Marcy’s case, her automatic negative thoughts were that she could never go to a meetup without her hair in a twist-out or braid-out style, and that others would stare at her and think she was unattractive.
For further information on automatic thoughts, refer to Chapter 1.
What are distortions?
According to The Feeling Good Handbook, there are 10 forms of twisted thinking.
- All-or-nothing thinking You see things in black-or-white categories. You see a situation as a failure, if it falls short of perfection.
- Overgeneralization You see a single negative event, as a never-ending pattern of defeat by use of the words “always” or “never”.
- Mental filter You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively, so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened. Similar to a drop of ink that discolors a beaker of water.
- Discounting the positive You reject positive experiences by insisting that they “don’t count”.
- Jumping to conclusions You interpret things negatively when there are no facts to support your conclusion. You indulge in Mind reading: Without checking it out, you arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you. You indulge in Fortune-telling: You predict that things will turn out badly.
- Magnification You exaggerate the importance of your problems & shortcomings, or you minimize the importance of your desirable qualities.
- Emotional reasoning You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are.
- “Should statements” You tell yourself that things should be the way you hoped or expected them to be.
- Labeling Instead of saying “I made a mistake” or “He made a mistake.”, you attached a negative label to yourself &/or others:”I’m a failure.” Or, “He’s a loser.”
- Personalization and blame You hold yourself personally responsible for an event that isn’t entirely under your control. And/or, you blame other people (or your circumstances) for your problems.
So, in Marcy’s case…what are her distortions? Is there any evidence to support her automatic negative thoughts?
To read specific examples of distortions, refer to Chapter 1.
After you’ve examined the evidence or tried the experimental technique, trying one (or more) of the following cognitive therapy methods may help you:
• The Cost-Benefit Analysis. List the advantages and disadvantages of – whatever your situation/issue is (i.e., thinking of yourself as an inferior person because of XYZ). You could also list the advantages and disadvantages of being so hung up it that you can’t go & do what you really want because of it (i.e. going to a natural hair meetup, in Marcy’s case). Maybe you feel just as happy never going & doing whatever it is that you really want to do. In that case, you don’t really have a problem. On the other hand, if you long to feel free, ridding yourself of your fears and inhibitions, then it would be worth it to confront your fears.
• The Double-Standard Technique. What would you say to a dear friend having your same issue? As in Marcy’s case, she probably wouldn’t tell her best friend that she is inferior & ugly because her hair doesn’t have a looser curl texture.
• Define Terms. What is the definition of an “inferior” person?
• Thinking in Shades of Gray. How worthwhile does Marcy think she’d be, in a range of 0 and 100, if she had loose naturally curly hair? How worthwhile does she think she is now, with the hair she has? Apply this technique to your situation.
• The Survey Technique. Marcy could ask people if they would like a friend any less if she had a tighter curl texture, or no curl at all. She could ask people how frequently they think about other people’s physical imperfections when they attend meetups. Apply this technique to your situation.
• The Vertical Arrow Technique. Ask yourself why it would be upsetting if someone thought you were inferior. You might say that people wouldn’t like you, or respect you. Then you could ask yourself why that would be upsetting. You might discover that you have a fear of disapproval and learn that you’re basing too much of your self-esteem on what other people think of you. If so, you can do another Cost-Benefit Analysis and list the advantages and disadvantages of believing that you always have to get everybody’s approval. How will it help you, and how will it hurt you, to think this way?
• The Feared Fantasy Technique. Write out a dialogue with an imaginary group of strangers, the “hostile crowd” who are insulting you and saying mean things about whatever you feel inferior/insecure about. You may find that no one would ever actually say these things to you.
So. How do you know which method to use, and when?
If/When you feel inferior or insecure about something, the book suggests that you always “identifying the distortion” first. From there, examine the evidence. You may find that there is no actual proof to support the automatic negative thought(s) you’re having. Try the Experimental Technique to confront your fears. Then, go down the list & see what works for you.
If your automatic distorted thought is of an “all or nothing” type of thinking (i.e., I can never go to a natural hair meetup without a twist-out or braid-out hairstyle, as is in Marcy’s case), the “Thinking in Shades of Gray” method is likely to help.
When you feel irritable, The Feeling Good Handbook suggests that there’s often something bothering you that you’re not dealing with. If you find yourself getting upset easily & flying off the handle, ask what’s going on in your life. Think about the things that have recently happened. You’ll usually come up with the problem that is bugging you.
From there, ask the following:
- Why is this so upsetting to you?
- What are your negative thoughts about it?
Asking these questions will usually reveal the essence of what’s really bothering you.
The book also suggests doing the Cost-Benefit Analysis (see above) to further help you with the motivation to change your thinking. Once you can see that your negative attitudes are more hurtful to you than helpful, you’ll be more likely to give them up. Although, you may still believe that these attitudes are true.
The book uses Mary as an example.
Mary feels irritable toward her husband & often overreacts to things.
• If he says something she doesn’t like, she feels shocked.
• If she’s at an event or function and something happens that she doesn’t like, she feels like leaving.
• If they’re watching something on TV, and she gets annoyed with the program and insists they change the channel.
When asked why she feels this way/what’s going on in her life/what has happened recently, it was uncovered that she was upset about her husband having to retire early. She felt threatened & worried that they wouldn’t be able to keep up their current standard of living. When asked why this was so upsetting to her, she revealed her love for shopping. She loved shopping so much that when she isn’t able to shop, she feels bored & depressed. When asked what her negative thoughts were about not being able to spend money, she confessed that she needed to spend money to feel good. After doing the Cost-Benefit Analysis, Mary discovered that she had more disadvantages to that negative belief than advantages. One advantage being that she could also feel good as a result of doing other things (i.e., sewing, learning to use a computer, getting more involved in church work), and getting more creatively involved in life.
The gist is to keep asking yourself questions to get to the bottom of your irritable mood.
After finding the root source, find your negative thought/attitude associated with it. Then, weigh the advantages & disadvantages of that belief.
Is it doing you more harm than good? If so, find another way/outlet to give it up & free yourself.
Whether at work, or at home, the book suggests recording your feelings in a Daily Mood Log (i.e., journaling) to deal with frustrating/stressful situations. Describe the specific events that make you feel upset. Write freely. From there, find what your automatic thoughts are. List the specific distortions in them.
You may find many “should statements” like the following:
- Why should I have to do this?
- I shouldn’t have made so many mistakes.
- He/she shouldn’t have said that.
- They shouldn’t have done that.
- I should exercise more.
- I should never get angry.
- I should always be pleasant and in control of my emotions.
- She/He shouldn’t be late.
- I really shouldn’t eat this whole box of cookies.
Instead of thinking “should statements”, challenge such automatic thoughts with “It would be nice if”…or, “It would be a lot better if”…or, “It would be preferable if” statements (this is called the Semantic Method).
Because “should statements” (along with “musts”, “oughts” and “have tos”) lead to anger & frustration, adding stress &/or making you feel guilty. In addition to having to deal with what already may be a frustrating or difficult situation, you’re turning your anger against yourself and getting self-critical. No matter if they’re directed against yourself, other people, or the world, “should statements” generally lead to anger & frustrated feelings.
The book suggests that using “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” as a means to self-motivate doesn’t work either. It’s as if you’re some kind of delinquent who had to be punished before you could be expected to do anything. “I shouldn’t eat that doughnut.” Can you see why this sounds self-defeating? Saying that doesn’t work because, it makes you feel rebellious and you get the urge to do just the opposite. Try to challenge those automatic “should” thoughts with “It would be preferable if”, and see if that lifts any mood of the frustrated/stressed/guilty kind.
Another approach would be the Cost-Benefit Analysis (see above).
The Feeling Good Handbook is heavy on character-specific scenarios & examples to drive home the gist of every chapter.
It also contains a ton of helpful charts & exercises for the reader to fill in & complete. So, it’s a little difficult to gather short, to-the-point summaries & explain some things.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
If you’ve found this post helpful, please share it! Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, email, your blog…where ever you’d like. I thank you for doing so!
Next week, I’m covering Chapter 9: Why People Procrastinate. As well as, Chapter 10: A Prescription for Procrastinators.