Thoughts are important. They can also feel as though they are beyond our control. It’s hard, after all, to “make” yourself think something. Thoughts also get bundled closely together with our feelings, so that the two become indistinguishable, especially in the heat of the moment (or as we re-live encounters when we can’t get to sleep….)
As I’ve learned to deal with the competing needs that happen in a relationships (family, household, or other), one of the things we’ve been practicing, in our goal of “slowing things down” (the Second Commandment for our family) is asking, “What was the thought before the feeling?”
With kids, when conflict arises, from whining to slugging, it does no good to ask what started the fight – that just starts a cycle of blame, and puts peace and solutions farther out of reach. That probably describes how many adults approach a problem – by seeking blame/self-righteousness (win/lose), and by making peace less of an option.
Another option, in the midst of conflict, is to let people speak their feelings (without the words “he made me…”) AND then to ponder, what was the thought before that feeling? Often the thought assumes blame so subtly that when the feeling is blame-centered, it feels like it came out of nowhere. For instance, when I try to read with Dante, if he comes across a difficult word he immediately demands that I read it; if I suggest he try, then he shuts down and refuses to speak or read. When I ask him for his feeling, it’s often anger at me, and sometimes that makes* me angry too. (remember how we’re not supposed to blame right away? Look what I just did… “that makes me mad”…)
But if I can hear his feelings and hold them carefully, we have time to ask, “What was the thought before the feeling?” And then Dante can be honest, that he thinks I won’t help him when he really needs it. A-ha. He thought something that he didn’t have time to say, or that he was afraid of saying, and it got plowed into his feelings. As Dante once explained, “The moment went by so quick!”
And that’s true for us as adults, too. When we have a thought that we don’t know what to do with, we may think we’re burying it or hiding it, but in just a moment that thought wraps itself into a feeling, and we are left wondering why we reacted so strongly.
I think that we often do this with the people we love most, and we do it with God too. Despite their past love and all of the reasons we have to trust them with our thoughts & feelings, yet when a moment arises, we think the worst of them – then hide that thought – then cry out because we feel unloved.
The question for today is “are my thoughts hurting or healing?” When your feelings are hurting, especially when things feel out of control, see if you can ask yourself, “what was the thought before the feeling?” Naming the thought lets you deal with the root of the feeling so that you can heal in body, mind, and spirit. I saw the relief in Dante’s face when he could address the thought, and it helped he and I to heal our relationship from that point onward. Today’s question gives us the opportunity to look at our thoughts courageously.