I received an email this morning with this great subject line:
Don’t Believe Everything You Think
It was from Aha Parenting, the website and newsletter of Laura Markham. She’s a parenting educator who has written a wonderful book called Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids. Hers is the first work I’ve read that focuses not on modifying your kids’ behaviour but dealing with your own. She’s reassuring, sensible, and compassionate – all the things parents want to be themselves but sometimes find so difficult. And her approach meshes with my sense that my child/parent issues tend to be more about me and my stuff than about Petra’s. Petra is just fine as she is. Conflict occurs when I don’t have my shit together in some way and lose sight of that fineness.
Today’s email is about the way that almost unnoticed thoughts chase through your head, altering your mood and disconnecting you from your surroundings. Here’s a chunk of it:
“More often than not, fear doesn’t emerge as nail-biting, cold-feet terror, but surfaces instead as anger, perfectionism, pessimism, low-level anxiety, depression, and feelings of isolation. In these many disguises, fear can permeate life, leaving room for little else. It morphs from one pseudoemotion to another, rarely declaring itself, poisoning each moment it touches.” — Dan Baker, Ph.D.
You may think your moods just come out of nowhere. But scientists now believe that moods are mostly a response to what we think, usually without even noticing.
A thought flits through our mind (“My child should be more like that other child”) and in response we feel a little anxious or sad. Those feelings make us more likely to think another negative thought (“Is there something wrong with him?…It must be my fault…If only I were a better parent…”) Before we know it, we’re plunged into a bad mood, running on our own anxiety. And we create more negativity in our day, and in our interaction with our child.
So those bad moods and cranky days are often created by our own minds. But why is the mind prone to negativity? Because the human mind is responsible for keeping us safe. So it’s always scanning for danger, to keep us from shame, embarrassment, failure. But the mind’s job description doesn’t include love, happiness, or peace, so it only has part of the story. The mind gets stuck in the bad habit of focusing on the negative.
But that’s not the problem. The problem is that we accept what the mind says as gospel! And those thoughts might not even be true.