Shock. That’s the only word to describe what I felt when I learned what my child had done.
I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t wrap my mind around the truth. Surely not. There must be a mistake.
Only there wasn’t. The buffer of shock wore off and reality hit. I cried, of course. One of those innocence-lost cries of a momma who’s certain the fabric of her existence is about to tear in two. Fear, worry, too many what-ifs. On the coattails of that cocktail came a more ruthless emotion:
Guilt. Overwhelming guilt. And blame. The ugly volley between assuming all responsibility and transferring it.
I’m a terrible mother. A mom is supposed to teach her children, coach them and keep them from harm. Good moms don’t let these things happen. Besides, I told my husband (the teachers, the neighbors, the church workers, etc.) this was a problem. I told them! No one listens to me. No one ever listens.
I wrestled with that truckload of fun for a solid two hours. Then, to wrap it all up in a nice self-loathing package, I added this final bit of self-talk for good measure:
It’s too late. The mistakes are irreparable. The damage is done. Things will never change. I’ve failed.
Now. You should know this particular situation happened years ago. Years. And I’m happy to report the situation wasn’t nearly as desperate as it appeared at the time. Significant and serious, but not fatal. It’s now resolved, and has been for some time. And yet I still recall the throat-closing emotions. And my quick descent into a place of despair.
This is the destruction of the downward thought-spiral. If it hadn’t existed long before my time, I’m pretty sure I would’ve invented it. After marriage, middle age and six kids, I’m pretty sure I’ve perfected the skill, turned it into an art form.
More than once I’ve turned hard life circumstances, challenges and heartache into universal and unalterable tragedy. The problem is for a long time I didn’t see the pattern. I didn’t recognize how I contributed to my own despair. And I didn’t know how to stop myself mid-crucifixion. The result? I stayed in a constant fragile, broken, defeated state.
Anyone else been there?
Now. I’m going to get personal. Are you ready? (And if you’re not, click over to adorable puppy videos on YouTube. It’s no problem, I promise).
I’ve seen evidence of the downward thought spiral all over social media recently. Not that it’s entirely new. It isn’t. But it’s become far more prevalent than before.
Before you ball up your fists and prep a heated defense, please hear me: The tension in our culture is significant, serious, worthy of grief and angst. This post has nothing to do with the validity of emotion. You have every right to feel the way you do, just as I had good cause to feel the way I did about my child.
We can’t change all our circumstances. But we can choose what kind of people we become in the middle of them.
I’ve decided I don’t want to be an anxious, stressed, angry woman who constantly loses sleep over what she can’t control. As I said in last month’s election post, I want to be concerned, not consumed.
How about you? Many of you face personal situations overwhelming you to the point of terror. You’re convinced there’s a good chance your entire existence is at stake. And maybe it is, in part. Even so, you don’t have to live a slave to the spiral. You don’t have to let your identity be dictated by your circumstances. You can find fresh reasons for peace and security.
But you and I need to learn how to resist the negative thought spiral.
A few years ago, I heard Dr. Henry Cloud deliver a presentation to thousands of leaders at the Global Leadership Summit. At the request of Bill Hybels, Cloud talked about key difference between those leaders who die, figuratively, and those who thrive. In almost every case, the leaders who thrive in impossible circumstances intentionally construct a healthy thought pattern that counteracts the human tendency toward negativity. In short, they avoid thought patterns that include these three fatal flaws:
1. Personal. Some examples of unhealthy personalization include thoughts like, “I’m not good enough,” “I’m a terrible person,” and “I’m a failure.” You may not say these things out loud, but the thought thread packs a powerful punch. Subconsciously, we equate an unwanted circumstance with an internal lack of value or worth. Even if you made a mistake, you are not a mistake.
2. Pervasive. Some examples of pervasive response patterns include phrases like, “Life is bad,” “I am bad,” “Everyone hates me,” and “Everyone is disappointed in me.” Truth is, when a marriage suffers, a child is struggling, or a job is failing, it’s not a big leap to feel like life is, in fact, terrible. And yet, life is never all bad. And everyone doesn’t hate you. Challenging the pervasive thoughts is a solid step toward kicking the spiral and finding a solid sense of identity again.
3. Permanent. Some examples of permanency include things like, “The pain will never end,” “I’ll never change,” and “Life will never be any better.” A bad situation or bad day or bad decision quickly becomes a “bad life” and “bad person.” Turning temporary circumstances into permanent ones turns us into paralyzed victims of our circumstances, which further complicates and traumatizes.
Here’s the ugly truth: When I’m overwhelmed with life and drowning in defeat, insecurity and despair, it almost always goes back to Personal, Pervasive or Permanent self-talk. Often, all of the above. But if we want to live as confident, secure, hope-filled people in spite of the unexpected nature of life, we need to fight back against the thoughts wanting to take us down.
[reminder]Which of the three flawed thought spirals do you slip into most easily: Personal, Pervasive or Permanent? [/reminder]
[Image Copyright: gudella / 123RF Stock Photo]