I’m speaking primarily to men in this blog, because in my experience with counseling couples, theirs is the voice that is quick to turn abusive towards themselves and toward their partner.
When life gets really tough for us men; loss of employment, loss of libido, a move to a new environment, or a new arrival to the family, we will lapse into a rather familiar voice. Wether we want to admit it or not, the harsh sometimes judgemental voice is that of our fathers. As children this was experienced in one of two ways.
- A father projects his own fears, jealousy and arrogance onto his son. You’re a bum, you’ll never amount to anything!
- “I’ll never be more than I am. I’m surprised your mother married me!” Here’s dad not only being insecure, but telling you that your mother is somehow flawed as well.
Since these men were our first role models, like actors on a stage we received our first lessons on what marriage is like, and what a man and woman can or cannot do. We unconsciously took this information in, because we’d yet to develop the skill-set necessary to quiet or process those voices of our parents which became internalized by their repetitive dialogue and action. During this Pre-operational stage according to the patriarch of cognitive therapy; Piaget, this usually starts at 18 months for a child and continues to around 8 years. Young children are able to think about things symbolically. Their language use becomes more mature. But their thinking is based on intuition and still not completely logical. They cannot yet grasp more complex concepts such as cause and effect, time and comparison. As young men we left home to take a job, attend college, join the armed forces or move to another state for some adventure. All the while learning to be independent, to become what we wanted to be, or at least to try and figure out without our parents judgment’s. The years past and the young man finds his own voice, and his standards of morality, fair-play and ethics. We marry, divorce and marry again. Sometimes we have children. Our lives appear to be ours, completely original and away from our fathers predictions. ——————- “I’m just not worth worrying about. I should have never moved here. You have to take care of me as if I was a dog. I have nothing to contribute!” This was expressed by a man to his wife during a session of couples counseling. He had been unable to find employment in the two years since his move here to marry her. Lately, they’ve been having disagreements, escalating with him shouting at her and her closing down, which to him felt like abandonment. She was tired of being yelled at for the littlest thing and because he mistook her silences as her way of telling him she wanted a divorce, he assumed in session that perhaps he should just return to his country of origin. As men, we’re taught to keep messy feelings to ourselves and tough it out. Isolation is a sign of resiliency, and to reach out for help, or share candidly with our spouse what we’re going through, is, for the most part, considered a sign of weakness. This belief system was and continues to be “Old School”. Consequently, its effect on men with feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness and rage limits the definition of how a man can express himself. It leaves no room for all the positive thoughts, creativity and logic that took us years to get to. It is at these low times that we are most vulnerable to damaging thoughts or as Piaget like to call them; cognitive distortions. We fall back into that which we thought we achieved some distance from, the cycle of self-loathing of our fathers. Perhaps we’ve even talked ourselves into thinking that they were right all along in their assumptions and we are wrong. “A man is only a man if he can support his family.” If you weren’t given any brains then your life is like that of a draft horse. You work until you drop.” “None of you are going to amount to anything. You just watch and see.” “I get up and go to work, come home, eat, then its bed, and then its off to work again. You call that living?” When our wives or long-term partners hear this kind of talk, it angers them and they get upset with us. Some of them may even challenge our thinking, knowing its origins and tell us to stop talking like our fathers. Our pride might take it a step higher, with the result being hurt feelings and closed doors. Never a good way to be understood. It’s our fight or flight, knee jerk response to anxiety which covers our own feelings of depression that was loaded into our DNA when we were very young. Relationships with our fathers can be complicated. They’ve grown and perhaps mellowed and stopped voicing their criticisms. If they are living they may be the first ones to let you know that their idea’s of themselves and you were mistaken. Its’ first and foremost essential to understand that it was someone else’s script that you memorized. Yes, as much as we hate to admit it, some of us have turned into our fathers. Yet, its important to distinguish the moment this dialogue from your father starts surfacing in your own relationships. You still have a choice. That choice being to distance and reject any ownership of this self-deprecating violence that brings such suffering and conflict to those we love. THE FOLLOWING ARE STEPS YOU CAN TAKE TO REDUCE OR STOP THESE REACTIVE THOUGHTS AS THEY GATHER ENERGY IN YOUR HEAD.
- STOP VOICING THE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS. Your voice is a very central part of your own personal power. You’ve listened to it since birth. The effect it has on you, with whatever information you’re feeding it, makes it stronger than any other voice. If your calling yourself a loser, your voice brings it right back to you and as you hear it, its effects are like taking orders and over time will produce that loser. That’s the power of your own voice. Imagine the good it could produce if your tone changed and you expressed that you were a winner!
- NOW, LET’S GET THOSE THOUGHTS. It’s considered a cheap shot, a blank slug and a total waste of breath when a negative thought is delivered on the back of anger. So I understand when you say you can’t control your thoughts, so do the next best thing, “HESITATE” before you are about to say anything out loud to yourself or before you share it with someone else.
- YOU ARE NOT STUPID. You have to want to change, right? Usually when you get a feel of how this works, you might also take a breath, because physiologically while the thoughts are building in your head and are determined to capture your voice……you’re not breathing. As your heart is hammering for more oxygen, you’re getting pretty angry. Take a breath and then take a deeper one. Give the moment a chance to transform. It will. I promise.
- THIS MAY BE NEW INFORMATION FOR YOU, so I’ll break it to you gently. YOUR THOUGHTS ARE NOT REAL. The way I explain this to clients is that there is very little of a filtering system that decides what goes in and out of your head. Those sophisticated neuron pathways can deliver any amount of information without discretion.
- NO ONE CAN CONTROL THEIR THOUGHTS. I’ll say this again. The most educated and respected minds in the country cannot control the stream of random thoughts that go in and out of their heads throughout a day.
- THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALL OF US is what thoughts we choose to pay attention to, and the amount of time that we give them. For example, if some foolish thought comes to a new-born’s sleep deprived parent to put a pillow over their child’s face to quiet them, is that really going to be carried out? ITS JUST A THOUGHT!
So, let me ask you, are you still a card-carrying member of the “My Thoughts are Me” club? Understand that all our lives we will be in some sort of skirmish with our thoughts. In the course of time we will hopefully come to depend more on our intuition to help us make better choices. Any arguments for; I believe these thoughts are real and I have to express them, are moot. Court is adjourned. The case, thrown out for lack of substantial evidence. John Shinavier , MA is a Therapist/Life Coach in Private Practice. Give me feedback on what specifically you need help with. Rate the blog or E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org