By Jude Bijou of Attitude Reconstruction
- Trace back in time to identify when the mood began by looking at various past time-frames and determining if you were feeling it then. No matter its magnitude or duration, something upsetting happened that triggered your mood or pervasive feeling. It could have been as simple as an edgy interaction, an intense argument, or change of plans disappointment. Pinpoint the event by asking yourself, “When did I start feeling like this?” or, “When was the last time I remember feeling okay?”
Sam asked himself, “How was I feeling three weeks ago when my friends visited from out of town? How about last weekend at the wedding of his college roommate? How about Wednesday evening?” As he checked in about how he felt at various points in time, a light bulb went off in his head. Sam realized his mood started Wednesday morning after his wife made a snide comment about how he never did anything around the house. At the time he didn’t say anything, but pulled away emotionally and started feeling distant. Voila. That was the culprit.
- When you identify exactly when your mood started, process the event emotionally. That means, cry if you feel sad and hurt; move your anger out of your body by pounding, stomping, or pushing against something not of value if you’re miffed about her misperception; and shiver if you feel scared, anxious, or afraid.
When Sam acknowledged how much it hurt to be judged so harshly, he knew he was on the right track. He also felt angry because he was being unjustly attacked. So he went out to the garage, sat behind the driver’s seat, and proceeded to shake the daylights out of the steering wheel until he was truly exhausted.
- Restore your perspective. When you’re in the thick of things, your thinking can become skewed. After you attend to your emotions, you can ask yourself, “What’s the larger, objective reality?” Look for a broader view to contradict your myopic feeling. What would a neutral third party say about this situation?
Sam thought about it and said the following: “I love my wife. That’s how
she talks when she’s angry and not speaking up about something. I need to not take her unfounded criticism personally. Just don’t respond and get into a war of words. Be the matador and let them go flying by.” He wrote these phrases down on a 3×5 card so he could practice repeating them often.
- Consult your intuition on whether you need to say or do something to resolve the specific, upsetting event.Ask yourself questions such as “What’s the high road?” “What will get us feeling connected again?” Get specific. What exactly do you need to communicate? To whom? What points need to be covered and what request for a change do you need to make so that the future will hold more joy, love, and peace?
Sam realized that it was not too late to initiate a conversation about his wife’s comment. If he just stuck with how hurt and angry he felt, because he really had made an effort to help out around the house for most of the day. Because he wanted to feel more loving towards her, he realized that he needed to speak to her about what happened, being sure that the conversation stuck with just her comment and not bringing in past unresolved grievances.
- Follow through and you will find that your mood will lift and you’ll feel more joy, love, and peace. Get clear about what your best guess is about what you need to do to feel resolved (step #4), and do it. Plan out what you want to say, refrain from blaming and talk about yourself.
When Sam talked to his wife after dinner that night, much to his surprise she told him how bothered she had been by what she had said, but decided to pretend she didn’t say it rather than apologize. They agreed that in the future they would talk about little upsets without delay.
It’s easy to fall under the spell of a negative mood but equally easy to change it. If you trace back and find the exact moment that the mood was triggered and deal with just that specific event, it’s almost like magic, but better.
Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and consultant. She is the author of the multi award-winning book, Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life. Join Jude in Vancouver for Attitude Reconstruction: Build Joy, Love, and Peace on Oct 22-23, 2016.