Updated: Feb 15
So often providers ask people in recovery, "Whose voice is that? Is that a disordered voice or a recovery voice?" And so often the response is, "What are you talking about? It's my voice!"
And that's fair, we can identify with our disordered thoughts, our recovery-thoughts, and many other pulls and paths simultaneously. That said, one simple question can help us identify whether a thought brings us toward recovery and a sense of wholeness, or keeps us stuck in an anxiety-ridden cycle.
Want to try it? Here we go:
Write down 3-5 thoughts you have about yourself, your food choices, or your movement practices.
Put these thoughts aside and do a little body shake to reset your mental space.
Think of a young person in your life that you care about. Or a pet that you love. notice how you feel when you think of them. Let that feeling be in your body for a moment.
Now look back to your list of thoughts. Which of these thoughts would you say to this young person or beloved creature you love? These are the thoughts to focus on.
BONUS: apply the CBT triangle to these thoughts (see below).
The thoughts you would NOT say to a young person or pet you care about, will likely keep you stuck in an anxiety-ridden cycle. The thoughts you WOULD say are likely rooted in love, compassion, and care. Ironically enough, when we practice saying the latter thoughts, change is more accessible.
What do we do with the thoughts we WOULDN'T say? Stay tuned for the next post.
Meanwhile, how does discernment between thoughts make a difference?
I'm sure there are many explanations for how it matters and also, explanations for why it wouldn't. I lean toward the camp of it working simply because I've seen it happen over and over and over again. One framework that helps me understand this phenomena can be found in the Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT) Triangle.
This triangle suggests that our thoughts impact our feelings, which impact our behaviors, which impact our thoughts. One example might be:
- Thought: no one likes me
- Feeling: I feel terrible
- Behavior: I'm going to isolate
- Thought: no one hangs out with me
... and the cycle continues.
How much control we have around these elements is debatable. Some might say we have more conscious choice over our behaviors than our thoughts, others might say the opposite. What does appear to be most true is that we don't have control over our feelings, as they come from a part of our brain that isn't voluntarily controlled. That said, the CPT triangle suggests that we can influence our feelings and we can do so with elements we have more choice around: our thoughts and our behaviors.
This triangle can also go in the different direction, which would look something like:
- Thought: I am worthy of comfort
- Behavior: doing something soothing
- Feeling: I feel grateful or content
- Thought: I am caring
... and that cycle continues.
The direction of the triangle is less important than the influence each element has on the other.
Coming back to the question: how does discernment between disordered vs a recovered-oriented thought get us unstuck? Let's do step 5 form above and look at your original list of thoughts. What feelings and behaviors stem from the thoughts you would NOT say to your loved one? What feelings and behaviors stem from the thoughts you would?
Sometimes this process isn't so clean-cut as this exercise suggests. If you'd like support identifying thoughts you WOULD say to a loved one, stay tuned and I'll share how to detach from outdated thoughts.
In the meantime, I will leave you with this quote from bell hooks', all about love.
When we see love as the will to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth, revealed through acts of care, respect, knowing, and assuming responsibility, the foundation of all love in our life is the same.
In other words, the love you practice for the beloved you identified in this exercise is the same love you can practice toward yourself. You don't need love to find you, you can practice love today.
If you would like 1:1 support with these elements, I would be delighted to hear from you!