Rebuilding after divorce: How you create your life. (part 3)
A woman was in the checkout line at a convenience store. She noticed the guy in line right behind her had a bag of chips and a bottle of Coke in his hands. She looked at the cashier and said “Hey, go ahead and ring his stuff up on my tab.” The cashier nodded and motioned for the guy to put his stuff on the counter. The man said “Wow! Thank you! You just made my day.” The woman smiled and said “No problem, happy to do it. Have a great one,” as she paid and left the store.
That’s one version of the story.
Here’s the other: Everything was the same; the woman, the guy, and the cashier. Except, this time, something else happened when the cashier indicated that he should put his stuff on the counter. The guy said “What? No. Nobody pays my way. Thanks but no thanks.” The woman said “Oh….okay, sorry. Didn’t mean to offend” and left the store after she paid for her stuff.
So what’s the deal? Why did the guy react one way in one scenario and a different way in the other? Why did he accept the gift and thank her? Or, why did he reject the gift and say something else? If you’ve read parts 1 and 2 of this series, you may have guessed that the guy in each scenario had different thoughts and feelings.
Scenario 1: The guy thought “Oh what a wonderful surprise!” This led to a feeling of delight.
Scenario 2: The guy thought “I can take care of myself.” This led to feeling defensive.
In parts 1 and 2 of this series, I talked about how I was feeling shame when I imagined getting a copy of the divorce decree from my second divorce. The shame was created by my thinking. I believed my own thoughts. In fact, I was thinking the thoughts without even being aware of them. I created negative beliefs about myself and predicted what others would say and think. Then I literally created my own shame.
So why is knowing this important?
Because our feelings lead us to the next thing — our actions. And our inactions. We act according to our feelings. The first guy felt delight and acted accordingly. The second guy felt defensive and acted accordingly.
I felt shame and needed to figure out how I acted when I felt it. What did I do? What did I not do? Here’s how I diagrammed the process:
Circumstance: Go to office for official copy of divorce decree from second divorce so I can get remarried
Thought: Getting married a third time means I’m a fuck up.
Actions: worry about what office worker will think, create mental scenarios about the visit, beat self up about the past, focus on thoughts from childhood about marriage/divorce
Result: I’m fucking myself up mentally about my marriage
You’ll notice actions come right after the feeling. In turn, our actions lead to the results in our lives. My results were not good. The feeling of shame kept me in a mental spiral. I was creating loads of mind drama about going to an office.
I thought I was feeling shame because I had to get a copy of a divorce decree. But that is not true. I was feeling shame because I was thinking “Getting married a third time means I’m a fuck up.” How did I know it was my thought keeping me stuck in shame, and not the circumstance? That’s easy — because other people would have different thoughts. Perhaps others who have gone to that office to get a copy of a divorce decree thought:
“Hallelujah, I’m getting married to a great person!”
“It was so easy to get a copy made.”
“I wish I would have gotten remarried ten years ago.”
If those thoughts had run through my mind, I would not have felt shame, instead, I would have felt something else. I would not have done the things listed in the action line. And I would not have had the same results.
So how did things change?
First, I let myself feel the shame. It accompanied me while I kept on with life. Then, I asked myself if I wanted to keep thinking the thoughts that led to it. Did I want to keep all those negative thoughts about myself? Did I want to walk into that office feeling shame? Hell no.
After a few days of letting myself stew in shame, I came up with some other thoughts that I was able to believe. Thoughts like “Thank Jesus I found such a great guy,” and “I have overcome a lot to get to this place.”
So what really happened when I went to the office? Was there a crabby lady at the office judging me? No. She only existed in my imagination. In reality, it was a very helpful guy. He had a bunch of record albums hanging above his desk so we chatted about music and movies. He never rolled his eyes and the visit was actually fun.
It was fun because I was aware of my thinking ahead of time. I let myself feel the shame all the way through before I could work on the thoughts that served me better. The reality of a helpful office worker is actually irrelevant. Ms. Crabby Pants could have been on duty that day and I still would’ve been just fine.
So how can you start to take control of your life? First, think of something you are having a problem with. Write down your thoughts about it. Then, read the thoughts. Pick one of them. Ask yourself how you feel when you think it. (Read parts 1 and 2 for help.) Get curious about what you do when you have that feeling. How do you act? What do you avoid doing? Finally, see if you can figure out what effect this thought is having on your life.