Just Thoughts, Just Feelings
Never take someone’s thoughts, feelings, or behavior personally.
Who hasn’t at one time or another had a thought like “I’ve been wronged.” Or “I’ve been mistreated”? Or “I’ve been hurt”? Or “I don’t deserve this”? Or “I’d like to punch him out”?
And who hasn’t at one time or another had the feeling of anger, pain, jealousy, envy, or fear?
Feelings seem to be always intimately connected with thoughts. Many feelings and their accompanying thoughts are quite pleasant. Many feelings and thoughts are quite unpleasant. But can it be said that any feelings, or any thoughts, are bad?
Children often say things we don’t want to hear, such as “I hate you!” or “I wish you were dead!” or “I wish I had a different mama!” These are verbalizations of thoughts, probably accompanied by feelings of anger, frustration, or even hatred. But can we rightly say these thoughts and feelings are bad? From a certain moral perspective I suppose it is natural to say, “Yes, these (and other) thoughts and feelings are indeed bad.”
But from a relationship perspective, it is not the thoughts or feelings themselves that are “bad,” but rather the expression of them in word or deed that can cause harm to others and damage to relationships. In other words “acting out” or “speaking out” ugly or nasty thoughts and feelings is where bad happens. Bad things can happen when people (whether children or parents) act out or speak out their angry or hateful thoughts and feelings. What determines whether bad things occur in relationships is each person’s inability to handle (i.e., control, respond to, and express) troublesome thoughts and feelings. It’s not the thoughts or the feeling in themselves that cause trouble, it’s how a person handles them.
So I think it’s important for parents to recognize that thoughts are just thoughts, and feelings are just feelings, no matter what their content or their intensity. And no matter who has them. Thoughts and feelings, which are the processes that motivate and determine all behavior in all people at all times, are best respected for what they are: just thoughts, just feelings. They are separate from the behaviors that are their expression in word and deed, behavior than can cause injury and pain, as well as joy and pleasure. They are even different from and separate from the person (whether parent or child) who has them. I am not my thoughts. Rather, I am the person who has the thoughts and experiences the feelings. I am the person, the being, who observes the thoughts and feelings that I have or experience. Not only am I different from them, but my actions and words are different from them as well.
I make a big deal out of this because I am so strongly committed to parents listening to and accepting their children’s expressions of their thoughts and feelings. These are what motivate and determine their child’s acceptable and unacceptable behaviors. When parents honor, value, and both listen to and acknowledge their child’s expression of thoughts and feelings, even if “negative” or scary or disrespectful, then (and only then) can parents start to transform stress into harmony in that relationship. They show that they are trustworthy, they are allies, they are respectful and understanding. They are then the parents their children long for them to be.
I recently came across an interesting article on the internet written by Lucky Balaraman called “Find Happiness 22: ‘Good Thoughts’ and ‘Bad Thoughts’: Baloney!” I want to print it here because it contains insights that I think can help parents honor and accept and not be thrown for a loop by their child’s–and, perhaps even more so, by their own–thoughts and accompanying feelings.
Earlier in my life, I used to waste an inordinate amount of mental energy dealing with what I felt were “bad thoughts” (i.e. thoughts which I felt were “wrong” for me to think). If a “bad thought” happened to pass through my head, I would immediately attempt to get rid of it (to no avail, of course, since we cannot really control what we think). Try as I might, the thought would most often keep returning, almost as if to taunt me, and I would struggle to stop it. This occupied much time which I could have otherwise spent productively. (CA note; I disagree that we cannot control our thoughts.)
Also, since I was not successful in getting rid of “bad thoughts,” I decided that I was in a hopeless situation. This invoked worrying about how my life was going to be wasted because of “wrong” thinking, and anxiety about whether I would ever be able to fix the problem. More time frittered away.
To make things worse, my hopelessness created downstream effects of dejection and low self-esteem.
The acute mental distress I thus experienced forced me to look for a solution. After much searching and effort, I came across an enlightened person; the great thing was that he wanted to help me find happiness and was infinitely patient. He would not only solve my problem, he said, but would rebuild my psyche into something akin to a shimmering palace.
In time I learned from him that I am the silent being that is aware of my thoughts and am therefore in a way separate from them. Secondly, he taught me that there are no “good thoughts” and no “bad thoughts”; there are only thoughts. He explained that thoughts are like birds flying across the sky and that I should just watch them; I should not try to chase any of the birds away or capture any of them, just watch them fly by.
It took me time to make this attitude fully my own. However, at a certain point in my transformation, I began to find happiness in my emerging new attitude; I did not want to abandon the attitude because it made me utterly peaceful, and the peace was invincible.
I remember thinking to myself how I had wasted so many years in unnecessary pain and misery. When I thought about it in more depth, though, it struck me that perhaps that distress was necessary for me to find happiness. I had to go through it to want and find a solution. I concluded that I should be grateful for the distress.
I know for a fact that many people are trapped by the notion of “good thoughts” and “bad thoughts.” Usually this notion comes to us in our younger years from outside … most commonly from our parents, teachers or trusted friends. They were certainly well-meaning when they advised us; but unknown to them, they were absolutely wrong in their belief.
Allowing thoughts to pass freely without wanting them to stay or trying to stop them takes courage and time. But the courage is in you and the time is well worth it. Start now, find happiness and make your life more meaningful and productive!
To your permanent happiness,
Now, that is advice worth heeding! — Chuck
3 Steps to Parent-Child Harmony is my book that describes in detail the differences between the Old School Parenting model and the New School Parenting model. Please see these links if you are interested in more information or wish to purchase.