I am always reading a good book or two. Right now it has actually been THREE. I know it would drive some people crazy. I don't mind it that way. There is so much to learn and understand! I am always seeking to expand my mind and understanding. The one disadvantage is that much of it just goes into my mind and heart to be mixed in with what I have already adopted. The flip side to that is that I can't always track back to the exact source where I have learned it from. This time, reading these two at the same time brought about a powerful realization. I "knew" this before, but this time I understood it and hope to explain it in a way that you can too.
We will come back to Virginia Pearce's book for book club next time around. Read it now (or then). In it, she refers often to a map. In a really simplified explanation:
1. Input (Things that come in through our senses---heard, felt, etc. Information. That is all that it is: information.)
2. Beliefs (What we believe is based on previous experience, our current understanding, background, culture, etc. It is when the input passes through our beliefs that it is then assigned meaning. Before that it is simply information. Now we are trying to "file it away" to associate it with previous experience.)
3. Emotions (Because of the thought we thought, we now have an emotional reaction to that thought).
4. Actions (Pretty explanatory, right? Because information came in, we "assigned" it a meaning and it evoked an emotion; therefore, we do what we do based on this process).
I will need to come back and branch off into a few other posts another day. Today, let's go here. With that map roughed out (read the entire book if you want more detail. It is well written and insightful!), where is my power to influence? What part of my experience do I have the power to change? How can I use my agency to have a different outcome?
Mark & I learned something about 5 years ago that completely shifted our understanding and, therefore, how we approached addiction. Addiction isn't actually about addiction. It really isn't. Just like when a person has a cold they cough or have a runny nose, those are just a symptom. It's caused by a virus, but they cough because of the virus not because they cough. Make sense? Addiction is a symptom. The addict turns to addiction not because of addiction, but because of what is underneath. It is the belief(s). We learned it as "faulty core" beliefs. Faulty meaning not based on truth, core because it's at the core of what we think (and therefore do). Have you seen "Inside Out?" Remember the islands form the core beliefs? Similar as what a core belief is in real life. Pornography and sex addiction aren't actually about sex. Understanding that changed the way both Mark & I worked our recoveries. Mark would have input (which usually wasn't even directly related to the addiction), assign it meaning because of the faulty core beliefs, have an emotion, then act out on the addiction. Similarly, I would see Mark cycling through the addiction cycle or another input (again, maybe not even directly related to the addiction), but because of my faulty core beliefs it registered as a trigger. This trigger because of past experience would throw me back, similar to a person struggling with PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder). Instantly, even though my body was in the present, my mind was thrown into the past, reliving the darkness. It wasn't uncommon for my mind to then race to the future. Because of this "assignment" to the input I had, I would feel betrayed, angry, anxious, etc. and it would lead to the behaviors of "any normal crazy person" who is supporting a spouse through addiction (usually centered around my attempts to regain control, which often included things out of my stewardship such as other's behaviors, needs, feelings). But for neither one of us were our actions really about our actions. Our actions of addiction and co-addiction were about the faulty core beliefs.
Just chew on that for a second if you need to...
It isn't just addicts who need to examine beliefs. Any person with any undesired behaviors or actions can walk through this process. I would assume you can find yourself in this category, right? :)
Think about it. Where is our power to influence?
Virginia points out that we can't prevent input from coming in. We don't live in a bubble! Things happen around us, many of which are out of our control or the stewardship of our agency. So to try to seek change for ourselves or to influence others by focusing on the input level won't do. This would maybe be "white knuckling it" in addiction terms. We just need to avoid the problem and then we will be fine. But what about when we run into the problem? Can we halt the process then? Yes, we need to do all we can to avoid input that has no right being in our minds. We can look away. We can shut it off. We can leave. We can not go there in the first place. It isn't realistic, however, to assume that we can control completely what comes in.
Have you ever tried to focus on your actions and nip it there? Does it work? From just the experiences we have had with the addiction and co-addiction, we can tell you first-hand that a "slap the hands" approach doesn't work either! When we tell ourselves again and again that we will never do it again and our focus is simply on the action, it will never stick! Even when addicts or co-addicts hit what we call "rock bottom," it isn't so much the experience of having consequences being bad enough that makes it our rock bottom. It is PROCESSING these consequences and making a choice to do it differently from the root level that leads to the desire for change. The reason why this principle of the power to influence clicked for me was in reading the parenting book at the same time. The authors of "No Drama Discipline" point out that if we as parents focus on an action level to correct, we won't get the results we are seeking for lasting change. When we react and simply slap on consequences, it doesn't change people. Sometimes children (or others) submit, but it is usually out of fear or seeking approval. It isn't going to truly change actions if they merely "behave" in certain situations or with certain people. It doesn't lead to long-term change, and often, it can complicate the situation by growing hurts, resentments, or bitterness towards the person whose intent was to help.
What about emotions? I have done this as a parent and I see it all the time when I'm out running errands. A child is upset and we impatiently say something like, "Just stop crying." Or "You aren't hungry." Or "It's no big deal." What message does that send? First, it powerfully sends the message that we don't care about the other person's experiences. Second, it encourages one to disconnect from oneself. What about the messages we send to other adults, "You'll get over it." "You are so brave." or ("It's okay you miscarried" because) "You'll have more." "Just stop it." Once the input has come in and been assigned meaning, we can't tell ourselves to stop feeling what we feel. Even as adults. The tricky part is that we can try so hard to bring about change by "not feeling," that we do just that. We shut it off. We are numb. We think we have mastered our emotions, but we are just surviving (not thriving). Some day, somehow these emotions will come out. Again, focusing on an emotional level won't bring about lasting change. Like the other three levels, it may bring what appears to be change, but only at the surface level. It isn't the kind of change that will last and it most certainly isn't the kind of change that will hold up against the rigorous testing we experience in mortality.
So that leaves us with the belief level. Now, I don't in any way want to take credit for this process of having a shift in beliefs. I have learned well over the years that it is God who walks me through this process, line upon line. It is because of Jesus Christ that I have the strength to look fearlessly at what is there and it is Him who fills me with strength and courage to try new patterns and thought processes. It is God who can teach me what the antidote to the lie or half-truth is...the Truth. It is through the Holy Ghost I am able to discern between what is True and what isn't---what is worth keeping and what isn't---what is serving me to find peace & joy and what is keeping me stuck in old ways of thinking (and therefore stuck emotionally and with my behaviors or actions).
Just because something is new doesn't automatically mean it isn't true. Just because we haven't experienced it before doesn't mean we should quickly dismiss it. Just because it doesn't feel comfortable or familiar doesn't mean it isn't true. We can rely on God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost to prayerfully have an open heart during this process. Because of Them, we can develop the skill of being open-minded when we encounter something new or something that surprises us as we sort through our beliefs (which by the way, is a life-long project. There will always be more. Every day we chip away at it). We can learn to wait and be still...to take the time we need. If we encounter something we aren't sure about yet, we can learn to be okay with gently setting it aside until we understand more or have further experiences that help us to more easily sort it... to discard it, even if it was well "loved" or familiar, or to adopt it wholeheartedly because we know it is True.
Now, so far the focus has been on ourselves with this process. But let's quickly tackle what I have hinted at previously and the heart of the matter for this post. Where does our power to influence others lie? It is the same as with ourselves. For people to truly, truly change, it is at the belief level that it happens. As parents, as friends, as teachers, in our callings, with those who we come in contact with for however long or briefly we may have them in our circle of influence, we can be a powerful influence for good and change by helping to create, grow, sort, and encourage those within the sound of our "voice." We can do this by teaching Truth. Virginia put Truth with a "T" to indicate those things that are eternally true. Although it may be tempting to us to water down the eternal Truth (which is actually what we in the gospel call doctrine) for whatever reason, the more pure and direct, the better. The more we can be an instrument to fill others with Truth, the more it increases their chances of being able to assign True meaning to the input that comes in. The seemingly magical thing about this is that it ripples out to emotions, then actions/behaviors. We have the power to influence change (for ourselves OR others).
People don't always give us the privilege (rightfully so for many reasons), but sometimes we have the opportunity to be invited into the more intimate details of a person's life or experience. Hopefully this happens at least as a spouse or as a parent for you. Maybe it's a friend. Maybe it is somebody we visit or home teach or through our calling. When we have these opportunities, it helps to remember where our power lies. We must first gently validate the experience and the emotions the person is feeling. We must seek to see what they see. WHY are they doing what they are doing? Why are they saying what they are saying? Why do they feel how they feel? We must behold them and love them. Sometimes that is enough in and of itself. As we seek to come with the Spirit, the Holy Ghost teaches them what they need to know or understand or do simply because we loved them. In that love, they could re-orient themselves spiritually because it wasn't actually our own love in the first place. It is God's and He can fill us with it to shine and share with His other children.
Our power also comes in being a sounding board (if we are able to be) to let the person walk their own selves through it. Ideally, we are simply there almost as a life guard to help them channel their thinking into Truth. Sometimes we need to be direct and "call them out" on the lies and half-truths. Seek to be a friend and not just an accomplice. :) Ultimately, we do them the best good to always encourage them to pray about it and go to God for their answers. I am grateful for the many friends, my best friend, Mark, especially, who have walked me through those crazy moments day or night. I am grateful for friends who have helped me get out of the patterns playing over and over in my head, so I can then get on my knees and pray with more clarity and certainty for the specific help or guidance I need. I believe every person should have at least one safe place where they can go like this. Truly each of us always has one: our Father in Heaven. Even then, it is nice to have others, if we are so fortunate, who will love us up and point us back to God and Truth. Seek to be a good friend like this. Seek to build yourself a network of such friends. God has raised up such friends for me wherever I have gone.
Now, there is one slight twist to where our power lies for both ourselves and as we seek to influence others. We can seek to add additional input experiences with Truth. Instead of taking the "victim" perspective that we are powerless to what comes into our minds, we can be proactive and do our best to fill it with Truth. We can seek out and have regular experience with Truth through those things that bring Truth into our minds and hearts. Truth sources are anything that bring the Holy Ghost as our companion: daily prayer, daily scriptures study, temple attendance, attending our meetings, partaking of the Sacrament each week, studying the words of living prophets, good wholesome music or media, etc. Whatever it is that brings Truth...not the watered down, "warm fuzzy" stuff. I am talking the big guns! The powerful stuff. This helps the Truth to grow so strong that it crowds out the lies and the half-truths. This is a true principle for ourselves as we seek this process and as we desire to influence family members, friends, wards, our stewardships with callings, etc.
One last powerful thing to ponder. In the parable of the sower, Jesus explained what He meant by the seeds falling by the way side:
Matthew 13:19 with emphasis added "When any one heareth (input level) the word of the kingdom, and understandeth it not (belief level), then cometh the wicked one, and catcheth away that which was sown in his heart. This is he which received seed by the way side."
We can use our power to influence to encourage the "seed" to go deep down, to take root and grow, rather than to just pass through and therefore allow those we love to be buffeted by Satan. We can do all within our power (remember those we love have their agency too) to encourage an anchor of Truth. "...[Then] when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock [of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God] upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall." (Helaman 5:12)
If you haven't read Virginia's book, I invite you to do so. It is very well done and a pretty short read too (just over 100 pages). She walks you through the whole process and then some.
Watch, listen, or read Elder Palmer's talk "Then Jesus Beholding Him Loved Him."
Watch, listen, or read Elder Brough's talk "His Daily Guiding Hand."
Watch, listen, or read Elder Sabin's talk "Stand Up Inside and Be All in."
Give this a try! I challenge you to experiment on this! At the end of your day, take a few minutes to right down at least one (or maybe just one if more feels overwhelming) time during the day when you felt angry, frustrated, sad, overwhelmed...you pick. Anything but peace. Prayerfully look at the experience. Try to use the emotion as the red flag to walk it backward to the beliefs. What belief(s) lead to this action? If you have read Virginia's book this will make sense. If you haven't, this is one more invitation to do so. :)
Can you find a way to experiment with this as you seek to influence others? As a parent, I would strongly suggest you read Daniel Siegels books. As I compare when I have learned with observing how God parents, this is the closest parenting book I have ever found. When your child does something crazy you don't understand, try to behold them and love them. Be the world's greatest detective. WHY did they just do that? Try to walk it back to what they are thinking? For example: I caught Leland (6) tugging hard on Shipton (3) right at the tops of the stairs. I pulled Leland aside and walked it back until I found what I was looking for and how I could influence him in a way that could change the future. He said, "I pulled on him because I like it when he chases me." He was hoping that by pulling on him, Shipton would turn and chase after him! After the detective work, the rest was easy. Leland and I both agreed that Shipton doesn't like when we tug on him and he doesn't like it when we tease him. "Leland," I offered, "Can you see what happens if you ask him to chase after you?" Understanding dawned on his face. And it worked! And now he doesn't tug or tease his brother when he is trying to get him to play with him. I know that was a very simple example, but it is that kind of power to influence that we are seeking to wield not just with our children, but those around us. Just try it and see what happens. Remember to WRITE because that will bring a different experience than keeping it all in your head.