Dr. Bruce Perry is well-known for his foundational work on the potentially lasting devastation trauma can cause in the lives of young children and how “states become traits.” In other words, we all carry learnings and beliefs that are built upon our experiences. And we alone are responsible for these.
Energy teacher, Jeffrey Allen, says the most important thing we are responsible for is how we feel.
Metaphorically most of us are thermometers. But what does a thermometer do? What is its function? It reflects and reacts to the environment. This is exactly what many of us do each day. When your child tantrums and yells “you don’t care,” instantly you want to list all the things you do everyday for him. Or if your partner is withdrawn and uncommunicative, your instinct is to put yourself in his face and demand that he tells you what you have done wrong. Post haste!
One of the great secrets of life, according to Jeffrey, is learning that “it’s not about you.” When we interact with others, we tend to see ourselves as the cause of their reactions and emotions. The folly of this is that, in truth, we are not responsible for the feelings of others, and we cannot, nor do we, cause those feelings to emerge. Unless we do something intentionally hurtful to another person, the feelings that they experience are those that they have created for themselves. Similarly, others do not cause the emergence of our own feelings.
What, then, does a thermostat do? It regulates. It helps manage. It sets a standard, a vision, a goal. It sets a standard and the environment raises to meet it. So, we go back to responsibility and how we respond. Henry Ford said: “If you can believe you can or you can believe you can’t, either way you are right.” You can be a thermometer or thermostat.
Attachment specialist, Diane Poole Heller, says the most important tool we can use to regulate is to observe ‘prosody’ or tone of voice. You may notice, if you are female, when you move outside of the Window of Tolerance (become stressed or anxious), that your voice gets shrill, higher pitched. This is an evolutionary response; cavewomen used this technique to communicate threat. With men, the voice becomes deeper and louder.
Whether you are male or female, when your partner or child notices that change in your tone, all of a sudden, you’re hijacking their brain into threat, and taking them down into amygdala or reptilian brain, out of their thinking (cognitive) brain.
So, it’s important—when triggered—you move your tone to neutral. And park it there.
While this is a great tip for “in the moment,” Esther and Jeremy Hicks, authors of Ask and It is Given, suggest a wonderful technique to get ahead of events in your day and be the thermostat. They call it Segment Intending; whereby, you think about parts of your day that are challenging and choose a positive outcome.
How-To: Segment Intending
1/ Divide your day
Segment intending starts with something like dividing your day into ‘segments’ where a segment is something like a group of activities related to one ‘chunk’. A segment could be for example ‘waking up’, ‘preparing yourself for the day physically (taking a bath and stuff), ‘having breakfast’, ‘driving to work’, etc.
2/ Prepare for a segment
The idea of segment intending is like preparing yourself for a segment so you have control over what’s going to happen or at least over how you want to feel. Give each segment a title and ask yourself the following questions and write the answers down:
- What do you want to accomplish?
- How do you want to feel?
And then put it into a request: “wouldn’t it be wonderful if [………]?” For example, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had a stress-free prep for school?”
As you do this exercise, just imagine or pretend, that you have power over how your day will unfold. Just pretending that it will be this way tends to give your more control and power, and will lead to more positive experiences, even if you are simply noticing the positive over negative ones.
© Felicia Stewart, 2019