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First Decide How You Want to Feel


One way to transform yourself, is to name how you want to feel. Usually when I ask clients who are complaining about how they feel, how they would like to feel, they respond with either the reasons they feel as they do or what they think. This is especially true of clients who spend a lot of time in their heads to avoid experiencing feelings. Let me lay out a scenario to show you what I mean.

Say, your brother is selfish, emotionally abusive and generally tries to bully you into doing whatever he wants. Occasionally you’ve had good times together—fishing or listening to music—but whatever fun you have is overshadowed by him reverting to character, narcissism in his case. You’ve spent most of your life trying to please him, but he still is critical and puts you down. Occasionally he belittles you in front of others, then pretends it was a joke.

As you’ve gotten emotionally healthier, you notice that you have less interest in placating him or winning his approval and more in wanting not to be around him. You are slowly understanding that nothing you do will make a difference in his personality and how he treats you and you’ve finally come to realize that enough is enough and you’ve had it with him. Good, this is a healthy place to be!

As your therapist, I would then ask how you would like to feel about him. The first time around you might answer, “I’d like to feel good and get along with him.” I’d then explain that this isn’t the kind of feeling I mean since he’s not capable of being gotten along with except if he gets his way. I keep asking how you want to feel until you come up with “indifferent. I don’t want to care a lot about our relationship.” 

Perfect! You’ve decided how you want to feel. Now you can choose thoughts to bolster feeling indifference toward you brother. Here are some you can try on: We come from a dysfunctional family and have both suffered because of it; It’s not that he won’t change, he can’t change; I can live quite well without my brother in my life; I don’t need my brother’s approval or love to be happy; He’ll never change and that’s okay because I can. Whatever he thinks of me pulling away from him doesn’t matter.

Okay, get my drift? You need first to identify the emotion you desire to experience, and then move toward that emotion via the thoughts you choose to have. And you keep repeating those thoughts to yourself precisely because they will get you to the feeling you wish to have. Whatever feeling you desire—pride, self-sufficiency, compassion, guilt-free—is yours if you back it up with appropriate thoughts.