Who Owns Your Brain?

I recently conducted a session with a new client and his wife in which the gentleman expressed outrage about what is happening in America today. He said that the feeling of outrage is affecting his thinking and his mood; furthermore, it can put a bit of a damper on their marital bliss. He does not appear bitter or angry in general – on the contrary, he seems quite good-natured – but he admits he can be easily angered by what’s happening in the world. His wife is patient, and, while she does not fully agree with all his views, she respects them. She says she is devoted to him, as he is to her. So, they wholeheartedly agree that they have a good marriage.

Nevertheless, the direction of current events has a huge impact on his thinking and his emotions. Clearly, this is a problem; otherwise, they’d not have chosen to speak to a therapist. By the way, it should be noted that these are highly educated people. Both of them individually make a very good living as health professionals.

So, what is happening with him? Is he just a grumpy man? Was he an angry child? Is he always looking for people to criticize and things to complain about? Is he full of himself and unable to listen to the opinions of others? To help me out, he gave me a glimpse into his life story, by telling me that he has had anger issues in the past. Then he said if it wasn’t politics, he’d probably find something else to be upset about. He also said that he does not enjoy feeling that way – that was a key piece of information. I thanked him for his honesty and assured him that he and his wife would do just fine as we proceeded to do therapy together.

We will certainly explore in detail the question, “what’s happening with him” along the lines of inquiry mentioned in the last paragraph. At first glance, it seems that he is letting something outside himself manipulate his thinking, his emotions and his mood. It is important to understand that this is not a conscious, deliberate action of the mind. No one gets up in the morning and says to herself, “I think I’ll be angry today, and stay ticked off till something good happens.” Naturally, the anger he is experiencing is felt consciously, but it’s not being generated by a conscious thought. It’s the product of automatic, negative knee-jerk thinking. This kind of thinking is an outgrowth of early learning experiences, possibly in combination with having a brain that is naturally fast-paced and has been conditioned to be on guard. He may even have experienced some sort of childhood trauma.

One of our greatest psychiatrists and teachers, Dr. Milton Erickson – the first to use hypnosis to address mental/emotional problems – said to a depressed patient of his, “Don’t ever let anyone hurt your feelings.” Such a simple statement. But the message is clear. “Don’t EVER LET anyone hurt your feelings.” The embedded message is that you have the ability to prevent people from affecting your emotions. 

When you were young, you may have heard these words spoken by a parent or another caring adult. Despite such wise teachings, the flaws in our humanity can still lead us to take things personally and to allow the behavior of others, or the tide of politics and the business world to affect our feelings and thoughts. If that is happening to you, be encouraged. It does not have to be that way. Ask yourself, “Who owns my brain? Is it the news media? The politicians? My workplace? My family and friends?” Or, on the other hand, is it possible that you have the ability to claim ownership of your thoughts and feelings, and to set up firm boundaries to help you stay balanced while the world is out of kilter?

If this is an issue for you, be assured that it is fixable. If you’d like to know how to get started and how to be free of the negativity that is all around us, please call. The phone humber is (219) 309-3928. I’d be honored to be of service.

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Thanks for reading!