Feelings Are in the File Cabinet

When you woke up this morning and prepared for your day, do you remember everything you did? You may remember that you showered, dressed, had breakfast, and went to your car. Do you know how many seconds you washed your hair or if you washed your ears first or your elbows? Do you remember what contributed to the decision of which cereal to eat (or whatever)? My guess is probably not. Most day-to-day, trivial, or familiar thoughts, actions, and feelings fly under the radar in the “non-conscious” zone.

Just as we can be unaware of our routines, we can also let negative feelings or self-defeating thinking slip by unnoticed. You may occasionally notice them, but you will likely also have a list of reasons they belong there. Most of the time, you go back to your daily routine, feeling low, but at some point, you stop questioning these thoughts and feelings. Over time, your self-esteem erodes. You may even struggle with anxiety or depression, but it all feels true and right.

Let me encourage you to question such things. Ask yourself why you feel so bad.

To understand a common reason for our negative self-image, picture your brain is a file cabinet. These files are tagged either with words or emotions. In the frontal lobe of your brain, in the place right between (and behind) your eyes sits someone called the, “Executive Assistant” – the EA. The EA runs the office and works with millions of little couriers. Some of them go on their own and the EA has no control (such as the ones who run the heart). Others can be told what to do to a point (such as the ones who can make you hold your breath). Others are fairly easy to manage (the ones who want the same thing the EA wants). Finally, there are some couriers you have to pretty much kick into shape (the “but I don’t want to clean and organize my garage this weekend” couriers, for example).

You may have read about “Brain Babble” – the thing that happens when automatic, but inappropriate or inaccurate thoughts run the show. Did you know a similar phenomenon can happen with emotions? Emotions can also be filed incorrectly.

Imagine you observe a classroom of six-year-olds. Ten minutes before class is to end for the day, the teacher announces that everyone can spend the time coloring. At the end of the time, little Jay-jay comes to show the teacher his picture. Jay-jay is smiling ear-to-ear and the teacher beams as she congratulates him on his good work. How do you think Jay-jay feels in that moment? What do you think will happen the next time he is given time to color?

Now imagine the same scenario, except this time when Jay-jay proudly displays his masterpiece, the teacher replies with, “What is wrong with you? Don’t you know by now that frogs are green and not purple? Goodness! Go try again!”

How do you think the little guy would feel then? Pretty terrible. What do you suppose he will do next time he is faced with a pack of crayons and blank paper? Can you hear what his little brain would say to him? “Give it up, Jay-jay – you can’t color right!”

Is that true? Did Jay-jay do anything wrong? NO! Where was the problem? With the teacher who put down his work. But, what did Jay-jay end up feeling? Deflated and inept.

Emotions experienced in such situations are intense and are tagged into the brain with “danger signs” attached to them. They feel real and unless you are aware and can access your wise mind, the temptation to believe these types of false messages may seem too great.

If you find yourself struggling with overwhelming emotions, a poor self-image, or even numbed-out feelings, or if you fear that you may be believing lies about yourself, extend compassion to yourself the same way you would to someone else who believed untrue things about themselves and go on a quest to find the truth. If you cannot seem to do this on your own, then consider taking time away in the supportive environment of The Center • A Place of HOPE. The staff knows how the file cabinet works and have helped many people in their pursuit of truth as they take the journey to build a healthier life.

Written by Hannah Smith, MA LMHC CGP, Group Therapy Program Coordinator, she is a Neuroscience-informed, Licensed Therapist and International Board-certified Group Psychotherapist. Hannah’s passion is to see people reach their potential and find lasting, positive change. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety, and more.

Allowing Food to Nourish You

Sally was overweight, unhappy, and on the brink of emotional exhaustion.  She had an unhealthy relationship with food, After numerous counseling sessions, this is what she decided to do:

One, I started eating a simple, healthy breakfast each morning.  This was my only guideline; that it had to be healthy.  No list of special foods, no restrictive diet, no calories to count, lie about or eat.  Nothing.  What surprised me was that I was being asked to make my own decisions, and not rely on someone else’s idea of what I should consume.  I was given complete freedom to eat when I wanted, and how much I wanted.  It just had to be healthy.  Actually, this frightened me, because I wanted to be told what to do.” [1]

Sally was really frightened when I asked her to make her own decisions about food and about making food the right kind of friend.  Here’s the rest of Sally’s story:

So I chose to eat a large breakfast of whole grain cereal and lowfat milk and some fruit each morning.  It was bulky so it made me feel full.  It wasn’t sugary, so my insulin level did not increase.  I knew all about this theoretically, but it wasn’t easy to put into practice.  A big part of me (which was most of me) hated it.  I missed my usual two jelly donuts and three cups of coffee with lots of cream, followed in a few minutes by grazing in the fridge for a few leftovers from the night before.  But I’d made an agreement with Dr. Jantz to do this, and besides I was desperate.

The second thing was even more amazing to me.  I was asked not to weigh myself at all in between sessions.  I’d already sent my scale “on vacation,” so there was no way to weigh myself at home.  But I was not to weigh myself anywhere.  This was difficult.  How would I know if I was making any progress if I couldn’t weigh myself two or three times a day as I’d done most of my life?  I didn’t understand it, but I said I’d stick with the program and obey the rules. [2]

I’m happy to report that Sally is doing quite well, self-correcting along the way as she’s still tempted to return to her old way of thinking about food.  She’s rediscovering what food is all about — it’s there to nourish her body and is not a substance for abuse.

When recovering from emotional exhaustion, you quickly learn the benefits of decreasing the amount of fat and refined carbohydrates in your diet.  Additionally, when you start to take seriously the reports of increased risk of heart disease and cancer associated with these high levels of fat, I hope you will quickly choose to self-correct.

You will read food labels more carefully and seek to interpret the wealth of information they contain.  This is a far cry from the ineffective calorie counting and roller-coaster dieting you may have engaged in before.  You will also stop frying your foods and breading your meats.  You will learn that broiling and baking are better alternatives to cooking foods in fats and oil.  You will also begin to investigate food supplements that are specifically designed to help rebalance the body chemistry of those who are emotionally and physically exhausted.

Sally had to learn that dieting and bingeing were terrible obstacles to her stressed physical health and mental stability.  Each round of dieting caused increased hypertension and a rise in her blood pressure.  When she finally understood that dieting and bingeing were making her more prone to stress-related illnesses, heart and kidney disease, and stroke, she knew she had to make a change.  To do this, Sally had to start listening to her body.  She had actually forgotten what it was like to eat normally.

This all began with a commitment to a proven, effective program of permanent weight loss and a deep desire to join the 2 percent who succeed in losing weight permanently.

Can you relate to Sally?  Perhaps now is the time that you, too, need to learn to see food as healing you, making you strong, and filling you with vitality.

Authored by Dr. Gregory Jantz, founder of The Center • A Place of HOPE and author of 37 books. Pioneering whole-person care nearly 30 years ago, Dr. Jantz has dedicated his life’s work to creating possibilities for others, and helping people change their lives for good. The Center • A Place of HOPE, located on the Puget Sound in Edmonds, Washington, creates individualized programs to treat behavioral and mental health issues, including eating disorders, addiction, depression, anxiety and others.

[1] Jantz, Losing Weight, 110.

[2] Ibid.

 

Part 1: Intellectual Integrity and Depression Recovery

Consider a single trip to the grocery store.  On your list today is a new toothbrush, soda, sandwich bags, ground meat, milk, bread, eggs, and tissues.  Pretty standard.  Should be an easy trip, right?

  • There are 15 types of toothbrushes, all different colors, from extra soft to extra firm.  Which is the right one?
  • Regular or diet or caffeine-free soda — and which brand?
  • Sandwich bags come in 50 or 150 or 300, fold-top, single or double zipper-top.
  • Ground meat is available as extra lean, lean, or regular, in varying package sizes.
  • Milk can be whole, 2 percent, non-fat, skim, fat-free, enriched, in regular, soy or almond.
  • Bread in plain white or honey wheat or 7-gran or 12-grain or multigrain all in different brands.
  • Seven types of eggs – organic and how many do you need?
  • Tissues come in small square boxes or medium boxes or large rectangular ones.  They could be scented or non-scented, colored or not, with lotion or not, in 100-count or 200-count boxes.

Then when you’ve overcome all of those choices and make your way to the checkout, do you choose the regular line, express line, or the self-checkout line?  Paper or plastic or both?  Cash, credit, or debit?  Any coupons?  Cash back?  Need any help out?  Groceries in the front seat or trunk?

We live in a complex world that has the capacity not only to trigger our emotions but also to inundate our minds.  The more we feel compelled to do, the more energy our lives require.  A hurried, fast-paced life is draining.  Bit by bit, detail by detail, the sheer weight of our lives can wear us down, leaving us feeling inadequate and devastated.

The pace of life can be daunting, threatening to overwhelm even the resilient.  Keeping your emotional balance from jumping from task to task, demand to demand, can be acrobatic even for the resilient.  But what happens when you take a stressful life full of tasks and demands and add onto that a belief system that “knows” you’re not good enough, that “knows” you don’t deserve to be happy?  Or what happens when you take that stressful life and add onto it a belief system that says happiness can only be found when you’re in total control?

In order to recover from depression, understanding the role of emotions is vital, but you must also understand the role of the intellect, of the mind.  Recognizing what you feel is one step in the recovery process, but another step is recognizing what you know — what you believe to be true — because what you “know” may not, in fact, be the truth.

Let’s look at the example of a half-empty glass.  The truth is, yes, the glass is half empty, but is that all there is to it?  If the glass is half empty, isn’t it also half full?  The truth of a half empty glass is that the glass is also half full.  Those people who see a half empty glass actually see an empty glass because, to them, the glass should always be full to the brim.  If the glass is not brimming, then that glass is unsatisfactory; it will always contain emptiness and loss.

No one’s glass is ever truly filled all of the time.  Life simply doesn’t operate that way.  instead, the truth is even a half empty glass has fullness.  Those who are depressed don’t see half empty, they see completely empty.  Some will rage because the glass never seems to be full.  Others will despair because they are convinced they aren’t worthy of even a half empty glass.  Others will quietly accept the fact that the glass will never be full for them.  They look at the glass and see what isn’t there instead of what is.  They focus on the lack of what is absent instead of the presence of what is there.

To learn more about intellectual integrity, and how it assists in depression recovery, read Part 2 of this article.

If you are struggling with depression, The Center • A Place of HOPE can help.  Call us at 1-888-771-5166 to speak confidentially with a specialist.