Viewing Your World With Effective Emotional Frameworks
Situations do not have feelings. We add the feelings to situations as they unfold before us. What I will be discussing here is your perceptions of your life. Your interpretation of what you think and do is your emotional framework. In this chapter we will dissect how we formulate and understand our world. First, we will look at personal responsibility. Then, we’ll move on to how we can often misread a situation, and finally, end this chapter by looking at how we can control our perceptions.
Over the years, my belief that we are all 100% responsible for our behaviors has produced predictable arguments from the adults I work with. On the surface, people are comfortable with this rule, as long as they read 100% as 93% or 97%. So let me make this clear, you are 100% responsible for how you deal with your life.
Mr. Griffith was a thirty-two year old father of three. He was arrested on December 24, for fighting in a hotel bar. When I talked with him in the jail’s interview room he looked as if he lost the fight. He held ice to his swollen face and complained of loose teeth.
Mr. Griffith: It’s not fair! I’m told that I have to stay in this $#%&^ place until after Christmas.
Dr. Phil: Sounds unpleasant, but how come you asked to see a therapist?
Mr. Griffith: I want you to tell them that they are #$%$^ing with my kids. It’s not fair to my kids that they can’t be with their dad on Christmas.
The point that Mr. Griffith didn’t enjoy hearing was that he was blaming “them” for ruining his children’s Christmas. The reality was that he was 100% responsible for getting arrested, and his behaviors lead to him not being available to spend Christmas with his children.
Taking 100% responsibility for dealing with your life is hard. It is multifaceted. Often it is a pain in the neck. It would be much easier if you just got to blame others.
Involving personal accountability or ability to act without guidance or superior authority. Able to make moral or rational decisions on one’s own, and therefore answerable for one’s behavior.
So, if you don’t get the promotion you desire, you are 100% responsible for how you deal with it. If your spouse walks out on you, you are 100% responsible for how you deal with it. If your children are hard to live with, you are 100% responsible for how you deal with it. If your car gets stolen, you are 100% responsible for how you deal with it.
At this point some smart individual likes to throw me a zinger. “You mean if a girl gets raped, or my mother gets shot by a gang banger, they’re responsible?”
I say yes! You are always 100% responsible for how you deal with it. Read on...
Responsibility is a person’s accountability. My friend, Sally, who I have known since high school, called all in a dither. “Phil you have to help me … I have to lose 28 pounds by next Saturday!”
“What?” I questioned.
“I have to lose 28 pounds by next Saturday!” She whined. “I have to. My college reunion is next Saturday.”
“Sally you can’t lose that much by next Saturday.” I said.
“I know, I know. But it’s not fair. I’ve got to lose this baby weight.”
“Baby weight, are you…?”
“Of course not, it’s all Michael’s fault.”
“What? Michael, your Michael?” I asked.
“Yeah, it’s all his fault, I put on this weight with him.” She snarled.
“That makes no sense, Michael’s 28, how can you blame him?” I asked.
“It’s all his fault… that was a hard pregnancy.”
Sally did not want to take any responsibility for her problem.
Let’s look at this in a more serious situation. Stephanie was molested when she was six years old. She didn’t tell anyone because her uncle was the molester. She was very confused and blamed herself for many years. She came to my office when she was twenty-four years of age. She had recently told the man she loved that she could not marry him. But, she could not tell him the reason why. Stephanie was afraid to have sex. This was not a huge problem while she was dating. Both of them were saving themselves for marriage. But she knew that she could not go on a honeymoon. You can’t save yourself for marriage after you say “I do.” At that point you have to “do.” It took a lot of courage for Stephanie to reach out for help.
Over the course of a year, Stephanie worked very hard in therapy to combat her fears. During our last session, I asked her to sum up her therapy experience.
I learned that my uncle was to blame for betraying my trust in him, and that I was not responsible for being a victim at the age of six. But, I am responsible now if I feel like a six year old victim at the age of twenty-five.
After a long pause she continued.
I also know that if I let my life get ruined because of my past that would be my fault. I am 100% responsible for how I deal with my life! I want a family. I deserve a family. And, I’m looking forward to getting pregnant.
We both cried with joy because we both knew that she was a powerful woman who understood personal responsibility.
Most people assume that they have little, if any, control over how others treat them. I believe the opposite to be true. I believe that you are 100% responsible for dealing with how others treat you. That doesn’t mean that you have 100% control of how others act. It simply means that you are responsible for how you deal with how they act towards you.
Recently, a friend and I went out for our normal late Tuesday night dinner. Usually, the restaurant is almost empty. This particular night, the place was a mad house. It was packed with fire fighters just off the fire lines thirty miles away. The two waitresses were running all over, frantically trying to get the loud, hungry mass fed.
The bus boy noticed us and said he would clean a table for us in a few minutes. My friend and I sat reading the menu. He said, “We’re never getting served today!”
“It’ll be OK,” I said.
When the waitress made her way to our table she looked like she had been put through a blender. Her hair was a mess, her little purple decorative apron was stained, and she seemed all jittery.
“Wow, you seem to be really overworked tonight. Are you OK?” I inquired.
“Hungry ... rude ... fire fighters,” She gasped. “They all want steak at the same time.” She wiped her brow with her forearm.
She told us that since four o’clock the place had been packed with hungry fire fighters. The kitchen was not set up for cooking this many steaks at one time, and two waitresses were not enough.
“It sounds unfair how you’re being treated. When you have a minute for me let me know.” I said.
“No, it’s OK. What do you want? I’ll get it for you. I don’t care if they starve!” She said with a smile.
We were taken care of very well. The reason was because I treated the waitress with respect and empathy. I let her feel like a nice person, and she subsequently acted towards me like a nice person. I’m sure that she was choosing to treat my table nicely, because she surely had no trouble growling at the loud table in the far corner.
As you go through your world you need to take responsibility for getting your needs met. If I were grumpy with the overworked waitress she would have seen me as one of the loud mass of humanity that filled her restaurant. But, recognizing that she was being put upon by her situation let her see me as a nice guy she wanted to feed. We both won. She felt appreciated and I got fed.
I told the story above to a sixteen-year-old boy who had been referred to my office because of his argumentative nature in school.
Benjamin: It’s not fair. If I go into a restaurant and the waitress is having a bad day, she has no right to treat me like $#!*. She works for me, doesn’t she?
Dr. Phil: I guess she works for you, but she is a person, isn’t she?
Benjamin: So ... she’s a person with a job. I shouldn’t have to kiss her ass just for her to do her job.
Dr. Phil: Is that what I was doing, kissing ass?
Benjamin: Most definitely. ‘You’re working hard.’ ‘You’re being mistreated!’ He mimicked. She shouldn’t take a job she didn’t want. She is getting paid to get food for people and not to bitch.
Dr. Phil: I’ll give you that what you are saying is true. But, none of that really matters to me. I wasn’t nice to her because I had to be nice to her. I was nice to her because I wanted to be. In fact, I wanted to be served food in a timely manner. And, I didn’t want her to growl at me. I was getting my needs met. It was also nice for the waitress, but that wasn’t the reason I went to the restaurant, to be nice to a waitress. I went to the restaurant to get dinner. The way I interacted with the waitress got my needs met.
Benjamin: Oh, that’s great for you with all your psychology. But I run into people that dump on me all the time.
Dr. Phil: Like at school?
Benjamin: Right. My first period teacher is a bitch to everyone. She doesn’t care if I’m tired or if I have a headache. She just is on me, “Where’s your homework,” “Don’t talk to me with that attitude!” I hate her and she knows it. So she takes any opportunity to jump on my back.
Dr. Phil: You mean if you turned in your homework, and were talking to her politely, she’d complain?
Benjamin: No. Of course not. She would probably find someone else to bitch at.
Dr. Phil: So, you’re saying you’re involved with her bitching at you?
Benjamin: I didn’t say that, she just hates me.
Dr. Phil: It sounds to me that she will find someone else to hate if you don’t fuel her fire by not turning in your homework.
Benjamin: Yeah, I guess. But, she works for me and she just bitches at me.
Dr. Phil: Let me understand this. Your teacher works for you? Her job is to get you to learn stuff? She thinks that you doing your homework will help you learn? It sounds like you have a pretty good employee for first period.
Benjamin: (with a smile) I hate when you make this all my stuff.
It was Benjamin’s job to learn. Instead of taking that responsibility on his own shoulders, it was easier for him to blame his teacher. In fact, it was easier for him to blame his mother, his ex-girlfriend, and his grandparents for the problems in his life. He was the king of blaming others for his crappy relationships. It wasn’t until he started to take personal responsibility for how he treated others and how others treated him, that his life became rewarding.
It is not until you accept 100% responsibility for dealing with your life that you will start to have a positive influence on how you treat others and others treat you.
Emotional frames are the borders that we see our world in. Imagine taking a full sheet of paper and cutting a small square in the center of it. The paper would become a frame for the small square you removed. If you put the paper in front of your face, and peered through the small opening, the paper frame would limit your view. You would still see a lot, but your view would be significantly limited. The paper frame would become your visual filter.
If you wore the frame in front of your face, over time your limited view would become normal to you. In fact, if you wore the paper frame from birth, you would not know what you did not know.
If this frame were filtering your emotions, rather than your sight, you would probably misinterpret interpersonal communications on a regular basis. And you probably wouldn’t even know that you were misinterpreting.
This emotional framework and emotional filtering is very important. It is part of who we are every second of our life. It is how we view and feel about our life experiences. Let me give you a simple example:
I needed to pop into the hardware store to replace my old wrench. It wasn’t the most important thing in the world to do, but I wanted to do it. When I got to the store, the parking lot was packed. Later, I found out that there was a big pre-pre Christmas sale. I parked at the farthest parking lot, in the last row. I was barely in the same county as the store.
At this point, I began to think about my thinking. At the simplest level I had two thoughts.
1. “What a pain in the neck. I have to walk all the way over there just for the privilege of buying a wrench.”
2. “What a nice opportunity. I get a nice brisk walk and get to go buy a wrench.”
These two emotional frameworks seem pretty similar. But they most definitely are not. The first emotional framework defines my world as inconvenient. It makes me the victim of a mass conspiracy of mega corporate hardware stores who forced me to suffer a several-minute walk.
The second emotional framework allows me to experience the blessing of a healthy four-minute walk to do what I want.
We all have a running dialogue narrating our life (self-talk). If the dialogue is negative once a day, no big deal. But, if the dialogue is constantly negative, hour after hour, day after day, we become negative. You are, or will become, what you think about the most. If you have millions of negative thoughts you will become a person weighed down by negative thoughts.
On the other hand, if you have millions of positive thoughts, you will become a person who is uplifted by millions of positive thoughts.
Please think about this at a very selfish level. If you could choose positive over negative, why would you chose negative? Which would be better for you? By being aware of your self-talk, and your emotional frameworks you can uplift yourself. Who better to help you, than you?
Continue on to Understanding Thought Mines