– Situation: you planned a meeting with one of your friends and in the last moment that person called to cancel it because something came up;
– Internal monologue: “What? I cleared up my schedule so we can meet and this is how she treats me? We barely talk lately and I was really looking forward for this meeting. She probably doesn’t care about me enough. If she cared enough, she would have been able to find a way. So many years of friendship wasted! I’m not going to talk to her even again!”;
– Emotions: anger, sadness, disappointment, a sense of loss.
[…] There is this “Nobody cares about me” core belief that the person has and it acts as a filter. When some parts of the situation matched the filter, they passed through while others were ignored (the rescheduling part and the multiple apologizes). Another core belief might be in standby (“I have to be liked by everybody.”). Now the internal monologue happens and the emotions are triggered by it. There are negative emotions because there is a conflict between two core beliefs. The amygdala is activated to process those emotions so it takes over our brain and since the situation is a threat to the second core belief (the “rejection” is a sign that somebody doesn’t like this person), the fight or flight mode is activated and this person’s body is getting prepared for combat or for running. Of course, this is just a theory.
Once the hijacking took place, it’s very hard to do something about it so we need to do something at the beginning of this hijacking. In his book The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights (2014), Daniel Goleman recommends we should tell ourselves that we’re overreacting when we’re noticing those feelings taking over. This is used to stop the related thoughts to come. Mel Robbins proposes a similar strategy. Even though her 5 second rule is mainly created as a strategy to make ourselves move our asses towards doing the things we need to do, we can use it to stop the negative thought-flow. I usually go further and I’m trying to find alternative scenarios for the behavior someone has. Here is a conversation I have with myself whenever I encounter similar situations. This usually happens within my head or out loud if I’m alone (I wear headphones most of the time in public in case some words try to escape my mouth. At least, people would think I’m talking to someone else, not to myself). The conversation is between A.T. (automatic thought) and C.T. (counter thought).
A.T.: What? I cleared up my schedule so we can meet and this is how she treats me? We barely talk lately and I was really looking forward for this meeting. She probably doesn’t care about me enough. If she cared enough, she would have been able to find a way. So many years of friendship wasted! I’m not going to talk to her even again!
C.T.: Ok, hold on for a second. Don’t get so grilled up like a chicken breast. Maybe there are other explanations. What else can it be besides this?
A.T.: I don’t know. This is obviously the case. I know it!
C.T.: What proof do you have?
A.T.: You’re such a stupid inner voice, you know that? We used to be great friends and since we haven’t seen each other in a while, this was the perfect moment. The fact that she cancelled the meeting is a clear sign. She didn’t even tell me the reason. She only said that she has something to do.
C.T.: She didn’t cancel the meeting, she tried to reschedule it. Isn’t this a sign that she cares?
A.T.: Maybe, but why did she say nothing about the reason she is cancelling this meeting?
C.T.: She didn’t cancel. She rescheduled. Maybe she didn’t say anything about the reason because she has some problems she is ashamed with.
A.T.: We used to tell each other everything. This is a clear sign that she doesn’t care about me anymore. She is not considering me as a friend since she avoids telling me the reason.
C.T.: Maybe it’s a sign that she doesn’t want you to worry because she cares about you. Or maybe it’s a sign that despite the fact she has big problems, she still wants for you two to meet up and that’s why she tried to reschedule. She wants to be in her best condition so she could enjoy your meeting.
A.T.: I don’t think so. You have no proof for this.
C.T.: Neither do you. It’s as valid as your theory. Actually, these are only theories. She knows the actual truth.
A.T.: Your theory is wrong and mine is right. I feel it.
C.T.: So you’re a mind reader, right? Were there any moments before when you felt you were right and it was proven that you were wrong?
A.T.: Yes, but this is different.
C.T.: Yes, it is different, but this isn’t a proof for you to be right.
A.T.: Neither for you.
C.T.: True. We only have hypothesis and we don’t have enough info to decide which is wrong and which is right. There might be things involved we are not even aware of. Let’s reschedule the meeting and gather more info.
How do you differentiate between the thoughts created by your own core beliefs and the thoughts created by outside information?