Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Feeding the Wolf

In the last post, we talked about our power to choose which feelings to feed, those that isolate us from others by closing our hearts, or those that connect us to others by opening our hearts. So how do we “feed” our feelings?

We feed them with our attention and attachment through our thoughts, words, and actions. Many of these represent habitual patterns. We often feed our negative feelings without even being aware of it. For example, here are some habits that some us might recognize:

Amplifying. We amplify our negative feelings by magnifying them with extreme characterization.

This always happens to me. No one ever listens to me. This is the worst thing that could happen. My life is ruined. You do that every time. It will never get better.

Guessing. We pretend to know what other people will do or think. We assume the worst and trigger an emotional reaction to that assumption.

My supervisor thinks I’m not doing a good job. People think I’m a bad mom. He’ll probably just say no. She won’t want to do that.

Identifying. We interpret some event as being about us.

My favorite example of this was told by a Buddhist teacher (I can’t remember now where I read this). She was going to speak at a conference and was having difficulty connecting with her contact person about the schedule. After calling several times, only to be told that he wasn’t available, she blurted out in frustration, “Maybe this means I shouldn’t speak at your conference.” The person on the other end paused and then said, “Maybe it just means he isn’t here right now.”

Forecasting. We play the what if game, spinning out worst case scenarios and reacting to them. If this was an Olympic event, I would have a wall of gold medals. I can take most any event and turn it into my worst nightmare. Here is an example. I’m not making this up. Once I was driving down the street and someone looked poised to step off the curb. I slowed down and passed without incident. Then I started forecasting.

Oh my gosh, what if she had stepped off the curb and I hit her? What if she was permanently disabled or died? What if she has children? What if I got sent to jail? What would happen to my kids? What if her family sued me and I lost everything? How would I ever live with the guilt of causing someone such terrible harm, even if it wasn’t my fault? What if it was my fault? What if I wasn’t paying attention and hit someone?

By the time I had gone several more blocks, my heart was racing and I was exhausted. When I realized what I was doing to myself, I was amazed. (As a friend commented some years back, my mind is a scary place. I have worked very hard over these last years to transform it into a place of joy.)

Justifying. We feel righteous in our feelings, even if the feelings do not serve us. We become defenders of our own negative emotions.

If this happened to you, you would feel like this, too. I have a right to feel this way. You don’t know what it’s like. I won’t let him do this to me.

Do any of these sound familiar to you? If we can identify our negative habits, we can change them. I’ll write more soon about how we can do that.

(I adapted this list of negative habits from The 4:8 Principle, the Secret of a Joy-Filled Life by Tommy Newberry.)


  1. Yes Galen, some of them do sound familiar. I am very prone to forecasting! My imagination is far roo vivid - sometimes I see a whole horrible possible scenario in a few seconds!!

    Thanks for this post :) Have a wonderful day today.

  2. Hi Galen,
    I'm so glad you posted this. I think people can really benefit by understanding how the mind can warp things. I certainley see myself in all of these. But understanding these exagerations can give us a leg up on them. Thanks Galen! Take care!

  3. I have read that the problem you identify as amplifying is a major culprit in marriage problems. Throwing past failures back into your partner's face is never a good idea. The problem is seriously compounded when an absolute statement is attached to it: you never, you always.

    That extreme (and untrue) type of statement is feeding the wolf a banquet.

  4. Galen: They all sound familiar and I think you are so right that we have to be able to identify our negative habits and learn how to best manage them so they don't continually work against us. This post does a great job of explaining and summarizing all the traps we can easily fall into. It is all about being aware of our feelings and thoughts and then choosing to change them. Great advice and post.

  5. forecasting, I think is crazy, my wife will make herself sick with worry over stuff similar to what you posted as an example. That is almost an obsessive/compulsive mindset. It has to be exhausting. I have a comment about justifying as well. I have heard that "a person convinced against his will is of the same opinion still". There is very little we can do once a person starts to justify his own feelings. You will only make them try harder to justify if you try to point a fallacy in their logic.

  6. A very thought-provoking post Galen, I'm very impressed with your openness and honesty with writing! These are important traits to have when owning a personal development blog; after all, how can we talk about personal development if we aren't personal?

    Forecasting is one thing that I still find myself doing, I feel stressed out when I'm doing it, and then frustrated when I catch myself doing it. But we must be patient with ourselves. We aren't perfect, no-one is. We will forecast, assume, judge, and other negative traits for as long as we are human. They are human traits.

    Take a deep breath when you find yourself getting out of hand, bring yourself back to the present moment (especially if driving!), and let go of the tension. It's not good for you, so why hang onto it? :-)

  7. lol- those are dead on! That is exactly how most people think!

    I really think you should add your blog to The Blogging Buddies...we are now a social networking site!

    Check it out!

    Come on home - mom blog
    Working at home advice

  8. Alexia--A vivid imagination can be a blessing and a curse, can't it?! Thanks for your comment.

    Dandy--These habits are so common that most of us can recognize some of them. But I was amazed when I realized that not everyone lived in the scary universe I inhabited for so long (but no longer)! Always nice to hear from you.

    Bob--It's easy to see why this type of statement would be damaging in a relationship. Feeding the wolf a banquet--great image! Thanks for commenting.

    Sibyl--I agree. We have to be aware of our habits and also of the impact our habits have on our lives. Then we are in a position and motivated to make changes. Thanks for your comment.

    Justin--It sounds like you are not a forecaster yourself. I used to think that everyone was! As a recovering forecaster, I can agree with you. It is certainly not helpful! Thanks for commenting.

    Stuart--These are common habits for sure, at least in some places. I like to think of them as habits because it gives me more power to change them. Also, I wonder if they are universal traits. It seems to me that there are cultures where these habits are less common. And yes, breathing is always a good idea! I like the practice of belly breathing. Thanks for your good advice.

    Carolee--Thanks for the invitation. I will check it out right away. Glad you stopped by.

  9. I'm subject to falling in all these potholes sometimes. It helps me to re-visit them as comic. For example, identifying all the amplification terms we picked up from our upbringing - like calling things FILTHY (with a verbal tone of Joan Crawfordy horror), when the item is usually merely dirty and could be easily cleaned. This is why the repeat of "You'll put someone's eye out!" is so funny in The Christmas Story (movie). We do like to assume our lives are great literature, but I'm afraid much of it is cartoons. Might as well be in on the joke.

  10. Galen, all great awareness's, it seems that a lot of people teach the same things. I don't recognize the name you posted here but I do recognize the concepts. The course I just completed on Critical Thinking teach some of these concepts, Paul and Elder put the text book out. I've also heard a lot of these concepts in the recovery rooms, from various counselors and through self help books. They are all fantastic awareness's, the key I believe is to recognize one's pattern, to identify and to seek the change necessary to lead a self fulfilled life... all one day at a time. :-) Thank you for the reminders.

  11. Mikey--Yes, you just have to laugh sometimes. When I used to catch myself spinning out these tales of doom, and really understood what I was doing, I just shook my head and laughed. Like the quote from LaMontaigne, "My life has been full of terrible misfortunes, most of which never happened."

    darlin--I have run across these ideas elsewhere as well. You are right. The key is to recognize our own patterns and substitute better habits. One day at a time. Thanks.

  12. Oh Yes! From time to time we all have to deal the the things you mentioned. Some seem do a better job at it than others.

  13. Hi Galen,

    These are great points on how we feed the wolf. From my personal experience, I feed my own wolves by refusing to let it go. Sometimes I will just take out past hurts and replay them over and over in my mind. Logically it serves no purpose but like an addiction, I just can't let go of it. Thankfully I have managed to stop myself from brooding over the years on things that happened long ago.

    Thank you for sharing this lovely article! :)

    Irving the Vizier

  14. Irving--Like an addiction. That is so true. Sometimes I have to just tell my mind to stop!


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