Me? Get in Charge of My Emotions? A Walk in the Park
The Moment I Knew Psychology Just Might Work
What if you could make a shift in your habitual way of responding to your emotions, other people, and the world– and that shift would jump your potential in all arenas of life while raising your relationships to a new level?
Yeah, right. And if you pop a Hydroxycut pill every day the pounds will fall off—no effort required.
On the afternoon I knew psychology might work, I was ready to ditch the profession. I was convinced: 1.) psychology wasn’t a science but an endless collection of fads; and, 2.) psychotherapy didn’t help (although people might feel better for a while) because people couldn’t change, not really.
The incident described below is simple. The conversation is no different than interchanges between couples that go on every hour of every day. What made it important was that right in the middle of this usual conversation, my spouse responded in a new way. He’d been able to make a change in an entrenched behavior. He’d actually been able to find something powerful and useful in a psychology training program.
The Man Who Changed
The incident that returned me to the profession occurred during a walk with my husband on the trails of San Antonio’s Brackenridge Park. Nothing stunning. I’d opened the conversation going on and on about the good fortune of one of my riding friends (from an extremely wealthy family) who’d recently married a surgeon from an equally elite family.
I said: “Gee, I wonder what it would be like to marry someone and never again have to even think about money. Think of it, no need to choose between a weekend trip or having a backup account in case of appliance emergency? To never worry about electric bills or bills of any kind?”
He said: “Humm.”
I said: “I wonder what it’s like to kiss all those worries good bye when you say ‘I do.’ Then I gulped and thought about what I’d just said and how my husband must be thinking. Good ole insensitive me. He’d feel defensive and I didn’t blame him. If I’d been a man going on about another husband’s good fortune with his wife, I’d have been saying something like, “Gee, I wonder what it would be like to be married to a stunningly attractive woman? You know, long legs, perfect up top, a face that could be a model?”
I was sure he’d first list all the reasons I wouldn’t like being married to my friend’s husband or ask me why I was worried about finances or question the mental health of wealthy people as a group. Could be I was about to have my values questions. I was ready. I held my breath. Readied my defense arguments.
But he didn’t take a defensive course. He waited (this is important) then said, “I guess men think about it differently. We grow up accepting that we will live at whatever lifestyle level we can afford by our own profession.”
I said: “How did you do that? How did you actually answer my question instead answering the way I’m used to defending myself against?”
He said: “I’m taking this Bowen Theory training seriously. You’re right that I felt an anxiety surge when you sounded so impressed by this man. But then I decided to try something. Instead of listening so closely I focused on managing my level of anxiety. I pictured a large thermometer inside my body—like those you see on porches of houses in the Appalachia—I settled the red fluid in the bulb set at seventy-two degrees. I made my goal keeping my anxiety at that seventy-two degree level. Switching my focus gave me time to actually think before I answered.”
He managed his anxiety by shifting his attention from potentially threatening details in what I was saying to paying attention to what was happening inside himself. He switched from ‘other-focus’ to ‘self-focus.’
**Next entries will define Self-Focus and Other-Focus through examples.