Day 3: Discern The Truth - Parenting with God’s Peace
Day 3: Discern the Truth
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:5, NIV)
In every book I have read in my research on anxiety, there was one phrase I came back to over and over and over: anxiety distorts. It distorts our perception. It makes small problems seem medium, medium problems seem big, and big problems seem insurmountable. In fact, it’s not even the problems that are, well, the problems; it’s the stories we tell ourselves about the problems.
I’ll never forget an encounter I had with a mom a while back. Her daughter was in one of my middle school counseling groups and had been for several years. In my mind, she was a very connected part of the group. When this mom sat down in my office, however, she was angry.
“Sissy, I’m upset about how Sophie is doing in group. She doesn’t feel connected to the other girls. They walk in each week and don’t speak to her. When she talks, no one asks her questions or is responsive to her. She is trying really hard and feels like the other girls just won’t accept her.”
I decided to do a little detective work and pay extra attention the next few weeks in group. To the mom’s point, some of them might have been closer friends than others. But they were not purposefully leaving this girl out.
But this girl whose mom came in to meet with me felt awkward. She believed that others saw externally the discomfort she felt internally. As a result, the story she told herself was that the other girls didn’t like her. That they didn’t want her to be a part of their group. And then she saw what she was looking for.
Let’s stop right here and look at a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) tool called the cognitive triangle. It’s one of the foundational principles of CBT, which is the most highly researched type of therapy for anxiety with the most evidence-based results. The triangle is an illustration with thoughts at the top, and feelings and behaviors providing each corner of the base.
The premise behind the triangle is that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all interconnected. Therefore, it’s the thoughts we have (the stories we tell ourselves) that impact our feelings, which then impact or dictate our behavior. CBT asserts that if we change any part of the triangle, change will occur in the other parts as well. Most CBT interventions go directly to stopping and changing those distorted, anxious thoughts.
For this girl, the story she told herself of being left out (thoughts) caused her to feel isolated and hurt (feelings), which caused her to talk to her mom and decide to drop out of group (behavior). We could look at the same CBT triangle with her mom, because both fell prey to confirmation bias. She was afraid that her daughter was being rejected by friends. Her mom’s behavior (coming to see me) was a result of her emotion (anxiety and anger), which was a result of the story she was telling herself about the story her daughter told her. She was anxious about her daughter’s level of anxiety and worried that it was beginning to spill over into depression. She was doing her best to be a good, protective mom. But she missed the important fact that anxiety distorts. And anxiety often distorts our perceptions.
We can do something different for ourselves and the kids we love. We can learn to be a good detective and differentiate between perceptions and reality. We can stop those anxious, distorted thoughts right when they start. We can find our way to truth.
Reflect: As you go about your day, practice replacing any negative, untrue thoughts with a positive, truthful thought. Here’s an example to get you started:
Negative thought: I’m an anxious parent, which means I’m failing myself and my kids.
Positive thought: I care so much about my kids. I’ve never wanted to get anything right as badly in my whole life. And I’m doing a much better job than I know.