Authored by Olivia Bauer (a guest contribution)
This conversation is based on real-life events, but using made-up names.
Linda: “OMG! I haven’t heard from Dylan in a week!”
Me: “Did you email or message him?”
Linda: “I messaged him on Facebook. He didn’t say anything back. Well, he left a couple one-word replies. ‘Hey.’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Bye.’ He says I need to express myself, and then he doesn’t answer me. What is wrong?”
Me: “Umm, Linda …”
Linda: “Maybe he’s mad at me. I might have said something that bothered him. I wonder what I did?”
“Or he’s bored of talking to me. I’m not as cool as his other friends. He likes girls who are prettier than me. I must be boring. And fat. Definitely not as stylish as Sheba.
“I probably take up too much of his time. I mean, he has other things to do. He has other friends. Studies. I’m not as important.”
What is wrong with this picture?
Have thoughts like Linda’s ever crossed your mind? I know I’ve been there.
This is what I told her: Tell yourself the truth.
Think about it: What is actually true in Linda’s experience?
Linda messaged Dylan. Dylan sent her one-word replies. The end.
The other thoughts and conclusions are Linda’s interpretation of the situation. There is nothing factual about them. She’s putting her own spin on Dylan’s actions. Linda is guessing, imagining—what we also do when we make up stories—what Dylan might be thinking or feeling and why. You can see how these kinds of thoughts—that a friend might be mad at you, or is bored of your company or conversation, doesn’t think you’re cool, etc.—can cause someone a lot of grief pretty fast.
The more Linda delves into her own fears and opinions—trying to figure out if she’s right or wrong—and coming up with 50 variations of what Dylan’s actions could mean, the more she’ll incorporate these feelings and misinterpretations into her sense of self (internalization), and the more she’ll probably believe that all these things are so—that she’s boring, that she isn’t cool, that she’s unimportant. These thoughts are sad, hurtful, and most of all, untrue.
We would generally think that it’s wrong to tell someone an untruth. But what about what you tell yourself?
In a confusing situation, it can be extremely difficult to separate fact from fiction, but it’s so important to tell yourself the truth. You owe it to yourself. If it’s not true, choose not to think about it. Don’t keep dwelling on it. If you tell yourself a sad story—which is essentially what happens if you internalize negative thoughts and conjectures about what people may or may not be thinking or feeling about you—you are going to feel pretty rotten. And then if you act on those feelings—if you assume that other people think you’re boring or not cool, and you interact with them accordingly—it’s going to make you even more unhappy.
This doesn’t mean that you should ignore questions, thoughts, or feelings that cause you pain or make you feel sad. When your body feels pain, it’s a signal that something is wrong. It’s the same with emotions or thoughts that cause you pain. Maybe you are thinking something that is not true, something in error, which is causing the pain—in the same way that toxins will hurt your body. Maybe you need to talk to a friend or mentor about this. Maybe you need to take some kind of action.
Professor Gary Habermas said: “Physical pain, mental pain, are God-given alarm clocks to us, to do something. Get a checkup, or think differently. Change your thoughts. Have you ever thought about the fact that your pain might be from wrong thoughts you put in your head…? Pain, which comes from bad thinking? I think God gives us a spiritual alarm clock that goes off when we’re not thinking the right way.”1
What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear Philippians 4:8? For me, it’s usually been “think positively.” This verse generally is about that. But guess what the first part says?
“Whatever is true … think about these things.”
Whatever is true, that’s what we should be internalizing. Things that are true, honorable, commendable about you are what you should aim to incorporate into your mind and interactions with others.—And, no, being honest with yourself does not mean “assume the worst.” It means recall the actual facts, without the personal spin of opinions or feelings added in, as much as you can help it.
It won’t make everything perfect, and you might still have to communicate with that person you’re having difficulty with. But being honest with yourself about what has happened or is happening, and cutting the negative feelings and conclusions out of your story, will help you to be calmer and more grounded in sorting out the issue. You will probably feel less hurt and be able to bounce back quicker.
One of my friends emailed me: “There have been so many times, whether it was communications with someone I liked, friends, job interviews that didn’t have the end result I expected, interactions with coworkers or bosses, etc., where I’ve just had to make a conscious effort to put aside my feelings on it and see the event through the simple truth of what actually happened. Helps the moving on part so much.”
“The truth will set you free.”2
1 Fear of Death: Lecture given February 18, 2007, at Grace Evangelical Free Church, Lynchburg, VA 2 John 8:32
Read by Amber Larriva. Music by sindustry(CC). Copyright© 2013 by The Family International