On Catching Thoughts Before They Become Emotional Reactions


“I am not what happens to me. I choose who I become.” ~Carl Jung

Recently I experienced a big shock, the kind that most of us don’t encounter very often.

I was with a friend when I discovered evidence of a physical disaster near my home. I did not, at that time, know any of the details, nor did I know what kind of impact it might have on my own life.

Now, normally, I am a person who likes, even needs, to process my emotional impact verbally. In other words, I really like to talk things out. (What else would you expect from a professional therapist, right?)

But in this circumstance, I found myself unwilling to talk about my inner workings at all. My friend who was with me was even a little frustrated. She couldn’t understand why I shut down. I didn’t even know, myself.

So What Happened?

Later, as I recovered from the feeling of shock and that first big emotional wallop, I had some insight into my own process.

Usually, I am pretty grounded. I know how I feel pretty quickly, and I’m agile and adaptable, able to examine my shifting thoughts and feelings within a few minutes.

When something like that shock hits me, though, I don’t know how I feel. I hear lots of my inner parts giving all different kinds of feelings and ideas. I can feel my core self listening to them, kind of like a trained cop handling tens of panicky witnesses.

And I discovered that the reason I didn’t want to talk about these thoughts and feelings as they came up was because I didn’t want to commit to any of them. I could have explored any one of those thoughts and followed it down the rabbit hole, getting worked up about a particular story.

In that vulnerable state where I still wasn’t grounded enough to know what I believed, I sent up my boundaries so that I could calm the riotous crowd inside me until I knew what thoughts and emotion I decided to allow to fully exist.

How Did I Do That?

This may sound like some kind of zen mentalist magic, but the truth is that anyone can learn to do this.

In her book Emotional Alchemy, author Tara Bennett-Goleman talks about “the very latest research in neuroscience–including the neurological ‘magic quarter second,’ during which it is possible for a thought to be ‘caught’ before it turns into an emotional reaction.”

It’s so much easier to nip a feeling in the bud before it really takes root and spreads throughout my system and I have to go digging up the entire weedy garden.

Dr. Carl Jung knew, more than fifty years ago, that such mindfulness was possible. I’m so grateful to live in an age where the tools to achieve it are so readily available, so that each of us who wishes to can achieve true peace.

Photo here

About Rachel Whalley

Rachel Whalley is a psychotherapist and energy healer in Seattle, WA. She helps people who are struggling with body image and self-esteem issues connect with their whole and healed Selves. She also teaches folks about the personality system called the enneagram.

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