The Stop Technique in Action

The Stop Technique in Action

I was informed of an occurrence in a loved one’s life that sucked a bit of life out of me. At this point I will not be telling you the details. It’s not my story to tell. While I was alone with the new information, I started to cry. I cried for the person. The wave of tears left me for a moment and I began to think about my ownership in the situation. Years ago I had an affair. It was a conglomeration of the worst decisions I have ever made in my life. It hit me that while my loved one dealt with their own pain, I was oblivious to even the slightest changes in this person. I was so self absorbed at the time, so consumed with my own pride and selfishness, I missed a very pivotal time in history.
As another layer of the negative ripples of my affair surfaced, I felt deep pangs of regret and remorse. Tears flowed again followed by heaving sobs. It felt good to cry and purge the anger and disappointment. I was driving to Aspen to visit family and attend a Board meeting. While crying, I wondered if other travelers noticed I was crying. Instantly I “looked” at myself with an expression of “OMG! Are you kidding me?!” This is the very pride that tripped me up with my affair: I was being noticed and it felt good.  Here I was crying about my selfish choices and thinking all about myself yet again! Ugh!
I am a God-believing person, so I took this to Him. I poured out my frustrations with this prideful, selfish side of me and begged for help to stop. Then I enlisted a useful thought-stopping technique:

  1. Each time I noticed myself making something all about me, I told myself to stop.
  2. I looked at the beauty all around me to get my mind off of me and on to something else.
  3. I audibly spoke a narrative of what I was seeing. You can say it in your head if people are around but it’s most effective if you say it aloud.

It helped. The focus on myself stopped. That time. Not too much longer, it happened again. Cracking up at this behavior, I said, “STOP!” and went through the process again. Now, every time I start that pride-filled thinking, I use the Stop Technique. It’s been several days and I haven’t needed to use it. I will again, I’m sure, but for now I seem to have reached a respite from the “all about me” thinking.
It’s important to understand the underlying issues that contribute to why I wondered if people were noticing I was crying. It’s an issue from my childhood (no surprise!). I was the fifth out of six children for most of my childhood. My parents were ultra busy running their hotel. I was not noticed. I was not special. I think there’s a careful balance necessary between letting our children know they are important and noticed by us without creating self absorbed children who think the world begins and ends because of them. Confident in who they are, not arrogant and entitled. I’m working on being confident, not arrogant or chastising myself (the opposite of arrogance and equally unhealthy). It’s a crazy pendulum swing I find myself on at times. I’m thankful techniques exist to ground myself back to truth and reality!

Taking Control of Runaway Thoughts

When your mind is churning over and over again on an unwanted thought, commitment to reigning those thoughts in is the key. The following steps will be useful if you consciously choose to gain control.
1. Say ,”Stop,” preferably aloud or at least in your head.
2. Shift your physical position. If you’re sitting, stand. If you’re lying on your stomach turn to your back or side. If you’re in the car, make some sort of movement that does not interfere with driving safely.
3. Focus your visual attention on something around you and begin a detailed narrative about it. Maybe there is a tree or picture you can look at. When you’re driving you can look at the cars, road and signs in front of you. If you are in bed trying to sleep, visualize a scene you enjoy. Notice the details you can see narrating aloud or in your head everything you see. Think like an artist. Notice the nuances of color, the play of light and textures in your landscape.
4. After a few minutes, go back to whatever it was you were doing. If you are trying to sleep, allow your thoughts to go to a sweet memory or stay focused on your visualization. If the intrusive thoughts come back (and they likely will), repeat this process. You may need to go through these steps again and again. That’s OK. It’s part of the process necessary to gain control of your brain. Few brain changes occur immediately.