Thoughts vs. Feelings...Chicken or the Egg?

                      

Chicken or the egg

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

One topic that seems to get considerable discussion among BIP facilitators is "the chicken or the egg" conversation regarding "thoughts or feelings". The discussion centers around which approach is better. While there are plenty who would argue that focusing on "thinking and beliefs" impacts feelings and is the best approach, there are others who vehemently argue the focus must be first on feelings. The Family Peace Initiative would say that there really is not a "chicken or egg" conundrum on the topic.  A facilitator needs to have the ability to work with both thoughts and feelings with those they serve. The inability to do so limits the effectiveness of BIP work. A better question to be asked is not whatto focus on, but "how" do we focus on both simultaneously.

Commonly, participants in BIP classes have strong beliefs about emotions.  Participants will say how they were taught to avoid expressing sadness and fear in their childhood. It is normal to hear comments like, "My step-dad told me that he would give me something to cry about if I kept crying", or, "If people knew that I was afraid, they would think I was weak and would take advantage of me".  Participants live in fear of being seen as weak, soft, and unmanly. They mask this fear through aggression, addiction, and a host of other defense systems. 

Participants live in fear of being seen as weak, soft, and unmanly. They mask this fear through aggression, addiction, and a host of other defense systems.

I remember talking with "Phil" shortly after his grandmother passed away.  He told me that he had been in her hospital room when she passed.  He said he went into a rage and "tore up that room" after she died.  He said that he was so angry that "security had to be called to get me under control".  I told him that I was surprised by his reaction.  I mentioned to him that normally when someone loses a loved one, they feel sad. When people feel sad, they may cry, or reach out for comfort from others.  I can see Phil's face as he stared at me for a moment and then he said, "Dude, I ain't no pussy."  He turned and walked away.

Phil, like so many that we work with in our programs, was completely unable to identify, recognize and express his feelings of sadness and fear. Participants come to the Family Peace Initiative saying things like, "I am not afraid of anything", only to learn that much of their life is driven by fear. They are afraid of being weak, afraid of what others might think of them, afraid of failing, afraid of being seen as less of a man, afraid of being out of control, and many are terrified of being alone. This disconnect from emotions is evidence of trauma. While it is helpful for participants to learn how beliefs are influenced by culture and family, developing an awareness and an ability to experience emotions is powerful for changing behavior. Bessel Van Der Kolk, in The Body Keeps the Score, talks about the healing that occurs from having one foot grounded in reality while exploring their trauma.  This is what BIP programs can do for participants.  Over time, we learned about the cruelty Phil had experienced growing up and how his grandmother was his only protector. Without her, he was terrified—even as a young adult. Her loss was enormous for Phil, and until our class, he could only express it through rage.

While it is helpful for participants to learn how beliefs are influenced by culture and family, developing an awareness and an ability to experience emotions is powerful for changing behavior.

It is important for facilitators of BIP classes to understand that working with "beliefs" or working with "feelings" is not mutually exclusive.   A facilitator who can do both has amazing tools available to them that can help move a participant along in the process of ending cruelty in relationships. 

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