“My art is largely made up of my pain; re-framed, redesigned and re-purposed. It’s a mutually beneficial experience for both the creator and the beholder. Transformative healing is a beautiful process.”
― Jaeda DeWalt
Over and over the last few weeks, the tiny human and I have both been dealing with frustrations and quick tempers. This morning, one of the dogs stole her cookie, and she completely fell apart. I grabbed the box of cookies and tried to get her to keep moving to the car. But she couldn’t yet. She was slumped on the top porch step and bawling. I couldn’t sit down to hug and cuddle because I was holding all of the things, and we had to get her to school and me to work.
I try to give her space to feel her feelings and then talk about them so she can learn how to accept the emotions but deal with them in truth rather than let them stand as truth. I also recognize that there is a time and a place for everything, so we both need resiliency to be able to handle some emotional moments quickly in order to deal with the task at hand. In this morning’s example, I had already provided a replacement cookie. (Breakfast of champions – some days we eat a healthy morning meal, some days we skip it, and some days a cookie is acceptable if it gets us out the door. You may be a responsible adult with all your crap together, but this is reality in my life: some days you have it together, and some days you can’t find it with GPS and a homing beacon.) I had already expressed empathy and solidarity that dogs should not steal cookies, but she was still crushed.
I responded as any mature adult would and continued down the stairs to put everything in the car, preparing to forcibly lift the tiny human and put her in the car if it came to that, muttering under my breath the whole way and questioning why God would let this happen on a morning that had otherwise been smooth sailing. This day had tight parameters on time and things that needed to get accomplished, and I was watching it explode before it even got moving.
My counseling work of late has been about framing problems and things I want to improve in statements that are positive. “I am stressed about work” becomes “Take a deep breath, focus, and work on the task at hand.” I am always telling the tiny human when she gets angry and frustrated by failing to do something in her first try to slow down, take a few breaths, and try again; you have to try at least three times before you can quit.
This morning, as I finished loading the car, she stood up and started down the stairs, still crying, but moving. I told her that it’s fine to be mad at the dog, but she’d miss out on the replacement cookie – worse, she’d choke on it – if she kept up the dramatic crying (it was no longer real despair, and I call her out on fake crying). I told her we needed to rethink the problem with the dog stealing her food so we could solve the problem, and we could talk about it after school.
“But we can’t solve the problem – she already stole my cookie and ate it!” The tiny human was still stuck. How many times have I refused to reevaluate an issue because the situation has already spun out of control or because I don’t want to accept the facts on the ground not matching up with my expectations.
“You’re right. We can’t fix that, but we can replace the lost cookie and then make a plan to keep the dog from stealing your food again. We can solve the problem by making sure it doesn’t happen again.” And then God pointed at that spot in my brain that gets stuck on past failures and said, “You see it, right?”
I’m trying to teach my child resiliency that I don’t always have a grasp on. I’m doing the work, and I’m getting better at it, too, but I’d be a hypocrite of the worst order to tell you “this is how it’s done” after I stomped and muttered and railed at God over the tiny human’s railing at a lost cookie unless I admit that I am a work in progress.
Some days depression brain wins, some days I’m healthy and firing on all cylinders, and most days I’m somewhere in between, arguing with both truth and depression brain. I have the most success when I reframe my thoughts. The brilliant pattern in only using positive statements is they leave no room for the negative thought.
You are actively replacing the potential guilt/shame spiral with an affirmative. You push out the negative by filling the space in your head with a positive action plan.
This is not the same thing as avoidance; you don’t avoid the emotional response to your circumstances. You acknowledge the feelings, and then you apply truth and use the emotion as a cue to implement your reframing tool. It takes repetition and practice (and SOOOOO much prayer) to make this tool a habit. But it can become a habit and a powerful weapon in our arsenals to defeat depression brain when we keep practicing.
Another beautiful thing about reframing is that it perfectly exemplifies God’s grace. Of course we have failed (and will continue to fail as long as we are human), but grace is forgiveness and the opportunity to try again. Grace is room to grow.
Reframe those doubts and the thoughts of despair. What does God really say to us about them? Don’t settle for what the serpent would whisper in your ear and find some truth in the Bible. Reframe the lies with his perfect love. Reframe the pain into something beautiful.
“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT