The Oscars just aired this past weekend. Presented and awarded were a number of movies. As I observed the clips, I thought about how each movie contained dialogue, story lines, music, scenery, lighting, special effects, etc. that served to evoke an emotional reaction in the viewer. I was struck by how similar these movies are to the process of creation inside our own heads. Inside our heads every day we are creating our own movies. We tell ourselves stories, engage in internal dialog, imagine ourselves relating to others. We give our characters motivation. We may imagine scenes in the past, in the future…All of this activity in our heads serves to evoke emotional responses–just like in the movies. Sometimes we are aware that we are creating a story, a movie….about an event, about an interaction, even about ourselves and who we believe ourselves to be. Often times we are not conscious of the movies we create in our minds. We believe that we feel sad or happy or angry because of what is happening outside of us, when in reality these emotions (with the exception of biochemical imbalances) are the product of the movies WE create in our heads. Even in the case of biochemical imbalances, we still have a lot more control over emotions if we are in control of our own movies. There are so many examples of how internal movies affect our emotions. I’m sure you can think of many of your own. To illustrate how it works, here is an example: Scene: The inside of a restaurant. The occasion is one in which a friend does not show up on time for an important dinner. In order to react to an event emotionally, there has to be some context in your head. The old movie of a time in which someone else (or maybe even this person) disappointed you begins to play in your head. You remember the feelings. The story you told yourself then and that you repeat now is: “ If I was important they would be here. This failure to show means I am … not important enough to this person, I’m disliked, maybe unloved….possibly unlovable”. The story line can go all kinds of places from there… imagining the faults in the other person, imagining the faults in yourself. Playing old film clips of other encounters in which you were hurt…you may tell yourself you are being hurt by this…You get the idea….. You find yourself feeling irritated, angry, maybe sad. You tell yourself it is the fault of the other. You believe you cannot help your feelings. This is disempowering. Imagine how different it could be if you created another movie instead of this one. In this movie, the fact is still the same that you are waiting at a restaurant for someone who has not shown up. You still need to have context to have emotion about this, but you decide you’d prefer a more upbeat emotion. Your new movie begins with a scene in which you are the captain of your own ship. When someone is late, you have decided to treasure these moments for yourself. In this storyline you relish the time to yourself. You begin to plan and imagine your next vacation or you pick up the phone and call a friend to catch up. You may decide to call the missing friend to check on their arrival time and wellbeing. You have the power to decide what amount of time you are willing to wait. You are not at the mercy of others. You will find you feel more at peace. You are in a position of power regarding your emotions. What most people don’t realize is how very powerful these movies we create in our heads can be. We create them so often that it feels like a natural part of us. We are often unaware that at any given time, we have the power to change the movies. We can create the story lines we want. We are not a slave to them. These movies we create can define us as adventurous, timid, kind, selfish, connected to others, etc. These movies create the setting needed for every emotion and interaction we may have. They can help us expand our views of ourselves and of the world or they can keep us stuck with the same old scenes and stories played over and over. One of the advantages of psychotherapy is that we have a place to take out our movies and examine them with support. We can become more aware of the stories we tell ourselves and those that we have lived by for much of our lives. We can examine these movies. We can make choices about them. We can understand how they evoke various emotions in our lives. We can decide what is healthy for us now…what works for our good now. We can discard, or rewrite old stories. We can write new ones. We can become conscious in daily life of what movies we are creating with each circumstance…with each interaction. We can live more awakened and more empowered lives. When we have awareness we have the power of choice.
Laurie Patrice, LPC, BCPC,CPCS