The Triggers of Lie-based ThinkingJanuary 14, 2006
I have written many times about lie-based thinking, not the least in this blog. In counseling, it is the primary means of therapy I employ, and it is the most important concept I teach. Let me take one paragraph to redefine what I mean by “lie-based thinking” and then draw out one point for this entry.
Lie-based thinking is any train of thought not grounded in truth or reality. There are hundreds of manifestations of it, and everyone has a certain measure of it. The most mature among us have the least lie-based thinking. Conversely, the most childish and destructive people have the most. Lie-based thinking can have several different variations, even with the same thought pattern. One typical lie is that we will be rejected. There are a number of breakaways from this theme as well. We may have a Universal Variation. This is based upon rejection we suffered in the past and our lie-based conclusion is that we will “always” be rejected. We may have Regional Variations. This is based upon rejection of the past as well, but applied only to certain groups: ie. All men will reject me, my spouses will always reject me, God will always reject me. The regional aspect is lie-based because there can never be absolute predictability when we look at people. Then there are Contingent Variations. This is a lie based upon some contingency. “I will always be rejected when I express my love”, “I will be rejected when I really care about someone”, “I will be rejected if I try too hard”, “I will be rejected if I start to succeed in life.” There are certainly other variations of lie-based thinking, but these are some of the primary variations.
Lie-based thinking comes out by a series of ‘triggers’. Triggers are automatic, knee-jerk reactions that are not expected or planned. From the perspective of the person experiencing them, they do not usually make a lot of sense. They are emotional reactions that seem out of place with what we should or could choose. Let me illustrate.
Jim is a very good systems analyst for a large company. He is always the first one at work and rarely leaves work on time. They get their money’s worth out of him. Just recently, his boss came to him and praised his performance on a particular project. At the end of her praise, she casually mentioned that he would be considered for a new job that was being created, a job that meant more money and prestige. At that, she left to go into her office.
For the next three days, Jim fights depression. He tells his wife about the possible promotion, how it will mean more money and less hours, and she cannot stop planning how they will spend the extra money and time. She has waited for this forever and is delighted at the prospects. But she notices that Jim does not share her joy. In fact, as the weekend wears away, he starts fights with her and the kids and begins drinking heavier than she has ever seen him drink. By Sunday night, he has gone to bed by 6:30 and does not wake up even when the alarm rings. As the week goes by, Jim is later and later at work. Because of his diminished performance, Jim does not get the promotion, the raise or the better working hours. As this realization happens, he sees the depression lift considerably and is now in a position to help his wife deal with her mounting depression, brought on by the thought that Jim will never work less hours.
The thought of getting what he wanted “triggers” something in Jim. If you asked him point blank about the promotion he would tell you that this was the reason he was working long hours and brought work home. It was what he wanted. When I asked him about his depression, he honestly didn’t know why he reacted that way. As I met with both him and his wife, she made a startling statement. “He gets this way every time something good is about to happen.”
Here was Jim’s lie. He believed most of his life that any time something good was about to happen, as soon as he got his hopes up it would be taken away from him. When I asked him if that lie felt true, he unhesitatingly said “Absolutely.” The force of his answer shocked even him. His head would have said, “I want good things to happen”, but his heart said “Don’t even hope for good things…in fact, expect that good things will not happen.”
The trigger was the casual comment by the boss. She didn’t do anything wrong, and neither did his wife who began to make plans concerning their future good fortune. They were reacting normally. Jim was the one out of sync with reality. A ‘trigger’ is something which causes us to return to a lie we have believed for most of our lives. Husbands and wives trigger each other more than anyone else. Parents and children (especially grown children) trigger each other, as do co-workers, friends, fellow students and neighbors. In fact, we are triggered the most by those we spend the most time with and by those with whom we are emotionally vested.
In the next post, I will explore how these lies are formed in us and how they take shape over the years.