The Underlying Cause of How We Feel, Think, & Act
As I work with people as a psychologist, speaker, seminar leader, etc., the thing I hear over and over is a desire to understand why we reacted in a certain way, or what causes people to think, feel, and/or act the way they do. Unfortunately, most people tend to look first to the event that preceded the reaction to find this cause. For example, maybe someone said something, or behaved in a way that seemed to cause us to react with annoyance, anger, frustration, shame, etc. The problem with this perspective is that it gives power to people and situations that are often beyond our control, and thus tends to reinforce our sense of powerlessness, which, of course, triggers more annoyance, anger, frustration, shame, etc.
While this tendency to look for some external cause is understandable, I suggest that it isn’t serving us, and further, isn’t even accurate. In other words, if events were truly the cause of how we react, everyone would be reacting to similar events in the same way, and we know this isn’t the case. Therefore, I suggest we look deeper for the true cause of how we think, feel, and react, so that we can have the most influence over our experience of life.
As this week’s quote suggests, I believe that this true cause is what is called the “sponsoring thought,” or the thought beneath the thought that is actually the determinant of how we experience life. For example, many people will find themselves feeling depressed after some situation didn’t work out the way they wanted it to (they didn’t get the job, date, promotion, reception that they wanted, etc.). Often the sponsoring thought that triggered this negative reaction is, “I’m not good enough,” or “there is something wrong with me.”
Or, for some, they have a sponsoring thought that says, “If I’m not needed, I’m not loved. I have no intrinsic value. I’m only valuable/lovable when I’m doing something for people.” This will have them desperately looking to please others in order to feel worthy or lovable.
Of course, these sponsoring thoughts aren’t conscious, they reside in the unconscious part of the brain (the limbic system and brainstem), and this makes them all the more problematic because, until we bring them to consciousness (the neocortex) we can’t truly understand what is causing us to react to life the way we do. As Carl Jung says, “Until you make the unconscious “conscious,” it will direct your life, and you will call it fate.” In other words, it must be fate that I have been rejected or didn’t get what I wanted (sponsoring thought = because I’m not good enough, or there is something wrong with me).
The key, therefore, to creating the life we want is to replace these old fear-based sponsoring thoughts with ones we would teach and/or recommend to those we love. For example, “When I am bringing my best to life, I have certain qualities and characteristics that would be a gift to a relationship and/or an organization. Therefore, this rejection isn’t about what’s wrong with me or how I’m not enough.”
Of course, this doesn’t preclude our looking at life and determining that we might want to get better at something. However, even this perspective of, “What do I want to improve?” or “How do I want to be better at this?” comes from a sponsoring thought that I have the ability to learn and grow as I deal with life’s setbacks, and as a result, become even more influential in my experience of life.”
If this makes sense to you, I encourage you to begin to look for the thought beneath the thought when you find yourself reacting to life in a way that doesn’t serve you. If the sponsoring thought is indeed based upon fear (I’m afraid that I’m not good enough, or that I’m only valuable to others based upon what I do for them), I suggest you change this foundational perspective to one you would recommend to someone you love. Because when you make love versus fear the energy that drives your sponsoring thoughts, you make love versus fear the energy that creates your experience of life, and this is a “cause” we can all get behind.
~ All the best, Dr. Bill