I think if you’re still reading, you are at least partially on board with the idea that we cause the majority of our own state and trait discomfort. Yes?
The notion that our thoughts impact our feelings and our actions is easy to understand, and the fact that thought distortions like shoulding and minimization(among others) can make everything worse is clear. Today, I want to add one more piece to the puzzle. This one is called subjectification. If you look up websites that talk about cognitive distortions, you’ll find one referred to as personalization, and Subjectification is closely related. I like to treat it as it’s own beast.
First let’s define personalization and look at how it works on the Cycle of Discomfort. When a person takes everything that others do or say as a direct, personal reaction to them, that’s personalization. For example, Ethan walks into the office party a few minutes late, and none of his office mates greet him (EVENT). Ethan thinks that they are deliberately ignoring him because they don’t like him (THOUGHT). He feels anxious or angry (or lonely or sad or…) and has some physical sensations that go along with that emotion.
Makes sense? right?
I use the word, subjectification as a way to take this, “it’s all about me” thinking a step further. Not only does a person take others’ actions as a direct reaction to them, they also subjectify things in their environment. For example, when I was a young counselor, I took a job at a local treatment facility, and on my first day of work, I witnessed a fight between 2 clients. That fight happened, in part because of subjectification. Here’s the story:
One client, Bill walked into the group room, sat down and almost immediately got back up again, placed his books on his chair and left the room. While he was gone, a younger client, Dan, came in, saw the chair, removed the books and sat down. Bill returned, looked at Dan and said, “hey, man. That’s my chair.” Dan refused to move and after a little back and forth, Bill squatted down, lifted the chair, and tossed Dan out of it. “I said, that’s MY chair,” said red-faced Bill. Sadly, this even resulted in both clients being discharged from treatment (see if you can run the Cycle of Discomfort for either Bill or Dan).
Bill subjectified the chair. He made it about him.
Here’s the thing, Friends. The minute you make something ABOUT YOU, you up the energy around the thing and the energy in your body. Think about it. If somebody keys a car, you might think, “wow, that’s inappropriate.” If somebody keys YOUR car, it’s much closer to a disaster. If the store runs out of ice cream, that one thing. When the store runs out of YOUR ice cream, it’s a totally different ball-game.
If I move into the event with subjectification already in play, an event happens that I judge as bad to begin with, may become even worse. If I add a thought distortion like personalization, shoulding, minimization, or mind-reading on top of an already subjectified object… BOOM!
Here’s a task (on top of all the others I’ve invited you to do over the past few posts): tune into the times that you subjectify an object by making it yours. Don’t judge it, just notice. While you’re at it, notice when you personalize other people’s reactions. Notice how you feel.