14 year-old Lana was fed up of feeling left out of a group of girls at her new school.
Moving schools can be tough at any age and Lana, one term in, was yearning for the feelings she used to associate with her old group of pals.
In truth she still saw the old gang socially and had actually been quite unhappy with them too, but somehow her brain started having her recall the past friendships as much better than the reality had been.
The new girl group was tight which she believed meant they had all been friends since being small; compounding her feelings that it was impossible for her to become a part of them. She came to see me asking for help with 'social exclusion'.
We established that a couple of girls in the group were being especially kind and friendly towards her but this did seem to satisfy Lana's needs of belonging to the main group and she found herself:
1. Dismissive of the presenting opportunity to forge new friendships; looking beyond the friendly girls, keeping her sights fixed firmly on the big group.
2. She had begun fantasising the old school friendship group was perfect despite this contradicting previous session discussions.
3. She felt she had lost something of great value ie being at the center of a group of friends. and forgetting the friendship problems previous encountered
4. She had interpreted the body language of certain group members as meaning they did not want to include her.
5. She felt awkward and self conscious.
To help her to understand the mind mechanics of think-feel-do we started by exploring her feelings:
FEELINGS self-conscious and awkward around new girl group.
BEHAVIOUR withdrawing / wanting to withdraw from the group's periphery.
SENSES Perceived the group was unsure about her unpredictable behavior and viewing her with suspicion.
THINKING which meant they don't like her.
FEELINGS feeling lonely and sad.Then angry and frustrated when she realized her thoughts and behaviors had been contributing to the situation.
Lana was about to discover the key to her happiness was to realise that 'something' triggered the feelings, and that something was her thinking patterns.
Trigger thoughts included:
“Making new friends is hard work and tiring”
“Belonging to a big group is important”
“Real friends listen to me and I can say anything to them”
“My old friends were ideal”
“I miss my old friends”
Those thoughts triggered the feel-bad strategy to start running in a loop:
THOUGHT triggers FEELING influencing BEHAVIOUR.
DRILLING FURTHER INTO THE PROBLEM
Lana's friendship goal had been to be popular amongst a large group of girls. Yet, she could never control a goal that requires other people to change. Trying to do that had been exhausting and frustrating, wasting energy and leading to disappointment in others and feelings of unhappiness.
How to help Lana to amend her friendship goal to feeling relaxed and authentic around new people; Interested in them and having fun = getting to be in charge of the goal.
Not only could she control this goal, she would actually reinforce some self esteem through achievement like having fun (rather than eroding self esteem by setting goals that could never be achieved).
Getting Lana to change her thinking would in turn drive new feelings and therefore change how she behaved. Change the thinking is key – it puts her back in control:
We explored changing the 'trigger thoughts' by imagining that she had lost all her friendship memories – all of them (good or bad). Then imagine herself pitching up at school, relaxed, fresh, looking for fun people to get to know and generally feel happy. She was sure she'd feel happy in this scenario.
SO that tells her the obstacle to feeling those natural responses (relaxed, fresh, looking for fun people to get to know and generally feel happy) had been her trigger thoughts which had simply habituated.
How to un-habituate the thoughts?
We decided to take the approach of catching them – the thoughts and become aware that they are not truths, just patterns of rehearsed brainwaves and neuro-chemistry.
And challenge her own thinking like expanding all the reasons why someone might have 'closed' body language. We drew up a list: cold, unwell, feeling scared, worried etc until Lana accepted that she could never really know what another person was really thinking or feeling.
But if she thought the closed body language meant they did not like her … guess what? She now had a 'trigger thought' to run a feel-bad strategy.
We explored new mind experiments to discover just how much influence she really has over her thinking and feeling. Concluding:
PRACTISE THOUGHTS SO THEY BECOME HABITS eg
• Everyone is unique, some people talk more than they listen, others listen more than they talk.
• Friendships groups are dynamic which means people come and go, behaviors shift and change, feelings rise and fall.
• Individual friendships are easiest to build.
• Being interested in someone is the best friendship gift you can give.
• Value the good friendship skills experienced at the previous school.
• Remember what she is gaining (not feeling that something has been lost).
ACTIVITIES TO DO
• Balloon Breathing & Balancing Body & Mind activities
• Keep a diary of things she is grateful for (at least 3 each day) to train her brain to build new thinking lines in her mind.
• Look at the friendship group through new eyes – 'what she likes to see, hear, do with the girls'.
• Keep a diary of what life skills she is gaining each day eg tolerance, acceptance, curiosity.
o Friendships are dynamic.
o Resilient thinking enables children and young adults to make new thinking, feeling and behavioral connections.
o Next generation mind mechanics are key to thriving.