“And I have no idea where I was going with that,” my therapist ended a brilliant “soliloquy” about attributions. And I doubled over in laughter. It was just one of the many times I laughed during Therapy #5…which was a hoot n’ a half. But it left me with more questions than answers.
The Raisin Returns
“So, how are you?” my therapist began as he always does.
“So much better!” I burbled. “That stuff you taught me about mindfulness has changed my whole life. I’m so happy now. It’s like a load…the load of past shit…has been lifted. I thought this feeling might only last for a couple of days, but no! I’ve been happy and light-hearted every single day for the past month!”
“So much has happened since I was last here!” I continued. “I’ve started to have hobbies again. I’m interested in learning things for the first time in a long time. I even started a woodburning business aaaaaand…I made a little something for you.”
My regular readers will remember how he taught me mindfulness by saying, “I learned on a raisin.” It’s practically become a meme! Reaching into my purse, I whipped out a little wooden keyring. I’d burned it to say, “I learned on a raisin” with a very detailed pyrography raisin full of wrinkles and ridges.
And my therapist turned beet red. And laughed. And said, “See!?! There is a lot to a raisin, isn’t there!?”
“There is!” I marveled. “There are highlights on the tops of the ridges and down in the valleys. Oh! I am almost forgot to tell you: I’m even playing the violin again.”
His ears perked up as he made a quick note on his notepad. “So, when did you start playing the violin?” he asked. It was the first he’d heard of it.
“When I was twenty-four,” I replied. “But I stopped four years ago because it was so tainted with bad memories. You see, when I started playing violin, my dad decided that he too was a violinist. He was very critical of my first off-key attempts to play the instrument, so I refused to play it around him and made him play instead. When I got better, he’d force me to play music with him twice a week, no matter how exhausted I was. It was called ‘father/daughter’ time and the memories are not so good. So, after I got married and moved away, I refused to touch the violin again. I’ve only recently dug it out of the closet, hung it on the wall and tried a few tentative tunes to my husband’s delight.”
“Let’s talk about attributions,” he said, opening his hand to reveal a grey, shiny rock. “Tell me what I’m holding. I’d expect an intelligent or a smart-ass answer from you.”
(Oooooo, ouch! Am I really a smart ass!?! My husband later confirmed that I am, at least, in writing.)
“It’s a hematite,” I said. I like hematite. I always have. I always wanted one. They’re cold to the touch, smooth and as enigmatic as a rock can be. And rocks are very enigmatic.
“Right, it’s hematite. That was the intelligent answer. But what does it mean to you?”
“NOT A DAMN THING.”
“Right. Why would it? But for me, it reminds me of a pleasant day spent at Itasca State Park, seeing the headwaters of the Mississippi and picking it out in the gift shop. This hematite has good attributions. And for you, the violin has bad attributions.”
That’s when he launched into his ill-fated attributions “soliloquy.”
Later in the hour, the conversation turned towards human interactions. “I can definitely see how I have social anxiety, but frankly, I don’t give a damn.” I told him, flippantly. “I have a wonderful husband, wonderful friends. I can function fine amongst people when I need to, but I don’t see the benefits. So…what does it matter!?”
“But people add so much to life. The sweetness, the charm.”
“Well, hasn’t our interaction been beneficial?” he queried.
“Oh, I, uh, um, I thought of this more as a doctor/patient relationship. I didn’t mean to imply you aren’t human…but yeah! It’s been really positive,” I stuttered.
Dang! If you’re looking for me, I’ll be busy pulling my foot out of my esophagus.
“And now that I think of it,” I said, “I really enjoyed going to MENSA dinners, but Mom shamed me into not going anymore. And I really enjoyed going to jam sessions with all those old hippies before I moved away.”
“Seeeeee,” he said. “Human interactions are good.”
Yeah, I might have to rethink this. It’s who you hang with that informs your feelings about human interaction. I hung with codependents and narcissists for far too long. No wonder I’m burned up and burned off, content to beaver-away for the rest of my life. But what joys might I be missing!?
Higher Order VS Lower Order Thinking
That led into a fascinating teaching about how our thinking drives our emotions. “Really!? Are you sure!?” I asked.
Apparently, we’re all born with Lower Order thinking. That’s why newborn babies can laugh. I did! It’s an instinctive, knee-jerk reaction.
But as we grow up, we learn that we have choices or Executive Functioning. Higher Order Thinking is the mechanism for controlling our Lower Order knee-jerk reactions via Executive Functioning. (Or something like that!)
Oh, but it gets more complicated.
Let’s say someone does us wrong. Emotions result based on our Lower Order thoughts. “This is wrong. They shouldn’t have done XY. They done me wrong.” Anger.
“Are you sure?” I queried. “Are you sure emotions are the result of thought? They seem so organic, so instant.”
“I’m positive,” he responded, firmly.
Luckily, Higher Order Thinking comes to the rescue. “Yes, but I’ll give ’em a break. I won’t fly into a rage. I’ll hear their side of the story first.” And this elevated thought sets our Executive Functioning on a course to new thoughts, new emotions and thus new behavior. Instead of flying into a rage and reading them the Riot Act, we stop, listen, think…and then choose how to act…or not to act at all.
“I wonder if I’m not all Higher Order Thinking,” I tell him. “I never, ever react.” He nods understandingly.
Circling Back to Narcissism
As I write this it occurs to me that narcissists may only have / employ Lower Order Thinking. It’s often said that narcissists have the emotional development of a toddler….tantrums and all. Could it be that they never learned Higher Order thinking and thus their emotions are raw and knee-jerk without the benefit of cognitive thought and Executive Functioning?
I remember an incident in 2013 when I accidentally hit my father in the face with a snowball. You could see his features twist and writhe as he attempted to control his rage. Luckily, my husband, Michael, was there so Dad didn’t dare say anything to hurt Michael’s wife. Sadly, he had no such restraint for the previous 30+ years.
Yet, as parents, narcissists insist their children never react, never be angry, employ only Higher Order Thinking and iron-fisted Executive Function. I’ve even heard that laughter is verboten in many narcissistic homes.
Perhaps a good therapist leaves their patient wanting more, with food for thought and the need for private research. That’s how Therapy #5 left me.
Don’t forget to subscribe!
I want to know why he brought up attributions. Perhaps he said it, but I kinda’ lost the point. I want to know more about Higher Order Thinking and Executive Function, which is much more complex than how I struggled to describe it above. I want to know if my therapist is also my friend. And I need to hear, once more, that it’s OK to cry in therapy…cause I still haven’t put the waterproof qualities of my new mascara to the test.
It’s a journey. And an exciting one. I’m happy to have you there with me.
Whaddya know? I’m fresh out of ready-made pyrography plaques! The supply exceeded the output…which is a good problem to have. If you’d like to see my gallery and order a custom-burned plaque, keychain or necklace with the saying and art of your choice, please visit www.lenorathompsonwriter.com/artwork-by-lenora