Feeling Good – Part One

Those of you who read my column know that my writing focuses on two things: late-deafness and helping people feel good about themselves.  So, it will probably not be a surprise to you that on a recent trip to Barnes and Noble, my favorite hang out for coffee and good reading, I picked up the book The Feeling Good Handbook by David M. Burns, M.D.  The book is not about late-deafness but you can be sure that when I read it, I had late-deafness in mind.

Dr. Burns believes that people do not feel good about themselves when they are thinking negative thoughts.  Quite often, they are not even aware that their thoughts are negative.  Their thoughts appear to be valid but at the same time they know they are not feeling too good about themselves. Negative thoughts can lead to emotions such as anger, shame, guilt, frustration, sadness, loneliness, anxiety, inadequacy, and hopelessness. If people want to feel better, they will want to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.  This article is the first in a three part series that will focus on Dr. Burns method of helping people to (1) identify the kind of thoughts that lead to an emotion, (2) recognize the distortion in the thought and (3) utilize techniques to “untwist” negative thinking.

This month’s article will center on the connection between thoughts and feelings and as promised, it will focus on late-deafness.

Sadness and depression are emotions that are usually caused by thoughts of loss.  Late-deafs experiencing this emotion have thoughts which emphasize what they have lost due to their hearing loss.  Their losses may include the loss of a career, loss of communicating with family members and friends, loss of enjoying music, loss of innocence (bad things don’t happen to good people), or the loss of attaining personal goals.

Guilt and shame are emotions that stem from thoughts of hurting another person or not living up to a certain self-set standard.  Late-deafs experiencing these emotions may have thoughts that they are letting down family members and friends.  Perhaps these thoughts are because they believe they can no longer hold a job that will contribute to household income, attend social functions, PTA meetings, or make telephone calls.   Guilt follows these thoughts of self-condemnation and shame follows with thoughts that people will discover what they can no longer do.

Anger, irritation, annoyance, and resentment are emotions derived from thoughts of not being treated fairly or that someone is taking advantage of you.  Many people who become deaf question “why me” and state “I did not deserve this to happen”.  Depending on the cause of late-deafness, they may be angry at the medical profession, a reckless driver, a parent for passing on the gene, or God for permitting late-deafness to happen. Perhaps they feel resentment because a family member is not more understanding. The unfair treatment may be that the family member keeps forgetting to get eye contact before talking. A boss may not be offering accommodations at work or a network is not captioning a televised program.

Frustration is an emotion that is produced by thoughts that life falls short of your expectations.  It may be because of your performance or the performance of another person. Late-deafs may become frustrated when they do not speechread better, learn sign quicker, or have communication breakdowns.

Anxiety, worry, fear and nervousness is often felt when you think you are in danger because you believe that something bad will happen. Late-deafs often feel anxiety when they know they have a social function to attend.  They worry that they will not have anyone to talk to, that someone will ask them a question, and all eyes in the room will be on them, waiting for a response.  And the response, undoubtedly, will be off topic.

Inferiority and inadequacy result from thoughts that you are not as good, attractive, intelligent, or successful as others.  In a room full of people who can hear, late-deafs will often feel different and conclude that they are inferior because they can not hear.

Loneliness  is an emotion that is often caused from thoughts that you will be unhappy because you are alone or not getting enough love and attention from others.  Late-deafs often have thoughts that family members, friends, and co workers do not understand what they are going through and if they did they would certainly offer more love, compassion, and attention to their needs.

Hopelessness and discouragement  follow thoughts that your problems will go on forever and will not improve.  Late-deafs often have thoughts that they will never be able to get the hang of being deaf.  They will never be happy again and forever struggling with late-deafness.

Next time you are not feeling too good about yourself, try to identify the emotion you are feeling and the thoughts that are leading to this emotion.  October’s article will focus on common distortions in negative thoughts.

Burns, D. (1999). The feeling good handbook.  New York, NY: Plume.

(A reprint of an article I wrote 20 years ago, when I was the founding President of ALDA-Suncoast of Florida, a support group for people who have become deaf.  The article appeared in the newsletter, ALDA-Sun. At the time, I was going back to school to change professions from being a foreign language teacher to becoming a mental health counselor.)