Robin Saffir, MA, NCC, LPC

The interrelated relationship between one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviors creates a loop. Sometimes the thoughts, feelings, behaviors (TFB) loop can be informative and helpful. For example, the thought: I’m a good person who cares about others invokes the feeling: pride (because I’m a good person for caring about others) which informs an aligning behavior: donate to crisis relief. And the cycle continues. I think I’m a good person, which makes me feel good about myself, so I do something that aligns with my thoughts that I’m good and the feelings I want to maintain. And there’s the cycle! AND the cycle is self-perpetuating, like a loop-d-loop: the roller coaster has gained just enough momentum to coast down and around the next bend onto the next loop. Think about it: thinking “I’m a good person” feels great, and doing things that align with that thought perpetuates that great feeling. Can’t stop won’t stop riding the ride because I’m getting the same message in all directions: I’m a good person doing good things which makes me a good person.

However, this TFB loop isn’t all rainbows, butterflies, and Rock-n-Rollercoasters. In fact, the loop can just as easily reinforce a negative story that perpetuates one’s negative experience. In this sense, the negative thoughts we tell ourselves inform our feelings in a way that may trigger a behavior which reinforces that the negative thought was correct. In this, we have created our own reality out of a story that may or may not be true! In this sense, you’ve gotten on a rollercoaster at the local town fair and its jerking you around: this is not a smooth ride.

Everyone has negative mental chatter, some just buy the story a bit more than others. But often times, that’s all it is, a story. Or at least that’s how it starts. Think about it, what kind of unpleasant story are you telling yourself? Maybe you’re thinking, “My wife never asked me how my day was. She doesn’t really care about me.” Okay, so as a therapist I have to ask: how does that make you feel? Do you feel lonely, unimportant, disconnected, resentful, angry? Maybe a combination of a few, or all of the above. And now, how does that feeling inform your behavior? Do you withdraw from your wife? Do you lash out about something else? Do you passive aggressively try to provoke her to prove that she does in fact care about you? Do you try to ignore your needs and continue to direct the conversation in a way that it revolves around her? Maybe a combo, maybe all of the above, maybe something else. But think about it; don’t those behaviors all just reinforce the negative feelings and initial root thought that “my wife doesn’t care about me”? That does not sound like a fun rollercoaster to be on but hey, you’re on the TFB loop. Its okay though because this rollercoaster analogy ends here: you can get off the ride whenever you damn well please, no need to wait for the ride to end.

So, think of it this way: if your thoughts, feelings and behaviors all work together to lay the tracks (I guess we’re not done with the rollercoaster analogy), that means you have three different opportunities to begin your work to break the cycle. There are various cognitive therapy tools that are geared towards working with negative, maladaptive, often self-deprecating thoughts. Behavioral therapy tactics enable you to directly attack the behavior and allow you to take action in a way that breaks the loop. And finally, those pesky feelings that you feel even when you can’t pinpoint them need to be acknowledged, worked with, looked at, and identified. It might not be easy, but you can handle difficult things. The good news is, you can now identify your experience in a way that empowers you to do something about it; like I said, you can get off the ride whenever you damn well please.