For years Nan & I have given the instruction to clients to ask themselves
“What do I feel and what do I need?”
It’s good advice, but it’s not complete enough. Then we came across an expanded four step version from therapist and professor Terry Hargrave, who attends our church.
It is as follows:
- What do you feel?
- What do you believe?
- What is the truth (reality)
- What is the right action? (This is where “What do I need?” might be a good question.)
We like to tell a story about early in our marriage when Nan & I went camping in Upper Chileo Flats in the Angeles Crest Forest here in California. It was late at night and Nan needed to make a bathroom visit. So she took the flashlight and headed for the outhouse. I was tucked snugly in our 1960 Ford Vanette hippie van camper named “Big Pink”. All of a sudden Nan came bounding in to the camper and jumped in bed behind me and started pushing me toward the open door with her feet.
“There’s a mountain lion out there. Go do something!”
I remember that what I wanted to do was to put my pants on. But like a dutiful new husband I grabbed the flashlight and went to investigate. Instead of the roar of a mountain lion, I was met by the meow of someone’s kitty-cat.
Nan’s 4 steps:
- What did she feel? Fear
- What did she believe? There was a lion after her and she was in danger.
- What was the truth? It was a harmless house cat.
- What was the right action? Well, maybe to pet the cat if it was friendly.
She also had one more belief. The Bible said a husband was to love his wife as Christ loved the church and be willing to lay down his life for her. (Eph. 5:25). Maybe this was a test of faith for a new husband?
When these four steps are applied prior to emotional interactions with others, the outcome may be very different from our initial assessment. You can easily see that if we have inaccurate beliefs or assumptions we are going to react incorrectly no matter what we may feel. This is why slowing down our reactivity in any type of relationship will probably yield better results. It is so easy to believe that someone is against you when they really aren’t. Maybe they are just for themselves. Or perhaps they are actually for you, but it’s hard to receive because of past experiences or family of origin issues.
When I get a hold of my inner dialog and bring it under Christ’s authority I am a different person. As our pastor says, before a person opens their mouth to ANYONE, they should ask themselves these three questions:
Is it kind? Is it true? Is it necessary?
If they can’t say yes to all three conditions then they should not say it. Going through the four steps will help determine the answers to those questions and change your interactions for the better with everyone.