Fishing for Trouble


A school of fishy words that lead people towards confusion and upset.

Certain words consistently lead us down an emotional sinkhole. It’s important to keep my ear out for them so I can prevent my clients from drowning in the despair these words create. We’ve already tasted the troublesome effects of the fattest Fishing for Trouble culprit: Should. Now we’ll explore other dark waters of language.

Tanya had designed a life path for herself that was not only different from what her family expected but out of the box compared to society in general. Being so divergent made Tanya feel uncomfortable, and she sought frequent reassurance that the choices she was making were acceptable. The conversation below is full of Fishing for Trouble words highlighted in bold:

     Tanya: My dad doesn’t understand that I don’t want to go to college.

     Chana: And that upsets you?

     Tanya: Yeah, I mean, isn’t it understandable that after age 18 I’d want to make my own choices?

Tanya wants to feel supported in her thinking, despite it making her upset. This question shows she’d rather be justified than happy. Her emotional health demands that she be less interested in what is understandable and more interested in what is beneficial. My first step is to attempt to reword her statement into a belief we can inquire about:

     Chana: You believe your father should support your choices now that you’re 18?

     Tanya: Yes! Exactly. He totally should. Hold That Thought

     Chana: And how do you react when you believe he should support you?

     Tanya: I get so angry. My skin turns hot, and my fists clench. But doesn’t it make sense that I should be angry? Isn’t it logical to feel that way.

Tanya’s back to wanting justification, now for her emotions rather than her beliefs. The problem is that her feelings aren’t supporting the happiness she really wants, and it doesn’t serve her to try to back them up with bigger bait.Again, the question is not whether her emotions are justified, but whether they get her where she wants to go. Other Fishing for Trouble words that fit the “justification” rubric, including: fair, justified, and reasonable.

     Chana: What else comes up when you believe the thought that your father should support your choices?

     Tanya: I start thinking about how I’m not old enough, smart enough, or knowledgeable enough to make decisions without his support.

Tanya’s shared three additional beliefs she hasn’t mentioned before, so let’s add them to her Thought Bank:

I’m not old enough to make decisions on my own.
I’m not smart enough to make decisions on my own.
I’m not knowledgeable enough to make decisions on my own.

She’s also using another Fishing for Trouble word: enough. Another way to say enough is, “as it should be.” The assumption is that we know exactly how much talent or height or beauty is ideal and that we have the capacity to assess whether we fit that rubric. The word enough always leads to sadness and frustration. Why? Because it forces us to step outside of ourselves and to be the ultimate, all-knowing judge of ourselves and our situation. Now, back to our regularly scheduled Inquiry.

     Chana: What are you not able to do when you believe that your father should support your choices?

     Tanya: It’s hard to think straight. Like, I’m thinking of signing up for a computer programming course, and my mind goes all blurry every time I go to the computer school’s website.

     Chana: Can you think of a peaceful reason to keep the thought that your father should support your choices?

     Tanya: Yeah. I deserve his support. I mean, I’m his daughter.

KABOOM! Deserve is a bomb of a word. Again, Tanya wants to feel justified in her desire for support while at the same time elevating it to the status of Rule of the Universe: All fathers should always support their daughters’ decisions. In other words, she’s saying she should get his support because she should get his support. This is circular, self-destructive thinking at its best. Notice I’ve asked Tanya to offer a peaceful reason her father should support her, yet her answer is presumably a stressful one.

     Chana: Does it bring you peace to think that?

     Tanya: Uh… peace?

     Chana: Yes. How do you feel when you believe you deserve his support?

     Tanya: Annoyed. Pissed off.

     Chana: So, not peaceful.

     Tanya: I guess not. No.

     Chana: Can you think of a peaceful reason to keep the thought that your father should support you?

     Tanya: … nah. But it’s not fair. He’s my dad. He says he loves me and wants me to be happy but then gets all flustered when I say I don’t want to go to college.

When Tanya says, “It’s not fair,” she’s arguing with reality. In other words, “If reality got it right, according to my accounting of how things should be, then my dad would support me.” Fair is Deserve’s best friend. They’re different ways of saying should. That’s why they’re all Fishing for Trouble words – they all bait us into an ice hole of despair.

     Chana: I hear a couple of thoughts we may want to add to your Thought Bank. Let me know if you believe them to be true.

     Tanya: Okay.

     Chana: You believe that dads should support their daughters.

     Tanya: Yeah.

Now I walk up to the ATM.

     Chana: And if your dad loves you, that means he should support your desire to skip college.

     Tanya: Totally.

     Chana: And if your dad says he wants you to be happy, that means that he should support all your choices.

     Tanya: Shouldn’t he?

     Chana: What’s the reality of it?

     Tanya: He doesn’t always.

     Chana: How do you react when you believe that if your dad says he wants to you be happy it means that he should support your choices, and he doesn’t?

     Tanya: I get really mad at him. I don’t want to talk to him.

     Chana: And who would you be, trying to register for a programming course, without the thought?

     Tanya: I could just read the info about each class. It would be so much easier to pick the one I want to take.

     Chana: Anything else?

     Tanya: I would feel calm.

     Chana: Yes. Sit in that for a minute. Feel that calm. That’s what you were hoping to feel when you wanted your father to support you.

     Tanya: Yeah. I just wanted to feel like everything was going to be okay.

     Chana: Exactly. But you can feel that way on your own, whether or not your father supports you. Feel that. You just created that feeling.

     Tanya: It feels good.

     Chana: And how are you around your father without the thought that he should support you?

     Tanya: I can simply be with him. I can let myself laugh. Dad is very funny.

     Chana: Wonderful. Now, let’s turn it around. Your father should support you – what’s the opposite of that?

     Tanya: My father shouldn’t support me.

     Chana: Give me three reasons why that’s true.

     Tanya: He doesn’t always.

     Chana: Yes. What else?

     Tanya: In his experience, college is the path towards success, and he wants me to be successful and financially stable. He thinks that’ll make me happy.

     Chana: And another reason?

     Tanya: Sometimes I do stupid things. I wouldn’t want him supporting that. I’d prefer he push me to think through some of my choices.

     Chana: Can you give me another turnaround? One that starts with you.

     Tanya: I should support me. Ooh. That’s tough.

     Chana: But you thought it was so easy for your dad.

     Tanya: Touché.

     Chana: Can you give me three reasons this thought is as true or truer than your original belief?

     Tanya: Yeah. I’m the one who has to live with myself. And my choices. And whatever comes of them.

     Chana: Good. Two more.

     Tanya: I often doubt myself even when my dad is supportive. I could learn from him, sometimes.

     Chana: Wow. What else?

     Tanya: Um…. I can’t think of anything else….To help Tanya, let’s introduce her to one of my friends, the pre-schooler. His words can help her see her mental processing a bit more clearly.

     Chana: Let’s say that a four-year-old passed by you on the street and said, “I think it’s so fantastic that you’re not going to college, Tanya. You’re
a superstar. I support every choice you make!” What would you think?

    Tanya: I don’t know. He’s a kid. And doesn’t know anything. I don’t care what he thinks.

    Chana: You don’t feel more supported by his words?

    Tanya: No way.

     Chana: So you told yourself a story about this child and based on your story, you decided whether to support yourself with his words or not.

     Tanya: Huh. Yeah, I guess I did.

     Chana: And if your father were to say those words then you’d pat yourself on the back with them and hug yourself with them and fill your heart with them.

     Tanya: (laughing) Probably!

     Chana: So who supports you?

     Tanya: I do! I get it! I should support myself. I should say things to myself that are supportive and take in others’ words that are supportive, blocking out what’s not. I like that.

In summary, Tanya’s desire for the unfailing support of her father got in the way of her being happy with her own choices. By identifying the Fishing For Trouble words in her speech, she was able to get out of her own way and find better fish to fry.

Summary of Fishing For Trouble

Fishing For Trouble words trap us in upset and despair. Identifying these words and the havoc they wreak can help you move them out of the way and get closer to clarity and peace.

Like what you’ve read? You can learn Fishing For Trouble along with 21 other tools in my book, Hold That Thought. Download a free copy of the book here.

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