Episode 10: Flexible Thinking to Feel S.A.F.E.

In this episode of Leadership Parenting, we discover the secret to navigating emotional storms in your parenting journey by harnessing the power of flexibility in your thinking. With the help of the SAFE model, you’ll learn how to tackle the process of untangling fused thoughts and feelings which can help you evaluate your thoughts and develop a more adaptable mindset. By practicing flexibility, you’ll be able to recognize when your thoughts aren’t serving you and shift towards more intentional responses. 

What you will learn on this episode:

  • How to use the SAFE model to move from feeling threatened and overwhelmed by working with your thoughts
  • The concept of flexibility in thinking and feeling, and how it relates to our ability to move through the world
  • How our thoughts and feelings can become fused, causing us to feel stuck and how to untangle fused thoughts and feelings
  • How to recognize when our thoughts are not serving us and move towards more intentional responses
  • Learn how to practice flexible thinking and observe your thoughts
  • Explore the idea of an emotional audit to evaluate thoughts 



*This transcription below was provided for you or your convenience; please excuse any mistakes that the automated service made in translation.

In part 4 of this safe series, we’ll learn how to work with our thinking by using flexibility. I’m Leigh Germann and this is Leadership Parenting, episode number 10, flexible Thinking. Did you know that resilience is the key to confidence and joy? As moms, it’s what we want for our kids, but it’s also what we need for ourselves. My name is Leigh Germann,  I’m a therapist and I’m a mom. Join me as we explore the skills you need to know to be confident and joyful. Then get ready to teach these skills to your kids. This is Leadership Parenting, where you learn how to lead your family by showing them the way. 


Hey, welcome to Leadership Parenting. Today we are going to talk about flexibility and I’ve laid out in the model that I use all the time in my coaching and in my client work, the safe model, to be able to take that threat response that we’re experiencing when we have really big, gnarly feelings that we’ve been talking about, and move towards safety. So if this is the first time you’re joining me in this episode on this podcast, then you may want to go back and listen to the last few episodes, where we do talk about and lay out the process of safe as a model SAFE in which we’re really addressing that overwhelm or that feeling of being flooded or kind of knocked off our feet like in a storm emotional storm with really big feelings. And this model helps us understand that when this happens, our body goes through a threat response, and that threat response is what feels so bad to us. It just either overwhelms our ability to think clearly, it makes us want to do things or say things that maybe we normally wouldn’t do or say and that could be in a negative way or a withdrawing way, and so just it might just have us be in pain and we can get overwhelmed by it. So we use the term SAFE on purpose, because it represents the process to feel better. 


S to slow things down, a to acknowledge what it is we’re feeling and attend to ourselves, and then F, which is what we’re going to talk about today, and then E, of course, which we will talk about in next episode, and so the acronym is SAFE, and I actually have women use that phrase, and today I was working with I worked with several women today, so it’s a busy day And one of the women said to me okay, lee, i’ve been doing SAFE, i’ve been doing SAFE, and here’s where it’s working. And here’s where I’m getting stuck. And I absolutely love it. When you use that acronym, and I hope that you do. I hope that you recognize my behavior or these feelings that I’m having. You know, feelings proceed, behaviors So they go together. What’s going on with me is part of a threat response and I need attention and I need to move to safety. So we’ve talked about how to slow things down and how to acknowledge what we’re feeling inside, and flexibility is the next step. 


So what does it mean to be flexible? I mean, when you think about flexibility, if you’ve got flexible muscles, what does that mean about how you move through the world? So typically if something’s not flexible, if it’s rigid, then it doesn’t bend and it doesn’t move. And oftentimes if you push it too hard it snaps or it breaks. And so flexible really represents our ability to move within the options of what might be causing this threat response to go on inside of us. 


And I think we’ve talked about this idea of having rigidity before in earlier episodes where we can identify with our thinking and our feeling as being who we are And we use those phrases to describe how we’re thinking and feeling. I am this, so you know the word that we use with kind of being identified by our feelings or identified by our thinking, is fused. So if you’ve ever worked with like a fusible fabric And if you heat it it will fuse together the two pieces of material. And this is what happens with our feelings. We get fused together with our feelings. Instead of I’m having the feeling of being afraid or, in our earlier example, i am the worst mother in the world, if I’m fused with that statement, then it becomes my reality. 


Instead, what we want to do is just notice. We want to notice what you’re feeling, notice what you might have been thinking that triggered the feeling. So, in flexibility, we’re trying to let go of the idea that our feelings are sticky and permanent and see them instead as kind of fluid or transient. And we’re going to use flexibility in the same way with your thoughts. That separateness that you are, your essential self, is from your thoughts, your feelings and your actions. And typically we’re going to be looking a lot at how we’re perceiving things, what our thoughts are, seeing our thoughts as the powerhouse behind our feelings. 


And you can go back to episode five to review this. It’s where we talk about your internal world and how those thoughts and feelings work. But for now let me just review that here. So something happens, some event, some circumstance, and we have a thought about it, and that thought creates a feeling. And the feeling that we have is meant, is designed our feelings are designed to put us into action of some kind, and when you understand that thoughts precede feelings and feelings cause us to act, we start to see that there’s a whole formula that goes on that is seamless. Most of the time We don’t think about it And this, by the way, is what is called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, 

i want you to know that this is a hugely researched and studied formula that is very successful in helping people work with their thinking and work with their feelings, and it’s used in the therapy profession. It’s used in the coaching profession because it is the formula that unlocks the power over your, over your internal world, that place within us where we have all those thoughts and those feelings. 


And so when we have really, really big feelings, our tendency is to want to shut the feelings down or, you know, kind of skip over our thinking and go right back to the cause of our feelings, and that’s what we say. You know, this thing made me feel upset, afraid, angry, sad, happy, and we get really tied into things making us feel certain ways or you know, events or experiences or people or whatever that is. 


And the critical step that we miss most of the time in our awareness is that we have a thought about that thing And it’s that thought that creates the feeling


Guys, we actually have a lot of scary stuff going on in our thoughts at times. I don’t know about you, but I jump to conclusions super fast. I can go to extreme really quickly. I can start to have these kind of scary scenarios in my head to create a lot of fear. When we talk about having an emotional storm, you can almost look at the level of upset that you’ve got and expect to find a thought or a series of thoughts that are the cause of that upset. They’re going to be upsetting thoughts. 


So, what we’re looking to do here is in the F, in safe is to start to get curious, to understand that might be going on that would cause us to feel that way.. We’re looking to just understand what might be behind our feelings. When we can have understanding of why I might be feeling this way, like if I can dial into my thinking and hear the narrative, hear the story, my brain will almost automatically begin to work with that. If you can slow things down enough to just be aware of what it is you’re thinking, you are far more likely to come up with another alternative, naturally without even having to sit down and do a formal exercise to change your thoughts. And this is where we start to get that flexibility, where we’re able to start to consider that there might be another narrative, or that maybe I’ve got an automatic process going on, or that if I could understand a little bit more, that maybe I’m tired and I’m just not operating on my normal kind of capacity, at my normal capacity, because I don’t have all the resources that I usually do, i can start to work with myself. And you know, even if that doesn’t happen automatically, we we have plenty of tools to do that in a more formal way, but we can’t do any of that when we don’t even know what it is that we’re thinking. So flexibility is where we start going on a hunt for those reasons why we might be feeling what we’re feeling. 


 that we’re giving ourselves permission to maybe rewrite the narrative eventually, and maybe at first it’s just noticing the narrative and being able to let our minds have some other options. And probably one of the first options available to us is the understanding that every thought we have isn’t necessarily true. And this is part of that tendency that we have to jump to conclusions or to kind of make a grand sweeping decision about something. It causes us a lot of fear or anxiety or sadness or anger, and flexibility is recognizing that every thought we have is optional. That’s such a new concept for most of us. I have to remind myself of that all the time. I don’t have to believe this thought. It’s showing up and I’m getting all these feelings, and this feeling that I have is making it feel so real. 


So flexibility means I’m open to the idea that maybe I can think about this in another way, maybe there is truth to this and I can keep this thought certainly. But also maybe I can find another way to look at this that will help me be more flexible and help me feel differently in a way that it better serves me. This is so important when we’re working with our children, when we’re working with our spouses, when we’re working in our workplace, when we’re able to say I could feel that I’ve got all this emotion and I’m having some thoughts and maybe I’m in that jumping to conclusions place And I don’t have to buy into every thought I’m having right now. I can just notice I’m having the thoughts And we’re trying to get defused. 


Remember how we talked about fusing things? together means that we are the thoughts, we are believing them because we’re having them and we’re trying to become defused from them and get unstuck from that sense of being controlled by that narrative And just get curious and flexible. This certainly is causing me some upset. I wonder if maybe I can calm down first and think through this in another way. You can always choose to think that way once you do this experiment, but having the option to think differently is what we’re going for. 


So what that means is that you’ve noticed that something’s going on, you’re feeling upset, you’ve slowed things down, you’ve acknowledged what it is you’re feeling in your body and given it a name. And now what I want you to do is figuratively and we should wear almost this easy If you could find a string from your feelings to the thought that created it, then wouldn’t that be so much easier. You’d just be like, hmm, let me find that string and just follow it up until I find the thought it’s connected to. And unfortunately, or fortunately we don’t have a string actually connected to our thoughts. But if you could, figuratively, with curiosity, hmm, what was it that triggered that feeling? And that’s part of being flexible. Instead of just moving forward with the action that might come when we get upset, we’re going to instead pause and start to get curious as to what was going on, what thoughts go with these feelings. 


Really want you to know that thoughts, easily and kind of deceptively, can create a reality for us that may or may not serve us, so you could be having helpful thoughts and unhelpful thoughts, and this is that flexibility You’re not gonna be. I don’t want you to be fused with every thought you have, because you want to be able to choose your thoughts, and this may be a familiar concept to you or it might sound absolutely crazy to you that you get to choose your thoughts, and I’m going to suggest that you can. You can choose thoughts that you purposely think. And if you have thoughts that come to you that are not on purpose, meaning they just kind of seem to enter your mind And I don’t know about you, but I have many of those You get to choose what you focus on, which thoughts you feed. 


The way I like to illustrate this is that kind of stereotypical cat at the door. If you have a stray cat that comes to your door and meows and you compassionately open the door and oh, poor kitty, i’m gonna feed this kitty And you bring out something that you think that cat would like some tuna, some chicken, some milk, whatever that is And you put it in a little dish and you feed that cat And you close the door and you look out the window and the cat ate all the food and it’s gone. And then the next day you hear another little meowing at the door and you open the door and you look at the cat and you’re like, oh, you’re back. Huh, okay, i’ll feed you again. You do this you don’t even have to do it more than probably once and you’re gonna get a cat coming back quite frequently. As a matter of fact, that cat is smart. That cat knows that if it comes to the door and it gives you that little sad eye look and a little meow, you’re going to feed it. 


Now, an interesting thing about cats at doors and thoughts in our mind is that we can feed it and the cat will come back and we can think it and the neural pathway becomes established. Couple repetitions and your brain accepts it and says this is a pattern that I’m gonna keep. And without even having to purposely feed the cat, you can have a cat return over and over and over again And without purposely thinking a thought, you can have it come back and return over and over and over again. And this is why it’s so important to have the concept of flexibility, because when you know that you are not the thought and the thought returns, it’s that knowing that you are separate from it that allows you to have a different relationship with your thoughts. And just as valuable as it is to restructure a thought and kind of talk back to it and reframe it and make it different so that you feel differently, it’s actually probably even more powerful to recognize that it’s a thought that doesn’t serve you, so you’re going to just not pay a lot of attention to it. So let’s pause here for a second and have you think for you what thoughts might be habitual or automatic or that really don’t represent something that’s good for you. 


What thoughts come to you that kind of get you all worked up, that get those big scary feelings to come up. Do you have any cats that come frequently to your door, any thoughts that come into your mind that upset you on a regular basis? I don’t know about you, but when I start to observe, i can notice that I do have some little thoughts meowing at me, and often these are thoughts that trigger a feeling in me that set off that emotional storm that we are talking about. What are some of the ways that you can start to take a big step back, remembering that you’re not fused to your thoughts, and you can start looking at the thoughts that are serving you well and that are giving you that sense of confidence and even direction, and which are the thoughts that are not serving you well? And a great way to know if it’s in that category is is this causing me difficulty in acting in the way that I want to act? Am I getting really anxious about things and it makes me avoid things? Am I getting really upset and angry inside because of this thinking that I’m having And it’s causing me to lose my temper, lose my cool and act in a way that doesn’t serve me or match my values. Am I having some big feelings that are causing me to just feel like I need to shut down, go crawl in bed, walk away, not go to that gathering where I’m going to feel closer to people, like, am I having some thoughts? Because you are, if you’re having that feeling, there are some thoughts there somewhere. What are those thoughts that are coming up that are causing these feelings? And are these thoughts that are serving me? 


And this is super important when we’re in an emotional storm, because the thing that really puts us in the storm and keeps us in the storm is the way we are thinking, the way we’re interpreting what is going on around us, and it could be that we’re having a big case of the shoulds. I think we all have a lot of thoughts about how things should be. My kids are old enough. That shouldn’t be happening. I messed this up. This is so embarrassing, i shouldn’t have done that Or maybe some really worried or scary thoughts like people should care about me more. Nobody cares about me Or I’m broken. I should be able to do this, but I can’t. I can’t do it, or my spouse should respect me more. They don’t respect me. My life is boring. It should be different. It’s depressing. 


Any of these thoughts can start an emotional storm brewing because they create feelings And then we feel those feelings in our bodies and it becomes very real for us. But each of these thoughts really can be examined for evidence And if they had to pass a test, like whether they were good for us, good thoughts, they probably wouldn’t pass, because they’re one-sided or they’re enlarged or kind of dramatized And I’m not saying that we’re all drama queens, but our thinking can go there really fast. I mean, mine can, i bet yours can too. No blame or judgment, just understanding that this. This is why we feel how we do, and this is the key to feeling differently Just having an option to not feed those thoughts, even if they are coming back again and again. 


You can get through your day with a kitty meowing at the door and not feeding it. You can have thoughts that don’t serve you and not feed them, and this is what I mean by being flexible. You want to be able to have some choices in how you think about things And if I could, i’d give us all this little internal stopwatch. You know that we could click the button and stop the clock so you could think through alternatives. Like everything around you would freeze, like in the movies, and just you would be real time and you could pause and look at the situation and check out how you’re feeling and look at your kids’ faces or your spouse’s face or whatever the situation is, and be able to say I get to choose how I’m going to respond to this And like, maybe I have three different options, right, like three different options on how you could think about it. 


Maybe option number one is what the heck? This kid’s driving me crazy, doing this on purpose. I can’t handle this, i am so done. And option number two I’m feeling a little overwhelmed right now. I feel a little short on patience. This wasn’t how I was planning for the day to go. I feel off balance and I need something to calm me down. And maybe option number three this tantrum is temporary. It’s important for me to remember not to take it personally. My kid is still learning how to manage emotions, because my role is apparent to be patient and provide the space for them to navigate these feelings. I mean, it would be weird if my kid didn’t have tantrums. This is where those tantrums are supposed to happen. This is part of the plan. Nothing’s wrong here. 


Okay, here’s your three choices on a menu. You could start to see how each of those choices, each of those thoughts, will generate a different kind of feeling. Option number one turns on your threat response. So fast, you don’t even know what hits you. And this is why it’s option number one. Right, you didn’t choose it, it just popped in your head and we may not even have a chance to stop them, so it may not feel like you can choose it. But as soon as we can recognize it, then we can start to be more flexible and know that you have a choice whether to buy into that thought or not. Or, figuratively, like feed the cat, feed the thought, which is why option number two can be a good bridge. 


Thought One that if we notice that we’re having a thought that feels very upsetting to us right, it’s generating that feeling. We can kind of go to option number two. I’m upset, it’s a self-awareness that you’re having, i’m surprised, i need something here. And, of course, option three starts to help you be more other, focused, more intentional, less reactive, which is where we ideally want to head right, to be, ideally, this intentional parent who can be on our game all the time and thinking about our parenting goals and all the reading you’ve been doing and plans. You have to be the kind of parent you most desire. This kind of thinking isn’t the first thing that pops in our head. This is more of a menu choice down on the menu. 


So flexibility is about working with thoughts, not nailing the perfect thought every single time. It’s more about getting unstuck from that reactive option number one that triggers your fear or triggers your anger or your sadness. Like getting unstuck means you may feel it, because that’s why we call it option number one. It just shows up sometimes And being in an emotional storm means you’re feeling it already. It’s already happened. 


The key here is to see it, to recognize it, to get unstuck from it so you can calm and soothe and choose another thought that may serve you better. So wouldn’t it be great to kind of have a menu of thoughts, several choices in how you could possibly think about a situation? would be so cool to have that kind of flexibility, like, hmm, what would really be good for me right now? to think, what thought could calm my heart right now and remind me that I’m okay and give me a little bit of a sense of peace? So go into more detail around how to evaluate a thought and how to work with it and change it, even think on purpose, but in the safe process. I want you to just practice the flexibility. If you can start to realize that these thoughts are optional I know they don’t feel like they are, but these thoughts are optional then you have the opportunity to not be fused with them. That’s what flexibility is. 


So I want you to remember, in safe, you’re getting curious and you’re starting to look around at what you might be needing in that moment and what might be the thing that triggered your big feelings, because that’s going to start to lead you to problem solving and help you avoid that implosion that occurs, where we get caught up in all of this process and then just react. So we’re looking at intentionality as opposed to reactivity. And even more than that, guys, it’s to get us out of suffering. We get tied into a knot with these emotions and we can get ourselves untied. I’m not worried about it happening, because it happens to all of us. We’re not going to try to avoid it, but if you can help unravel it, you know, unlock what’s going on. This is the core to feeling emotionally well and powerful and resilient and all those things that we’re striving for. 


So, in review, we’re going to slow things down, we’re going to acknowledge what we’re feeling And then we’re going to move to that flexibility place where we’re curious and wanting to understand what’s going on. Give it a try, put it into practice, and I think that what you’ll find is, the more that you do this, the more familiar it will become, and it’s a great tool. It’s a tool I use every day and I want you to use it every day, and you know your kids are going to learn how to use it too, So it’s a win all the way around. Thanks for spending this time with me today and I’m excited to talk with you next time as we close up this whole process. It’s taken several episodes and I thank you for hanging in there as we break it down. We’ll close it out with how to move forward and making a choice and what you do once you understand what’s going on with you, and that would be the E for engaging in what matters to you most. So until next time, you guys take care of yourselves and I’ll talk to you next week. 


Do you have a question or a topic that you’d like to see addressed? I’d love to hear from you. You can find my email in the show notes at LeeGermancom or you can DM me on Instagram at LeeGerman. I always welcome your thoughts and ideas. The Leadership Parenting Podcast is for general information purposes only. It is not therapy and should not take the place of meeting with a qualified mental health professional. The information on this podcast is not intended to diagnose or treat any condition, illness or disease. It’s also not intended to be legal, medical or therapeutic advice. Please consult your doctor or mental health professional for your individual circumstances. Thanks again and take care. 

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