Sunday, May 2, 2010

Prayer, Religious Upbringing and NST

Comment from a reader: 
"How much of our default to NST as intelligent adult women begins with training in childhood? I'm suspecting it's a practice embedded deeply for girls and all the more entrenched with religious upbringing. In my case NST was couched as almost virtuous behavior - humbling yourself before God - I'm a bad person, forgive me, being the proper way to pray."

At the "Break the Negative Self-Talk" presentation ten days ago, the topic of prayer was also brought up as a potential, subtle, and unintended form of negative self talk. e.g. "God, help me to stop being so selfish, mean, and angry all the time." The prayer is saying, "I'm a bad person," exactly as the reader comments above. How could this prayer be restated, acknowledging a need for improvement, but not dumping on one's self? "God, help me to be a caring, kinder, calmer, woman." That's a good example of plain old cognitive restructuring, changing what you're saying to yourself.

Yes, it's a small difference, in perspective, but it isn't a self- put down. You're asking for help to be a better person than you already are, rather than asking for help because you are a bad person. Even if you just say those two sentences out loud right now, as if you were saying them to a friend, a therapist, a partner, or a higher power of any kind, the latter will feel better than the former.

I agree with the reader/commenter cited above that the practice of NST, under the prayer umbrella, may be well-entrenched in religiously brought up young women. I also am sure that like any other habit, whatever its root, it can be broken, altered, changed. If one thinks of NST as a learned neurotic pattern, then it can only be changed by the therapy process. If one thinks of it as a "barely conscious habit of emotional thought" or as a habit of mental action as opposed to physical action, then we don't necessarily need therapy, but we do need a plan and directed mental effort to alter the habit. Ch. 11, "Dealing with Uncertainty" of the book Wisdom — From Philosophy to Neuroscience by Stephen S. Hall addresses the relationship between emotional reactivity, neuroactivity, and cognitions. It's not hard to "get it" as he describes the process and research bases, even though he uses words you and I may not understand specifically.

A slightly different viewpoint (based on specific research, which is described) about the benefit of prayer in reducing resentment and producing greater other-directed caring shows up on the Association for Psychological Science web site; The Science of Prayer. Here's a link http://tinyurl.com/yh2oaqj

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