The 5P model
Let's imagine a hypothetical scenario: Susan, (a fictional name), sat in my office, expressing her feelings of rejection and helplessness as she recounted the latest conflict she had endured from her adult son, whose father had abandoned the family when he was young. She shared her laments regarding the toxic homelife they experienced while her children were growing up, and how she fixated on the past. She discussed negative thoughts that haunt her, and how her efforts to push them away haven't been healthy or productive.
Susan appeared to understand that neither obsessing (constantly playing the words and events over and over in her mind), nor repressing (pushing the thoughts away as if they had no meaning) were not healthy. Ping-ponging back and forth between these two unhealthy options had finally brought her to counseling. Susan was open to discussing what I call the "5P model" to help achieve healthier outcomes related to her thoughts and feelings.
The first P in this model stands for “Identify the PROBLEM. Giving the problem a name such as I feel “hopeless” or “helpless” helps to narrow the focus and prepare to deal with it. The second P is for PROCESSING. “Processing” involves knowing, thinking, learning, and judging to reach conclusions. Why do I think or feel this way? What could make the problem more manageable? How could I have responded differently? Processing is an important and necessary step to clearly identifying healthy options in our next step.
The third P is to PLAN. Susan must formulate a plan for dealing with the unhealthy, negative thoughts, and learn to recognize what is in her control. Owning her emotions and committing to consistent change is necessary to keep spiraling feelings from overwhelming her. One helpful strategy to implement is the “Mental Stop Sign”, where Susan learned to visualize a large glowing stop sign on a stick, holding it out like a crossing guard to block the negative thoughts and telling herself to “STOP!” when unhealthy thoughts torment her. Once she can disengage from the negative thought, she replaces it with a positive thought. The positive thought(s) are called “GO” thoughts. In Susan's case, her “GO” thought was, "I wasn't perfect, but I did my best.”
The fourth P is to PROCEED. This journey is not perfect or clear cut at times, so, often it requires rethinking, or re-processing once obstacles are identified. Once those obstacles are identified, Susan can come up with another plan. The “Stop Sign” technique is not a once-and- done exercise. It must be repeated often, always coupled with a positive thought. By consistently applying this strategy, the power of the negative, harmful thought begins to atrophy and allows the positive thought to strengthen. Eventually, one of the planned “GO” thoughts will take root, providing relief from obsessing and repressing. She will eventually feel more peace by not taking ownership of her son's anger, because she could not control its root cause (her husband leaving). This frees her to make progress in areas she had control over such as her own trauma from her previous marriage.
For believers, there is a fifth P, for PRAY. Prayer is our spiritual connection to divine help. PRAYER frees Susan to seek help in moving toward positive thoughts when she doesn’t feel that she can do it alone.
Susan agreed to practice the 5P model any time she realized she was stuck in a cycle of obsessive or repressive thoughts.