What is stopping you from working through your problems and becoming who you want to be?
Depression and anxiety are both subsumed anger over how we have been treated.
Over and over, researchers have shown that those who suffer from such things are overwhelmingly victims of abuse as children.
Of course you would be angry if those who were supposed to care for you instead treated you like crap. Or otherwise made you feel lesser. And there’s a good chance you don’t even realize it. Or the depths to which it shapes your experiences to this day.
The most important thing is to have compassion for yourself. This sounds a little weird but we all know what compassion looks like. We just usually reserve it for other people.
Our expectations of ourselves run unreasonably high and we chastise ourselves for small mistakes. Dammit, that was stupid. If you wouldn’t say it to someone else, don’t say it to yourself.
This is something I’m struggling with right now. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not presenting myself as some kind of self-healing guru. I’m just determined to figure this out and share my discoveries with you.
You are human, with flaws, like everyone. A lot of attention is given to forgiving others but forgiving yourself can be more difficult. Admitting someone else made a mistake is easy! But it’s absolutely vital, because turning compassion on yourself has been shown to soothe the Fight/Flight/Freeze mechanism.
Often referred to as Fight or Flight, this is an ancient brain system that is triggered by stressful situations. But when you are a child, and you can’t fight or flee, this stress response can go unresolved. If this happens many times over a period of years, years when your brain is growing, the overload of stress gets baked in and becomes part of the system. This is why, sometimes, you feel like crap for no reason.
Plenty of people are dipshits to their kids. I suspect some common parenting practices are worse for little ones than most of us know. Chances are, the things or situations that throw you off-balance are related to bad experiences in your formative years.
Maybe you rare painfully aware of this but aren’t sure what to do about it. Traditional therapy can feel like endlessly rehashing trauma. Happily, the best treatment for these things is something anyone can do at home for free.
According to the American Psychological Association, “CBT is based on several core principles, including:
Psychological problems are based, in part, on faulty or unhelpful ways of thinking.
Psychological problems are based, in part, on learned patterns of unhelpful behavior.”
CBT is all about learning to see things differently.
First, you have to admit, really understand, that you are not infallible. What you experience is not reality. You see your mind’s representation of reality. It’s impossible to get away from because you can’t get out of your mind.
But you can change it. The brain is flexible and always thirsty for new knowledge, until the day we die.
The APA continues, “CBT treatment usually involves efforts to change thinking patterns. These strategies might include:
Learning to recognize one’s distortions in thinking that are creating problems, and then to reevaluate them in the light of reality.”
Experience can condition us to anticipate certain behavior from those around us. We may even misinterpret what they say and do, following our customary script.
That’s right, I’m suggesting you could be wrong.
Maybe you are just totally jangly, too jumpy to think straight. Admit that the issue lies with you, rather than the world being unfair or unwelcoming. The world at large isn’t watching you. The world at large doesn’t care.
This may sound harsh but, when you realize the pressure is off, you can start living your life however you want …. Whatever that means.
In the words of the National Association of Cognitive Behavioral Therapists, “If we are upset about our problems, we have two problems – The problem and our upset about it.”
The power lies in putting some breathing room between yourself and the issue.
I feel angry
I am angry
Then we can see more clearly, “Often, we upset ourselves about things when, in fact, the situation isn’t like we think it is. If we knew that, we would not waste time upsetting ourselves.”
CBT calls this the Inductive Method. It’s the simple act of checking yourself before you wreck yourself.
“The Inductive Method encourages us to look at our thoughts as being hypotheses or guesses that can be questioned and tested. If we find that our hypotheses are incorrect (because we have new information) then we can change our thinking to be in line with how the situation really is.”
Mental flexibility is the key to what we’re doing – Facing our fears and putting them to rest.
Top of the APA’s list of unhealthy behaviors CBT addresses is denial. They stress, “Facing one’s fears instead of avoiding them.” This is the #1 most important thing!
You must be willing to do this or you are wasting your time.
By the time you get to be in your 30s, you will have noticed that certain scenarios – or situations that feel similar – keep cropping up. You don’t need to be a mystic to see that if you learn to handle these things better, you can stop going in circles.
You can guarantee that your emotions are messing you up, keeping you from putting your best foot forward. This is why we often struggle with things related to our history. It’s not anything supernatural, and it’s within our power to make changes.
Take a moment, either during the situation or after, and ask yourself why it brings out the feelings in you that it does. How are you approaching or conceptualizing things in ways that come from thoughts that cause you pain? From ideas you know are probably unhealthy?
It’s not complicated stuff, but it does involve dealing directly and honestly with things that make you uncomfortable. With things you’ve taken for granted. It’s easy to get defensive.
Watch out for anger directed at people or things who don’t really deserve it or are not worth your time. That’s your defense mechanism kicking in to deflect attention from a sore spot.
Time after time, take that pause to step back. Understand that your feelings are like a flowing river – You may be soaking wet, but you are not the water.
By applying Self-Compassion and Check Before You Wreck, over time you will begin to see patterns in your thoughts and behavior. Understanding will enable you to act more with purpose, instead of just reacting to the world as it comes at you.
You can’t go back in time and undo trauma, but you can fix the damage it caused. It takes time. If you get frustrated trying to understand yourself, imagine the most sympathetic character you can think of – A small child, a puppy, an old lady – and imagine they are having your difficulty. Take how you would feel for them and apply it to yourself.
Yes, it takes that much patience.
Coming soon: Part 2 – What Does Life on Your Terms Mean, Anyway?