The last few blogs have been about changing our thoughts. I know many of you have been working on this for some time. It is hard work and can sometimes feel like there is little to no progress. What often happens is the following:
Janice has been struggling with negative self-iamge and low self-esteem for as long as she can remember. She is taking an anti-depressant and a mood stabilizer as well as an anti-anxiety medication. She started cognitive therapy in the past 6 weeks and working on challenging and replacing her negative thinking patterns. She is using journaling every day to notice what is going well in her life. She also uses journaling to identify the negative thoughts that come through her mind and to then record an alternative and more adaptive positive thought or script. This past week she told her therapist that she was frustrated. She explained, “This is not working. I have done what you said and used my journal faithfully everyday. I have been writing down as many positives in my day as possible and learning to rewrite my negative tape that keeps playing in my head. But that damn tape keeps playing every day. I can’t get through one day without having some negative comment to say to myself.”
If it does, then things are working. An important aspect to keep in mind is the goal of therapy. It is NOT to “Not have negative thoughts!” You read that right. The goal is not to NOT HAVE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS. One of the primary functions of our brain is to produce thoughts, all kinds of thoughts. These include positive, negative, anxious, worried, sad, excited, logical, irrational. All kinds of thoughts.
Thoughts, like feeling, are OKAY! It is not the thought or feeling that creates the problem per se. It is our reaction. Keep in mind that change is difficult. It is very hard. It requires, in fact, demands lots of repetitive practice.
Think of it this way.
A person may struggle with impulsively and automatically thinking the worst whenever something occurs. Someone doesn’t say hello back to them, they immediately think, “I am invisible. No one ever notices me. Why bother saying hi to anyone”.
A person is told they need to improve in some way at work, at school, at a game and they think, “I’m such a loser. I can’t get anything right”.
Someone wakes up late, doesn’t hear their alarm, or the electricity goes out during the night so there was no alarm. Their response is, “Why do these things happen to me. Haven’t I dealt with enough.”
These “negative reactions” have been conditioned and reinforced over and over again perhaps millions of times. When something doesn’t go right or as planned, it is natural that you have that knee jerk or automatic response. It is just like your leg kicking in the air when the doctor taps on your knee.The goal is to catch yourself kicking your leg. This takes time and will come in stages.
You might begin with recognizing that you kicked your leg up today. This realization may not even come until just before going to bed and you are reviewing your day. Perhaps after some time, you will start to notice, “Oh, I kicked my leg up today”, a few hours after the fact. In some more time, you might catch yourself within ten or twenty minutes of kicking your leg. Perhaps after even more time you will begin to predict times you are likely to kick your leg and catch yourself just as you are doing it.
The bottom line is, you might never stop yourself from initially kicking your leg up after something happens. Perhaps some days you will. Perhaps some weeks you will. Perhaps some moments you won’t.
It is all okay. You’re okay. The goal is to change the reaction. Instead of beating yourself up and then isolating in your home for the rest of the day, it is to catch yourself AND move on with your day. So you spilled coffee on you before leaving the house. Express your frustration, disappointment, even anger AND then go change your shirt.
Keep noticing what is going well.
~ Dr. Lou