Today, I still have fears that I might be ill with endocarditis.
I am not quite as paralyzed by fear as I was yesterday, when I wrote this blog post before leaving home in the morning.
(I am letting go of judgment, right now, of how confusing that post might have been, and about how I might have included Too Much Information.) (Poof! )
So even though I’m feeling more centered and calm today, I am still in the challenging and difficult position of waiting for the results of the test for endocarditis.
When I work with people in therapy, I point out to them what a difficult place this is to be: Not Knowing, while waiting for important results. How stressful it is being in a position where you have no control over an outcome which may have a major impact on your life. (For example, waiting to hear if you’ve gotten into the school you want, waiting for the results of a biopsy, etc.)
I often forget to tell myself what I invite my clients to tell themselves: This is a very difficult place you are in. Therefore, be as kind to yourself as possible.
In groups I do, I hear this very common theme: we can see what works for other people, but it is hard to apply it to ourselves.
That reminds me of the following antidote for unhelpful thinking:
The “Double-Standard” Method. Instead of judging yourself harshly, talk to yourself as compassionately as you might to a friend with a similar problem. Also, ask yourself, “How would I react if somebody else did this?”
That gives me an idea for the rest of this post for today. I’d like to focus on antidotes. And when I say “focus on”, I mean “ramble about in that general direction until I get to the point I want to make.”
I am now going to reframe some negative mind-reading I am doing, assuming that you, my reader, might find my writing style annoying. I am going to reframe that into this: “Maybe some people find my writing style … charming!” Oooh! That helped me feel better. I will now reframe again into a more balanced thought: “Some people might find my writing style annoying. Some people might find my writing style charming. Enough people will find it understandable and worth reading.”
Yesterday, I did two groups at work, and I was very focused on inviting people to look at The Positive.
Okay, time for a digression about a way I think about therapy.
Digression about How I Think About Therapy
I think there is a duality about therapy. I think it is important to leave room for people’s ambivalence — their experience of the positive AND the negative. I think it’s important to leave room for people’s hopes AND fears. The light AND the dark. The good in them AND the not-so-good in them.
I think it’s important for me to show my acceptance of exactly where they are AND have hope with them for what they want to change — in themselves and in their lives. And I work hard to invite people to do the same for themselves.
I think it’s important to invite both sides — the positive and negative. But I want to be careful to invite the negative, especially, because — if I focus too much on the positive — people might not feel seen, with all their pain, shame, and fears about themselves and their lives.
Lots of clients/patients (I don’t like those labels, but I have yet to find a title I like for people I see) tell me that others in their lives don’t want to hear their “negatives” — their depression, anger, despair, fear, or hopelessness. The people I see at work often tell me they feel bad about how other people in their lives react to their pain. This might make them not want to talk to other people. It can cause them to isolate.
And I understand how people who love my clients/patients — or who are otherwise connected to them — might not want to see my clients’ pain. These people may feel exhausted, helpless, or incompetent about what to say.
I think that’s a big reason why people go into therapy, actually, because they are desperate to have the “negative” parts of themselves — their anger, hopelessness, fear, despair stuck-ness, etc. — acknowledged, instead of avoided.
So human beings are both positive and negative, holding both hope and hopelessness — and they are ambivalent about many things. By “ambivalent”, I mean that they have two conflicting feelings. For example, someone might want change AND fear change at the same time.
End of Digression about Therapy in General
In the groups I did yesterday, I wanted to go more towards the positive (while, at the same time, leaving some room for negative thoughts that were in the room, too). But I remarked in myself that I really wanted to focus on antidotes yesterday. I wanted to focus on hope, not on leaving as much room for people’s pain in the moment.
And I named that, in the moment, to the group members.
And I knew (although I didn’t name it) that my wish to go toward the positive was related to my fears about my own health.
And we focused on antidotes, during the group.
As I said in this blog post, I like to use props in therapy. And two of my props are (1) The Bowl of Distortions and (2) The Bowl of Antidotes.
There they are — straight from my office to your screen!
What’s in The Bowl of Distortions? Slips of paper containing the definitions of all 13 cognitive distortions. The Bowl of Antidotes holds slips of paper containing descriptions of ways to challenge these (which I keep adding to).
Yesterday, because I really wanted to focus on the positive, I suggested that we use the Bowl of Antidotes. And each person in the group chose an antidote from the bowl, and talked about it with the group (including details about whether the person used that antidote, how they used it, whether it was useful, what got in the way of using it, how to use it more, and so on).
Here are some antidotes the group members chose from the bowl yesterday:
- List the positives. To deal with the tendency to focus on the negative, make lists of good things that are happening, good things about yourself, and things that you are accomplishing (even little things). Focus on what you ARE doing, rather than on what you’re NOT doing.
- The Semantic Method. Substitute language that is less emotionally loaded and less judgmental. For example, instead of telling yourself, “I should have known better,” you could say, “I didn’t know that.”
- Cost-Benefit Analysis. List the pros and cons of a negative thought (like “I always screw up”) or a behavior pattern (like isolating when you’re depressed). A simple version of this is to ask yourself, “Does this [thought or action] help me?”
Another antidote somebody picked from the bowl was “The Double Standard Method,” described earlier in this post. And this one came up, too, which the group discussed at length:
- The “In Case of Emergency, Break Glass” Technique. Prepare for the possibility that when you are feeling at your worst, coping strategies and solutions might be difficult to remember. Write down a couple of things that might be helpful to remember when you are feeling bad, and put that in a special place. Also, consider telling somebody else about these “emergency messages,” so they can remind you.
The members of the group really liked that one, and talked in detail about ways to put this one into effect.
Here’s two more antidotes, which we didn’t pick yesterday in the group, but which I’ve been trying to use a lot the last couple of days:
- Reality testing. Ask people questions to find out if your thoughts and concerns are realistic or true. This is a particularly effective response to the distortion of mind-reading.
- The So What? Technique. Consider that an anxiety-producing possibility (even the worst case scenario) might not be as bad as you fear. For example, “So what if this one person doesn’t like me? Not everybody is going to like me.” or “So what if I lose my cell phone? It’ll be an incredible hassle, but I’ll be able to deal with it.”
Antidotes can really help.
Thanks for reading. As always, I would welcome any comments on any antidotes you find helpful. And, I love collecting antidotes, so let me know if you have others you like in addition to the ones listed here.
© 2013 Ann Koplow