Until recently I have always considered myself to be pretty well ‘in touch’ with my feelings. If asked to describe my personality, I would do it fairly honestly and , I think, resonably accurately. In fact, this strong sense of self-awareness is a big part of what I am. It constantly monitors the way I treat others – hopefully with sensitivity and a sense of fair play. On the other hand, contant self-analysis has probably led me down the route of Pure-O and severe anxiety.
After a recent breakdown I talked through the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy route with my psychiatric nurse and was given some literature to read. The concept of Negative Automatic Thoughts or Flawed Thinking where we tend to think in negative ways was not new to me. Because I have always been aware of my own thinking patterns (but not often in contol of them) I had instinctively been helping myself for years to overcome these with alternative, more realistic thoughts. The light bulb moment came for me when I read about the idea of Core Beliefs.
I am not an expert in CBT but my understanding is this. The first steps involve challenging your thinking patterns (your Negative Automatic Thoughts) and training yourself to look at other, more positive interpretation for situations that cause negative emotions. For example, “I shouted at my teenager so I’m a horrible parent” could be replaced with the thought, “he was really late home so I was entitled to be worried and was only cross because I love him so much.”
The second stage involves taking a step back and viewing your life as a whole and trying to understand why you have adopted these unhelpful ways of thinking in the first place. By tackling these underlying, core beliefs, the CBT is more likely to be successful in the long term and relapes more unlikely.
It was while reading about these core beliefs that it clicked for me. These belief systems are broken down into three broad categories, Achievement, Being Accepted and Being in Control. While I recognised elements in myself across all categories I could instantly tick off all eight elements of the acceptance category. They were:
- I must be liked and accepted by everyone
- I have to please other people all the time
- I have to be nice to people to be a good person
- I have to put others first or they will reject me
- If someone doesn’t like me, its my fault
- If I argue or disagree, people will not like me
- If I upset someone, I am a bad person
- If someone critises me, they must be right
These statements ring true for me in all areas of my life including relationships, career, parenting, socializing, recreation and creativity. I feel it is significant that my troublesome obsessions have revolved around a fear of going mad and being unable to live a normal life – in other words rejected in some way by society. As a child I was socially anxious and bullied for being ‘too clever’ and never felt I fitted in. Although I had loving parents, my father was a difficult man with a very fierce temper and there was always tension in the home. I can start to see (although not blame) early experiences that may have shaped my core beliefs and led to negative thinking patterns.
By trying to unpick my emotional past I hope to reach the foundations of ‘what made me me’ and use this knowledge to build a stronger, happier me in future. Although I appreciate this can be very hard and possibly overwhelming I would urge anyone considering CBT to try and be open and honest with yourself. The more insight you can gain into how you really feel and think and why you have adopted these ways of thinking, will make the process of changing them that much more effective.