Friday, March 07, 2014

All that Ails

Cognitive Behavior Therapy

My first experience with Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) happened in my cognitive processes class. I remember when I took the personalities class that I was upset when one of the theorists said that happy people are people who remember their childhood as happy. I was mad because my childhood was my childhood. I couldn't change that.

So, when I finally got that when they talked about remembering and forgetting, they were talking about what a person chooses to focus on. Yes, I was at the receiving end of a lot of abuse, but, there were good things in my childhood too. I could focus on the people who loved me unconditionally (whether I acknowledged that at the time or not), and focus on the things I did well, and focus on my strengths, and in doing that, I could change my own attitude about who I am and where I came from. I doesn't change the abuse, but it recognizes my strengths. It honors who I AM!

CBT is actually a pretty simple concept. It is probably the most empirically supported of all psychological therapies!  Albert Ellis pulled together the exploration of thoughts in psychoanalysis and the scientifically supported methods in behavior analysis. Thoughts cannot be observed by scientists to be studied, but they are definitely a behavior, can be observed by the person thinking them, and respond to behavior modification.

CBT tells us that it is our thoughts that create our emotions:
  • An event happens:  it doesn't care how we feel about it. It is neutral.
  • Our thoughts give the event a meaning. We allow our glasses of perception to skew our experience in the event.
  • Our thoughts lead to an emotion.
  • That emotion prompts our behavior.
  • Our behavior affects the event,
  • And it goes on and on and on.
  • We can stop the cycle at thought.
The ABCDE Model teaches how to change our thoughts by challenging our perception of the event.
  • A: The Activating experience (event) happens
  • B: What are we thinking? What are our Beliefs?  
  • C: What is the emotional Consequence of our thinking? How strong are our emotions about this event?
  • D: Dispute the thoughts and Beliefs. Are they fact? Are they opinion?  (if someone could argue a different perspective, your thought is probably opinion). This is also a good place to look at the possible thinking errors you may be engaging in and how they are feeding your emotions.
  • E: New Effective thoughts and beliefs. If your thoughts are opinions, how can they be re-stated to reduce the emotional impact? 
It takes a lot of work to make real changes through CBT. You have to practice it often. The reason it works is because it changes the weight of the pathways in our brains. Our brains are incredible organisms that are designed to do all the thinking for us that they possibly can. This mechanism works well when you are running from lions and tigers, but, in our society, it can get in the way. If we never become aware of our thoughts and how our perceptions could be tricking us, we don't grow. We can challenge our perception which will weight new pathways, and we can be calmer, happier people.

So, being Mindful, and challenging our beliefs makes us more effective in our own lives.

I like to think that CBT is a lot like Buddhism. Buddha says that want is the cause of all suffering. Well, that is the "official" translation, and I think it is a little off the mark. I say the our expectations are the cause of all suffering. When our expectations become too rigid, and we never challenge them, we find ourselves experiencing frustration, anger, hurt, and incredible sadness. When our expectations are less rigid, and are challenged frequently, we might experience disappointments and annoyances, but we never get too emotional about what is happening around us. We can't control most of what happens around us, but we can always influence those events by controlling our responses - and that means challenging our thoughts. 

Weak Boundaries 

I finally know What makes him so special! It was never him. It did have something to do with my mother, but, really, it was all about me. And my boundaries.

I love my What I learned part II post in which I thought I figured it out. I figured out a little part, maybe the explanation of how I came to be the "Lost Child" of the family. Yes, my family was dysfunctional. Very dysfunctional. Kim was the scapegoat, I was the lost child. I guess in the end Jay must have felt like a lost child to. But what I failed to really acknowledge was my very strong propensity to co-dependency.

My mother taught us to be codependent. There was never a time when I was allowed to think for myself, or make decisions for myself, or have a good opinion of myself. It is absolutely true that for the first 30 years of my life, I let my mother dictate my direction. And then I didn't. And it felt good. It felt so very good. It fed right into my divorce. I knew I wasn't going to let others dictate my life anymore, and I've done a pretty good job at honoring that promise to myself. But, I didn't finish the work!

That was apparent when my sister called me me  a few years ago and set my codependency on fire. I stirred the beehive of doubt and uncertainty that was still hanging in that big black cloud over my head that told me I just wasn't good enough. Even though I knew I was the one who had abandoned me, I still didn't get why I would do that. I didn't get why I didn't feel like someone else wouldn't like "me" and it pissed me off that one adult could treat another so badly. Why should I have to teach someone how to treat me?  A decent person would know, right?  :)   I moved on from that, at least in my head.

CBT can help a person to understand how terribly irrational the thoughts associated with co-dependency are. I have challenged those irrational thoughts a lot over the years. I have written gratitude logs and did some stuff with Self Matters. I can re-frame just about any event and see the good in it. That isn't to say I ignore the bad, because you have to work on that, but you should definitely work to see how you will be stronger for it.

But CBT doesn't really teach you how to prevent yourself from getting into co-dependent relationships over and over. For that, you need to develop healthy boundaries! You really need to click on this link. It is an awesome run through on how to create healthy boundaries, what unhealthy boundaries look like, and how to enforce your boundaries. I am recommending that you read the article! Go there now and read it.

So, apparently there is a difference between teaching someone how to treat you, and expecting people to treat you with respect. There is a huge relationship between being ok with who you are and expecting those around to be ok with you too. And it IS ok to expect others to respect you, and if they don't, then there are consequences. And, sometimes those consequences are difficult to enforce. And sometimes they mean saying goodbye. But they definitely mean telling someone how you feel and telling them what you expect from them. Because they can't read your mind. So, that "if he really loved me he would know...." is crap. No, he doesn't know unless you tell him. No, your kids don't know if you don't teach them. No, your friends don't know they are stepping on your toes if you don't say ouch!

First, CBT. Learn to focus your attention with intention. Learn to be ok with who you are and be mindful.
Second, learn to develop healthy boundaries. Enforce those boundaries. Be brave!

Then, take two aspirin but don't call me in the morning.  unless you want to go for a run!  or breakfast.