Thursday, October 10, 2013

What a muddle!

Last night's group session was amazing.  Marilyn used the cognitive therapy model for going through some of the stinkin' thinkin' that gets people into the food, along with self-loathing and other nasty feelings.  It was really powerful stuff -- lightbulb-going-on stuff.  I don't want to get into big details about it, but I wish everyone who feels bad about themselves could share it.  (There is a workbook that follows the course that you can get at and sometimes a used copy is available on amazon.)  I don't want to go into details about it, exactly, because Marilyn does a great job with it anyway, and it's in the book.  But I do want to get back to some of this stinkin' thinkin' stuff, because it really is powerful stuff.

As Marilyn reminded me yesterday, we usually dwell on our feelings, and so do traditional therapists.  Behavioral therapists obviously dwell on your behaviors.  But before all that comes your thoughts, and you can change your thoughts.

Today's category is All or Nothing Thinking.  Good or bad, black or white, either/or.  If I'm not perfect, then I'm a failure.  If I'm not good at something the first time I try it, no point in trying to do it again.  This happens a lot, I think, with people who are told as kids how smart they are, or how talented they are.  If I'm so smart, then why did I get a B on that test?  That means that something my parents told me all the time isn't actually right.  I'm a failure!  How embarrassing!  If I'm so talented, then why can't I play that piano piece without making mistakes.  (Practicing may suggest that I'm *not* talented, because "being talented" may suggest some sort of savant-like mastery without hours or years of learning scales, etc.)  My dad tried to tutor me in math when I was in high school because I wasn't doing well, and he was really good at it.  The message I got from him was that I was really smart, so it was baffling that I wasn't brilliant at something he was good at.  The next semester, I got a D- in math.  End of that career path!  It wasn't until I was an adult that I tried to learn any math at all.  Dad suggested he could help me.  No, thanks!  But I've always felt a bit of a failure at that.  When I wasn't good at it, and I was told I *should* be because I was smart, I got *awful* at it, hated it, and never wanted to touch it again.  Epic fail!

This is also a perfectionism issue, I think.  Either the house is completely clean, or it's a disaster.  I can't do it all today, so why bother doing it at all.  Everyone loves me, or I'm unloved altogether.  Either you behave the way I think you should -- or you think the way I think you should -- or you feel the way I think you should, or we're through.  Lots of ultimatums in this area.

And it sure doesn't have to come from someone else.  Either I behave the way I think others think I should, or I'm worthless.  Society doesn't want me to be gay, but I am, so I'm a horrible person, for example.  Either I'm thin, or I'm not attractive, or not lovable, or not good enough, or not completely human.

Wow, we sure know a lot of ways to hurt ourselves!  (Well, if no one else is going to do it, I guess we have to do it for ourselves, right?)

Marilyn says that we're all familiar with the level of misery that we grew up with.  We use our child minds to keep ourselves where we were when we were kids.  There's a strange sort of comfort to the familiarity of our childhood fears and anxieties. (Not that our parents are to blame, either -- they do they same thing!)  This really rings true to me, because when I was so depressed and anxious, before I did the CBT stuff, I felt infantile a lot of the time.  I noticed afterwards, and every time I confront the negative thoughts and change them, that I feel lighter, happier, more in charge of my feelings, and more adult.  It's really cool!  It's like magic to me.

So we can go from feeling like powerless little kids, with issues of fear, anxiety, abandonment, unlovableness, and so on, to being pretty powerful, unstressed, loving, kind, in possession of *ourselves* by practicing changing our thoughts.

So think about all-or-nothing thinking.  For today, try to pay attention to times that you feel like a failure, for example, and consider what you were thinking at the time.

This reminds me of a piece by the brilliant writer Gregory Bateson, who wrote up a series of (perhaps apocryphal) conversations he had with his young daughter, in a book called Steps to an Ecology of Mind.  One of them was "Why do things get in a muddle?"  He asked his (apparently neatnik) daughter if he put her paintbox down here, was it ok?  And she said that that wasn't where it went.  And he tried another place.  No.  There was only one way for it to be neat, and that was for it to be in one specific place.  Everything else made it a muddle.  There was only one way to be right; everything else was wrong.  Well, everything gets muddled.  If you have only one way that it's right, then everything else is wrong.  But nothing is ever neat for long.  No one could ever keep up, unless that's all they did was neaten, neaten, neaten.  Life is messy, and so's my desk.  And I still know where just about everything is.  That's not a failure (I have had a few bosses who thought it was); it's just one way to be.  So lighten up a bit.  Einstein's desk was messy too.  And he was so smart, I can't imagine how he could have a messy desk too!  (What a failure!)

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