Mean to Me
I’m always tough on myself. When discussing punishments with my Dominant, he said: there’s no one in the world who can punish you more than you already punish yourself.
The last couple of weeks I’ve been feeling somewhat blue and lethargic, so I picked up a self-help book: ‘Feeling Good‘ by David D. Burns. And instead of most other self-help books out there, this one is based on actual science. The book gives you an overview of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and proceeds to provide you with exercises you can do to implement this theory in your own life.
This post is not a review of the full book since I’ve only read the first four chapters so far, but I wanted to share with you what I’ve already discovered. Who knew I was so mean to myself?
The first two chapters are about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and its origins, as well as many examples of why this book definitely works. It reads like a commercial almost.
The premise is that depression isn’t as much a disease, as it’s a way of talking to yourself. Your emotions are based on your thoughts, and while depressed, you fool yourself into thinking unhappy thoughts, which makes you feel worse, etc. etc.
I was sceptical at this point. This is a straightforward way of looking at things. But then again, I’ve had so many periods of depression in my life, that it might be hard for me to accept any theory.
The following chapters contain a simple depression checklist, and a list of thinking mistakes, called ‘cognitive distortions‘:
1. ALL-OR-NOTHING THINKING: You see things in black-and-white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
2. OVERGENERALIZATION: You see a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.
3. MENTAL FILTER: You pick out a single negative detail and dwell on it exclusively so that your vision of all reality becomes darkened, like the drop of ink that colours the entire beaker of water.
4. DISQUALIFYING THE POSITIVE: You reject positive experiences by insisting they “don’t count” for some reason or other. In this way, you can maintain a negative belief that is contradicted by your everyday experiences.
5. JUMPING TO CONCLUSIONS: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusion.
a. Mind reading. You arbitrarily conclude that someone is reacting negatively to you, and you don’t bother to check this out.
b. The Fortune Teller Error. You anticipate that things will turn out badly, and you feel convinced that your prediction is an already-established fact.
6. MAGNIFICATION (CATASTROPHIZING) OR MINIMIZATION: You exaggerate the importance of things (such as your goof-up or someone else’s achievement), or you inappropriately shrink things until they appear tiny (your own desirable qualities or the other fellow’s imperfections). This is also called the “binocular trick.”
7. EMOTIONAL REASONING: You assume that your negative emotions necessarily reflect the way things really are: “I feel it, therefore it must be true.”
8. SHOULD STATEMENTS: You try to motivate yourself with shoulds and should n’ts, as if you had to be whipped and punished before you could be expected to do anything. “Musts” and “oughts” are also offenders. The emotional consequence is guilt. When you direct should statements toward others, you feel anger, frustration, and resentment.
9. LABELING AND MISLABELING: This is an extreme form of overgeneralization. Instead of describing your error, you attach a negative label to yourself: “I’m a loser.” When someone else’s behavior rubs you the wrong way, you attach a negative label to him: “He’s a goddam louse[…]”Excerpt From: David D. Burns M.D. “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated”.
Both my husband and I are guilty of many of these thinking mistakes. We assume all people are evil, or that a day is bound to be a disaster based on a hunch. It was quite shocking to me to realise how wrong some of my ideas and thoughts are and how these convictions can influence my mood.
The technique described in this book is that you sit down every day, write down some of your automatic thoughts and then write a rational response behind it.
This line struck me:
“Then how can I develop a sense of self-esteem?” you may ask. The answer is—you don’t have to! You don’t have to do anything especially worthy to create or deserve self-esteem; all you have to do is turn off that critical, haranguing, inner voice.”Excerpt From: David D. Burns M.D. “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy Revised and Updated”.
I’ve imagined going to therapy many times. I’ve been in therapy for almost all my teenage years. I thought the therapist was going to make me do things outside my comfort zone. Do things by myself. Go out with the car by myself. And now this book tells me I don’t have to do these things. All I need to do is change my thinking. That was new and unexpected.
Doing the exercise of going over your automatic thoughts a couple of times, it struck me how mean and strict I am to myself. I have so many ‘shoulds’ and ‘have tos.’ I would love to become a little more relaxed and even just a little bit more friendly to myself.
In my head, I’m trying to change the ‘I have to go for a walk,’ to ‘I will feel better after I have gone out for a walk.’ It’s a small change, but it feels better. I still have many pages to work through this book, but it actually feels like this is something that might work. Who knows, maybe even my inner critic can go on a long-needed holiday.