Tuesday, March 29, 2016

So I did this instead

In the EAP session last week, the counselor assigned me two tasks—one to be completed in the first week and the second one to be completed starting today. Then next week we’ll talk about the assignments (he gave two assignments since I’m going two weeks between sessions).

Only—and I don’t know how to say this without sounding a little snotty—the assignment misses the mark for me. Not the idea of it but what he gave me to use. Let me explain.

He’s using cognitive therapy techniques, which is actually fine by me. These techniques have good supporting research that indicate they’re generally successful. I’m supposed to pick from a list of 16 styles of distorted thinking from a hand out he gave me, and track how often I think that way. Everyone has distorted thinking from time to time, and I am no exception. Only the hand out uses such polarizing language that I find myself—well offended isn’t the right word but it’s close enough. You can read the list here (this isn’t from the place I’m going, but it’s word for word what’s on the assignment).

Just over halfway down the page, you'll see one about "should." I have a lot of shoulds in my world. I definitely think I should be doing this or that pretty often. But I think it about me, not about you. So the rest of the statement (people who break the rules anger you and you feel guilty if you violate the rules) isn’t quite right. Yes, I do feel bad or guilty if I can’t do whatever it is I think I should be able to do, guilt might even be the right word. But if you don’t do it? Well I might get annoyed, sure, or maybe go do whatever it is I thought you were going to do myself. But anger is something I don’t indulge in all that often. And to say “anger you” puts me in the passive role. No thanks!

Last week as I was mulling this over, I realized that tapes (which I wrote about here) are nothing more than distorted thinking. And I realized that really the point of this exercise is more about continuing to identify my tapes and replace them with something that’s more effective.

I have two competing tapes that tend to run, often at the same time. Which is kind of crazy because they definitely compete with each other and remind me of the Queen in Alice in Wonderland where she says she's believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast:

  1. I’ve created this mess/bad situation—at my most irrational, I will take responsibility for things clearly outside my control (oh no it’s raining, my fault!—I exaggerate but you get the idea). This isn’t the same thing as having power, though. It’s all about feeling bad, like I’ve failed.
  2. Everything is just fine. This tape served me well in some pretty bad times but it wasn’t accurate then and it’s not always accurate now. I can’t find a solution if I’m not able to admit that something is wrong. 

So that’s what I’m doing. I’ve picked both of those tapes as things to track and yes, it can be a little surprising to realize how many times they run through my head, especially when it’s at the same time. This week I’m moving on to part two, which is using rational comebacks for those tapes.

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