The Not-So-Silver Lining: When Positive Thinking Backfires

I follow a few different science and psychology channels on YouTube and wanted to share a video from one of them that I just watched on why positive thinking isn’t the absolute “be all” that it’s claimed to be. I’ve attached the video below, as well as the link to an article I wrote in 2016.

My blog post on this topic: “Just Be Positive”

So I wasn’t that far off the mark it seems. 😉

Dependence On Therapy

Since we’ve started working together, my therapist has mentioned quite a few times, that she doesn’t want me to become dependent on therapy. Whenever she’d say that, I’d feel uncomfortable and get defensive. Even though she would tell me that she didn’t say I was dependent on it, I still took it as an attack. And I think I have figured out why it bothers me so much. Deciding to see a psychologist (or any mental health professional) is terrifying. I was terrified when I first reached out to my therapist. Deep down inside, on an unconscious level, I felt ashamed.

Even up to today, that shame is still there. It’s died down a lot, but a few fragments of it still exist. The man who calls himself my dad contributed to that most of all. He’s told me so many times how some people need therapy, while others have strong minds, so they can deal on their own. How do I take it? I take it as him telling me, and thinking, that I’m weak because I’m getting help, when I should just suck it up and get on with life the way he does. So here my therapist is telling me that she doesn’t want me to become dependent on therapy, and in my mind it sounds like an affirmation that therapy is “bad, so you shouldn’t get used to it”. I know that’s not what’s being said, but that’s the way my overly sensitive, reactive mind takes it.

I see now why regular therapy sessions are so important. It’s not about being dependent on it. How do you become dependent on the process of therapy? It’s damn hard sometimes, and even if I’m okay during a session, it hits me afterward and sometimes I just want to crawl under the covers and shut the world away for the rest of the day. There were many times that I didn’t want to have a session. Where I wanted to cancel. But I knew that those were probably the times when I should have one. So I didn’t cancel, no matter how much I wanted to.

I read a lot of your blogs, and from what I’ve read, the majority of you have weekly sessions, some of you twice weekly, and you’ve also expressed a hesitation and even downright resistance to attending a session from time to time. So I know I’m not alone in this.

As my therapist mentioned during our short phone call on Monday (which was strangely helpful, which I didn’t expect it to be- mostly because I didn’t know what to expect in the first place), I need structure. I thrive on it. I feel unstable, and everything feels chaotic without it. My nervous system feels under threat. When things are structured, I feel calmer.

When I had 3 therapy sessions a month, I felt more secure. It felt more structured than it does now. Now it’s just all over the place.

Sometimes we open up a topic, but there’s not enough time in a single session to really delve into it. Then having to wait two or three weeks, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. I don’t want to talk about something painful, difficult and shameful, and have two or three weeks go by before we can pick up on where we were. It feels like something is lost, and it gets disrupted. I know that the nature of therapy is that just because it seems something has been worked through, it might come up in future sessions again. Sometimes we think the work may be complete, only to discover that it actually isn’t.

Even when I write down things to discuss in the next session, it’s not quite the same. Those emotions that I felt, that were so extreme, die down, and it feels pointless to talk about it. If I do talk about it in our next session, those emotions are a distant memory, and I talk about the situation, or whatever it was, without really connecting with my inner world.

I think it’s important to have that safe, consistent space every week. I don’t show up just to see my therapist. I show up because I want to do the work. If you’ve got a physical illness that requires you to see your doctor every week for a checkup, does that mean you’re dependent and happy to go for those checkups every week? No. You do it because you know it’s important.

In keeping an open mind, if a person can become dependent on therapy, is that necessarily a bad thing? We’re dependent on work for an income. Which enables us to live, to pay rent, have food to eat, etc. So why would it be any different with therapy? The purpose of therapy is to help you heal and to craft the life you want to live. To help us grow, giving us valuable tools in order to function optimally in life. We’re still doing the work during and between sessions. But knowing that the next session is only a few days away helps, as you can more easily bring up any observations, experiences, etc in the next session, as it will still be fresh in your mind. Which, brings that sense of continuity.

Of course, right now I can’t afford to have regular therapy sessions. But when I’m able to, I’m definitely going to invest in it. The point of this post is just to share my view on how I don’t believe that one can truly get “dependent” on therapy, and why I think regular sessions are so important. I’m grateful for my therapist, who really tries to bridge that gap between sessions, and keep the therapeutic relationship safe and secure, which has been so helpful.

A while ago, I heard someone say that attending therapy is a form of self-care. I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

It will be interesting to hear your thoughts on this. I like hearing different opinions and view points, so please let me know what you think about this topic.

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Making Progress Even When You Can’t See It

A few sessions ago, I told my therapist that I finally felt like I was making progress. That therapy is finally helping me. She jokingly asked me if I was saying that therapy hasn’t helped me before that? I told her that the seeds had been there all along, but I just hadn’t been aware of the growth until now.

Often, we don’t see the progress we have made. Hell, we may even feel like we’re just moving backward. And sometimes that’s the truth. We take a step forward, only to move two steps back. But that’s okay. That’s the thing with mental illness. There are no quick fixes. The road to recovery isn’t straight and easy. It takes a lot of work, and there will be relapses and set backs. It’s completely normal, even though it can be extremely frustrating.

When I do something different to how I would have done it in the past, Therapist will point it out and tell me to look at the growth I’ve made, and how far I’ve come. Most of the time I don’t even see what’s right in front of me, due to the negative way I tend to see myself. Other times when she points these things out to me, it fills me with a sense of pride. Because at that moment, I can see it. All the little things I do differently. All the ways in which I have improved. They’re there. I just need to open up my eyes.

If you feel like you’re not making any progress, take a look back, and you might be surprised to find that you have indeed made progress. Small steps in the right direction. When I’m in crisis, and I feel I’m getting worse or therapy isn’t working, and I just want to give up, I like using the DBT skills from the Distress Tolerance (Crisis Survival Skills) module. The Distract Skill, which is broken down into ACCEPTS as follows:

Activities – Find an activity you can get lost in.
Contribute – Help someone else. Contribute in any way you can, such as smiling at a stranger.
Compare – Compare your past self with your present self.
Emotions – Try to find a way to switch into a different emotion. Through music for example.
Pushing Away – If you can’t solve a problem right then and there, pick that problem up and imagine putting it into a box. Place it on a shelf until you’re in a better space to deal with it.
Thoughts – Name things around you. Or breathe in a word, and choose another word for the out breath.
Sensations – An ice cold shower, or lying on cold tiles seems to do the trick for me. Or if it’s raining, I stand in the rain until I’m shivering. Eat or drink something bitter or sweet. Anything that engages one or more of your senses is helpful.

I use the ‘Compare’ part quite often now. Looking at my past self, and comparing that to how I am now. It’s a very good way to see the little bits of progress I have made. It helps get me out of that crisis state, and into what Marsha Linehan (the creator of DBT) calls Wise Mind. Writing down all the improvements. It’s not easy in those moments of intensity, in the midst of the emotional storm, but once started, and written down, I usually find that storm start to slowly die down a little. Because then my mind is engaged in the current task. A positive task. Something that isn’t harming me.

Just as a side note. Using these skills in the heat of an emotional storm is difficult. Mostly because you won’t always remember them. At least that’s the case with me. So it’s important to write these skills down, along with a list of what you feel would help you in each of those ‘catagories’ during these difficult moments.

Right now, I’m treating myself to a delicious, creamy mug of hot chocolate to celebrate the ways in which I have grown over these past few months. It’s my special treat for a job well done. And even though I still have a long way to go, that doesn’t mean that I can’t celebrate the little steps I have already made.

So go on and treat yourself to something you enjoy, or that warms your heart. You deserve it.

Being My Own Friend

During my therapy session yesterday, I was highly annoyed with myself. I told my therapist that I feel I should be better by now. That I should just get over everything and move on. She told me that I’m very harsh on myself, and set very high expectations. That’s very true. I’m my own worst enemy. My harshest critic.

Then I got to thinking. I’ve read articles before on treating yourself as you would treat a friend. Back then it didn’t make much of an impact on me. But now I get it.

If a friend tells me that she’s a terrible person because of something she’s done, what would I tell her? I’ll tell her something along these lines:

“I can understand that you feel like a terrible person. But you’re human. We all make mistakes. The good thing is that we can fix these things. And those things we can’t mend, we learn from them. Simply by you admitting to what you did and how terrible you feel about it, you’re actually showing me the opposite. If you were truly terrible, you wouldn’t have been feeling this bad about it. That tells me that you have a good heart.”

Now what does it sound like when it’s me that’s done something I’m not proud of? It goes like this:

“You stupid idiot. Once again you fucked up like you always do. You’re the worst person in the world. Can’t you ever do anything right? You deserve to feel terrible about yourself. You shouldn’t even be allowed to live.” Yes, that’s really how I talk to myself. Black and White thinking in full swing. I would never talk to a friend like that, so why shouldn’t I show myself the same courtesy?

I learned a valuable skill from my therapist yesterday, which works great in the context of this post as well. I was going through one of my insecure phases and wondering whether I really can trust her completely. “I don’t want to be here today”. “What if you don’t really want to work with me and you’re only staying because it would be unethical for you to drop me?” Those kinds of things. After 6 months with her, I had hoped those insecurities would be non-existent, but that’s not the case. Just when I feel closer to her than ever before, and am enjoying that wonderful connection, it’s not long until I find myself pulling away and falling into the insecure, negative place again.

Yesterday, instead of reassuring me the way she sometimes does, she made me work this time. I suppose there has to be a balance. She can’t just always reassure me without showing me how to change my own thought patterns and reach conclusions for myself. That being said, she still managed to sneak in reassurances, and didn’t leave me completely alone trying to work through this.

She asked me these kinds of questions for each of the negative thoughts I was having (she encouraged me to look at the facts):

What is the evidence that she’s trustworthy?
What evidence is there that she’s not trustworthy?

What evidence is there that she doesn’t like working with me?
What evidence is there that she does like  working with me?

This ‘little’ exercise took a while. She really makes me work hard, and sometimes it feels like my brain just wants to explode. Not to mention my rage at having to spend so much time on something that seems so trivial at the time. Afterward though, I see just how valuable it really is, and I’m grateful for it. I have so many cognitive distortions, and negative patterns and habits that I’ve developed over the years, so of course it’s going to be hard to train my mind to think differently. I need to be kinder to myself. I need to be my own friend.

I can use this skill to be a better friend to myself. When I start feeling like a failure, a waste of space, or whatever my mind comes up with, I can practice this technique.

“I’m a failure.”

What evidence is there to suggest that I’m a failure?
What’s the evidence that I’m not a failure.

This stuff can be used for anything. Thank you psychology. Thank you therapist.

I’m going to practice being kinder and more gentle with myself, and talk to myself the same way I would to my friends, and other people in my life. If I find myself being harsh, I will re-frame it and ask myself what would I tell someone else if they feeling the same way.

We deserve to be our own best friend.