CBT: Unscrewing My Brain

I am in counseling. Yup. I'm not even ashamed, in fact, I'm proud! Feel free to attach the stigma of your choice. I am no stranger to counseling actually. In fact, in case if you haven't figured it out by now, I am a self-help junkie. While others swoon over Tatum Channing (which, I also totally get!) and various other famous people, nothing quite does it for me like a self-help author with a calming voice gently telling me how to be a better, happier person. 
So this new counselor probably makes a solid half dozen that I've had in my life. One of the things I adore about her is that she is completely down with working in a synergistic way with me. She understands and even appreciates that she is going to have to enter into each session with me not knowing if I've spent the last week learning everything I can about something she mentioned in passing the previous week and had planned that day's session completely around. 
Last week was the perfect example of that. Two weeks ago she had outlined our "treatment plan" based on my diagnosis (ADHD, OCD and General Anxiety Disorder...no shame in my game, these are just the labels that describe my own assortment of thought patterns).
One of the treatments she intended to use was CBT. Well, I went to work learning everything I could about it. I watched tons of YouTube videos and listened to two audio books on the subject. I walked into our session last week explaining to her how I was using CBT to interrupt negative thought patterns and create new ones. She seemed pretty impressed so I wanted to share them with you guys as well.
I've provided a graphic above to give you a visual of how our thought patterns work. These patterns are created from a lifetime of, well, shit happening to us! For example, if we were betrayed at a vulnerable time in our lives, we may develop the schema (core belief) that people can't be trusted.
Therefore, when we are in a situation where we feel vulnerable (emotionally or physically), we have that thought of distrust come up.
This will create feelings of fear or anxiety. Maybe even anger.
This will create a behavior of self-protection. It could be pushing the person away or suffocating them with love in an attempt to hold onto them.
CBT is interrupting this loop somewhere along the cycle. Anywhere.
I am going to use a very personal example to demonstrate this. And it taps into one of my biggest fears to share this: My fear of unworthiness and rejection. But that's exactly why I've decided to share it. To, first, challenge that fear in order to change it. And, secondly, to show others who have this same fear that you're not alone, it is actually extremely normal and can be corrected.
Okay, so my fear of rejection almost definitely stems from a childhood of being socially rejected and bullied. Fast-forward to my dating years where I've been cheated on more times than I can count (although I now recognize that it was this original belief that I would be rejected that caused me to date men who would confirm this belief...more on that later). Whether cause or effect, my many experiences in life have caused me to believe that I will be found unworthy and rejected by others once they get to know me.
So, that is the "belief" part of the cycle. The next part is "feelings". When this belief is triggered for any reason, it creates feelings of anxiety, fear, dread and sometimes anger. From an evolutionary standpoint this makes total sense. In modern times, someone rejects you and it's not a big deal compared to, in more primitive times, when it would've threatened one's survival. Before the constructs of modern society, social rejection or rejection from a mate could very well mean your death because you would be isolated and more vulnerable to dangers like predators or starvation.
Then we have "behaviors". This is how I react to and/or deal with the feelings that come up. For me this can span the spectrum of clinging to a mate extra hard all the way to snooping into his email to see if I can prove my schema (that I will be betrayed).
I've learned from my counselor that we love to be right. Even when being right can be unbelievably painful and life altering. It's just who we are as human beings. So, if I believe that I am unlovable and will be rejected, I will pick mates that can deliver this. I will seek out life experiences that will confirm the beliefs that I fear the most. That I am unlovable.
A perfect example is my current situation. I am almost six weeks post-breakup. During the first couple weeks, I just couldn't help myself. I would stalk him on social media and just look for confirmations that he had moved on...with someone better than me of course. I would seek this information out even though dread would eat me alive as soon as I even considered doing it. Why? Why would I deliberately seek out pain? Because our brains love to be right and I was convinced that I was easily replaceable. So I would stalk and stalk until I found something, no matter how small, to confirm that I sucked.
Here's how that applies to the CBT cycle:
My belief is that I'm unworthy and will be rejected.
My feelings that arise from this are anxiety, dread, fear and sadness. Sometimes anger.
My behavior is to seek out confirmation of my belief.
I view anything I find through this lens of unworthiness. Therefore, the results of my behavior very often reinforce my beliefs that I am unlovable. Not good enough. Rejection from everyone in my life is inevitable.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Well, that was my old cycle. So, in CBT, the goal is to interrupt the loop anywhere in the cycle. When I catch myself in this loop, I literally envision myself poking it with two fingers somewhere along the cycle. Anywhere. Here's how I deal with this particular loop (because I have many, we all do, but I'm going to stick with this example).
Anything can cause my feelings of believing I am unlovable to pop up. Sometimes even just having unrelated negative feelings will attract to it other negative feelings. So it's no surprise that during a painful breakup where I often get sad and miss him that I would become more vulnerable to any negative beliefs entering my head, especially one as closely related as being unlovable. When I recognize these beliefs popping up, I challenge them. I think of every bit of proof in my life that this is not the case. I think about how some of my exes have told me how special I am. I think about how my most recent ex seemed to love me with his whole heart and seemed to appreciate the unique things that made me...me! I think about how my family and my clients love and accept me even when I make mistakes or gain a few pounds. I think about what's right about my body instead of what's wrong. It's not an exact list of things I have to do or think about. All I have to do is shift my attention from these previously negative and limiting beliefs to something better.
When I recognize my feelings popping up, usually anxiety, I focus on the physical sensation of the feeling. For anxiety, which I tend to feel in my belly, I breath deeply and deliberately and envision a pink and loving light moving into my stomach. It is calming. Again, this isn't some specific, scientifically proven method of calming feelings. This is merely poking a hole somewhere in the loop. Disrupting an old pattern. Breaking a cycle. You get the idea.
When I feel the impulse to do a certain behavior, like Facebook stalk my ex for example, I think about how I'll feel after I do. I try to think of something I could do to turn the focus back to myself instead of him. This is something I've gotten really good at over the years during breakups. I observed that I felt much more energetic when I shifted my focus off of him and back onto myself and my own growth. I just never knew it was called CBT. Furthermore, I've written a contract to myself swearing that I won't do it. Yes, sure I could break the contract but having it is just enough to interrupt the process and turn an almost compulsive reflex into something I have to deliberately make the decision to do...which I don't anymore!
I am not going to say that I have 100% broken this cycle, but it's pretty darn disturbed and not on autopilot anymore.
There's an audio book that's less than an hour long on Audible called Love Yourself Like Your Life Depends on It. He talks about how he changed his entire life by just repeating the mantra "I love myself. I love myself. I love myself." I've applied this to my own life.
When all else fails and I'm stuck in a cognitive loop and feeling too distraught or apathetic to do anything proactive, I begin repeating this mantra over and over again in my head. And it's working!
But this mantra is just the tip of the iceberg of self-love for me. Because I've learned that THE BEST way to break any negative pattern is true self-love. We tend to not beat up on people we love. Mantras are a good start but investing time and energy into my well-being is a direct message to my soul that I am worthy of being nurtured and loved. And I am. We all are.

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