Saturday, January 17, 2015

Turn It Around

My husband, my daughter and I were at a restaurant recently. It was one that has booths - since we need extra room to sit - and while we were eating, a family came in and sat down at the booth next to us. I recognized one of the people. After they'd been there for a while, they all got up and traded seats so that the person I had recognized was no longer facing me.

Par for the course, I thought. After all, I look like a mess - I didn't take much time getting ready because we were running late. I don't blame this person for not wanting to have to look at me. 

I mentioned this to my daughter after we left the restaurant. 

She's been going to therapy and her therapist has been challenging assumptions that she makes about herself and about other people who do things in her presence. 

She stared at me for a second or two, and gently rebuked me. "ORRrrrr," she said, "this person could have moved because the seat might have been uncomfortable. Or there might have been a draft under that seat and not under the other one." 

Her response kind of set me back on my heels. I did a double-take. She grinned, and said, "CBT." 

Cognitive behavioral therapy - a type of psychological retraining of the thoughts - is big on "re-framing": restating things in such a way as to challenge previously long-held beliefs about the self, and about others' reactions to the self. Such thoughts are referred to as "negative automatic thoughts." (NATs.) And she expertly re-framed my NAT about other people's perception of my appearance ... in order to help me to see other possibilities. 

Photo "Little Boy Covering His Face"
courtesy of David Castollo Dominici at

A lot of people do what I did. More people than those who are willing to admit it, filter others' opinions of them through their own beliefs about themselves. Many of us don't really have all that great an opinion of ourselves, and this carries through to the things that we think, believe, and say to (or about) ourselves. This kind of thinking can lead to serious mental health issues.  By far the most common mental health issues are depression and anxiety.

For people who are chronically depressed or anxious (or both), common self-talk messages are: 
"it's always been this way, so it will always BE this way." 
"I'm so stupid. When will I ever get anything right??" 
"Yeah things are fine NOW, but what if _____?"
"Oh GREAT. NOW what?" 
"But if I don't agree with him/her, he/she won't be my friend."
"Nobody wants to spend time with me. I'm not worth their time." 
"Why do things like this (fill in the blank) always happen to me?"

These types of messages start way back when we're children and someone slaps a sticker on us (it doesn't matter if it's a gold star or a black mark) and we start to define ourselves by what others think about us.

Statements like the ones listed above have kept me and sometimes continue to keep me wrapped in rotting grave-clothes that others have put onto me from my past, and which I keep wrapped around me (even if they restrict my potential!) because ... well, because it's all I have ever known. The rags keep me from being exposed and vulnerable, and may well be an attempt to get other people to reassure me. But is such thinking healthy? 


The trick is to turn it around, to see other possibilities, to "counter" the self-destructive talk with the kind of message that builds up, that encourages, that heals. Sometimes things happen because they just happen! Sometimes people make mistakes; it doesn't mean it is the end of the world or that I'm stupid. It just means I'm human. People can and do like me for who I am; I don't have to change who I am to fit what they expect from me. I do have value and my emotions are valid. If I wouldn't let someone "talk that way" about one of my friends, why do I think it's okay to talk about myself "that way"? 

Why would anyone?

Point taken... and thanks, sweetie. :) 

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