Month: August 2017

The Fallacy of Change

Have you ever found yourself thinking, “life will be better when…”?

It seems the grass is always greener on the other side despite your circumstances.

In my clinical experience, I often here statements such as: “Life will be better when”…

“this test is over”

“this class is over”

“I graduate”

“I find a real person job”

“I get a significant other”

“I get married”

“I have a family with kids”

“I get a raise or promotion”

“I go on vacation”

“I retire”

 

People tend to have these thoughts on a regular basis. The problem with these thoughts is that when we accomplish those achievements, we don’t ever reach a point where we say, yes, life is better now, so I can be happy! You might finish a difficult exam and think, gee I’m so glad that’s over, but then there’s another condition to take its place standing in the way of your happiness or contentment. Essentially, we play a game of whack-a-mole with our happiness, and no one wins that game.

Now don’t get me wrong, life could feel easier with extra money or supportive relationships, etc., however, we often have many positive life circumstances existing in our present that are being neglected or ignored when it comes to letting yourself feel good in the here-and-now.

For example, you might have felt overwhelmed in high school and looked forward for those years to be over. Then you start college because you successfully made it through high school. In college, you begin to have the same types of doubts. Do you think to yourself, “I made it through high school, so now I can be content. I am glad to be struggling in college because it means I made it through high school and am now privileged to face a new challenge”?

Most people don’t let themselves enjoy their achievements or savor the present moment. The focus tends to stay on the future and what needs to change.

In truth, you wouldn’t get anywhere at all without the present moment. Life is a series of continual present moments. While it is important to have goals to strive for, all of the magic in life happens in the here-and-now.

So you might think that change is the key to your happiness, but that belief does you a disservice. You ALWAYS have everything you need to be content and the only thing standing in the way of that is your mindset. Even if you are having a bad day, you can change that by putting on some good music, chatting with a close friend, watching a funny video, spending quality time with a pet, taking a soothing bath, going for a nature walk, etc. Sometimes doing something you feel talented at can elevate your mood. Life will always throw challenges at you, so you’d be better off tackling them head on and being thankful for those challenges, since you probably worked hard in order for those challenges to pop up. Being frustrated at having to clean your house means you worked hard enough to be able to afford that house. Studying for a really difficult exam reflects the effort you put in to be able to take that class. If you’re single, then it reflects the other things in life you can nurture while you hold out for a match you deserve.

In other words, stop looking at your life in terms of what you don’t have. Instead, reflect on what you DO have and be thankful for it.

The Danger of Shoulds

Should is used in many languages with varying degrees of unhealthy consequences. The first type of ‘should’ has to do with expectations.

For example:

“I should be in a relationship”

“I should be working a 9-5 job”

“I should be getting married”

“We should have kids”

“I should have a real person job”

“I should have more friends”

The examples listed above are frequent statements I have heard with my clinical experience. People express that they feel inadequate or lacking in some way because in comparison to others, they do not meet the same circumstances. But where do those expectations come from? Is it a fact that everyone needs to be in a relationship, work a 9-5 job, get married, have kids, or have more friends?

The answer is no. There is no concrete rule, law, or human compulsion, that would force a person to fulfill the aforementioned criteria. So then why do people immerse themselves in misery and anxiety if they feel they are not meeting those criteria?

The truth is, we are all subject to long-term brainwashing. Starting from a young age, we take in various messages from our family, school, peers, the media, culture, zeitgeist, etc. Similar to a sponge, we absorb messages and ideas from what we are exposed to and internalize them without meaning to. I am not saying that we have no choice in the matter and that we just repeat everything we experience (because I’m sure you could disprove that pretty quickly). I am saying that those mediums have an influence and can lead to perceived expectations or social rules that ‘must’ be followed. When those social rules or expectations are not followed, it often leads to feelings of inadequacy, hopelessness, or despair. Social media can make those matters worse because it encourages comparisons based on false representation and selective sharing. You aren’t seeing posts about everyone’s misery, poor life choices, loneliness, failures, or stress.

The second type of ‘should’ has to do with guilt and unsuccessful goal setting. This occurs when we tell ourselves that we ‘should’ be doing something else.

For example:

“I should be doing my work/homework right now”

“I should be washing the dishes”

“I should exercise”

“I should quit smoking”

If you think about it, most of the time ‘should’ is used in this way, we already know we aren’t going to do that thing. Such as, “I should be doing my homework right now but I’m watching Netflix because I need a break”. But instead of just leaving it at that, many people turn that into a battle. They might still be watching Netflix but are stewing about feeling guilty over not doing their homework. They aren’t being productive OR allowing themselves to enjoy their Netflix break. That doesn’t make any sense and it certainly doesn’t help anything. This concept is not intended to provide encouragement for procrastination, rather serves to encourage healthy self-care and realistic goal setting. Let yourself have your Netflix break without guilt or self-deprecation. But then set a concrete goal to follow for when you will do your homework (and it must be realistic so as not to set yourself up for failure).

“I will let myself watch Netflix tonight and relax because I have worked very hard this week and deserve a break. However, I will spend three hours doing my homework tomorrow at 12pm, broken up into two 1.5 hour periods with a snack break in between”.

In the words of Albert Ellis, we need to stop “shoulding all over ourselves”. That’s right, stop shoulding yourself! It doesn’t help anything except fueling unnecessary misery and stress. So whenever you catch yourself using the word “should” “should have” or “shouldn’t”, think about what you are really saying to yourself and if it is realistic, unrealistic, productive or counterproductive.

Ultimately, be kind to yourself. After all, you will be the longest friend you will ever have.

 

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Part II- Horcruxes and Negative Core Beliefs

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


The concept of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy was introduced in this previous HP Psychotherapy blog post. Remember that it is our thoughts and perceptions that cause us to feel the way we do.
To explain further, let’s take a look at different types of thoughts:

Core Belief: A deeply ingrained thought/belief that has been shaped over time and internalized. Core beliefs can be influenced by family, friends, the media, culture, zeitgeist, school, peers, etc. We are constantly bombarded with messages from different mediums, and we unintentionally adopt some of those messages as truths. A core belief can be positive or negative, but for our purposes we are only going to focus on negative core beliefs due to their destructive nature.

Example:
Ron Weasley grew up in the shadow of his older brothers. Bill, Charlie, and Percy were all known for their academic success and talents. Fred and George were popular due to their humor, wit, and quidditch skills. Even Ron’s younger sister, Ginny, has special status for being the only daughter in the family. Due to those circumstances, Ron internalized the belief that he would never be as good as his siblings. This thought generalized to “I’ll never be good enough”. I’d imagine that Molly and Arthur Weasley did their best to show affection and attention to each child equally, but maintaining a household, 7 children, and a demanding ministry of magic job would challenge anyone. Therefore, any time that they were observed giving attention to anyone other than Ron, he likely perceived those attentions as confirming his bias that he would never be good enough. In reverse, any time he received attention from his parents, he likely disregarded their efforts or downplayed the interaction in some way because his core belief of not being good enough would not allow him to accept those efforts. Ron’s internalized beliefs of inadequacy shaped his academic performance and interpersonal relationships. When Ron looked in the Mirror of Erised, he saw himself as quidditch captain holding the house cup. He envisioned a scenario where he could be popular, successful, and liked by everyone. The Mirror of Erised shows a person their deepest desires. Given his past experiences, Ron wants to feel special, successful, and well liked, much like how he perceives his older brothers.

If Ron had changed his core belief of not being good enough, he could have responded differently in the following situations throughout the books:
Harry being entered into the Triwizard Tournament, asking out Hermione to the yule ball, resentment toward the slug club, improving his academic performance, improved quidditch performance, leaving Harry and Hermione alone during the extended camping expedition in HP and the Deathly Hallows, etc.

Automatic Thoughts: Thoughts or ideas that happen in response to your present situations OR present reflection of situations that have already occurred.

How are core beliefs and automatic thoughts different? Automatic thoughts are influenced and guided by core beliefs held.
Example:
Core belief: “I will never be good enough. I am inadequate”.
We’ll use the following scenario to explain automatic thoughts: Harry and Hermione are invited to a slug club meeting by Professor Slughorn in front of Ron. Ron is excluded from the invitation.
Automatic thought: “Wow, he didn’t even know my name. I’m right here! Why wasn’t I invited too? Harry and Hermione are always the favorites. I might as well just not exist since I’m clearly not important. I’ll never be good enough”.
The above automatic thought was influenced by his core belief and was in response to a situation that had either been occurring or just occurred.

How can I change my automatic thoughts?

First it is helpful to determine your personal negative core beliefs to get a sense of what influences your inner-monologues. Then you may want to set up the following format like the one used in the previous CBT blog post to work through the process:
Negative Thought: This is the same as an automatic thought. Write your negative thought here in a concise sentence. You will not use this line to explain, defend, or challenge the thought, only to state that thought as is.
Distorted Perception: What makes that negative thought irrational?
Cognitive Reframing: Start with an affirmation of your feelings. Then use real facts and evidence to contradict your negative thought.

Example using Ron’s situation:

Negative Automatic Thought: “Wow, he didn’t even know my name. I’m right here! Why wasn’t I invited too? Harry and Hermione are always the favorites. I might as well just not exist since I’m clearly not important. I’ll never be good enough”.

Distorted Perception(s): (1) Not being invited to the Slug club means I am not good enough. (2) If I’m not good enough then I’m not worthy to exist, (3) My entire future of success and worth relies on whether or not I am invited to the Slug club. (4) You are a failure or a waste of space if you are not invited to the Slug club

Cognitive Reframing: Although I feel sad and rejected for not being invited to the Slug club, the reality is that I have demonstrated success in many areas of my life. I helped recover the Sorcerer’s Stone, the Chamber of Secrets, made the quidditch team, helped win quidditch matches, battled death eaters in the department of mysteries, flew an enchanted car to school, performed well in defense against the dark arts, and achieved 7 passing marks in my O.W.L.s. Harry and Hermione say that they dislike Slug club meetings and Harry only attends because Dumbledore wants them to get close for some reason. There are plenty of witches and wizards who have been successful that have not been invited to the Slug club. My worth does not solely depend on my level of success, as I have a lot of family and friends who care for me and I am a loyal and supportive friend in return. There is much more to my life than attending Slug club meetings. I have the potential to achieve the goals I set for myself.

**A separate and non-Harry Potter related blog post will focus on different types of negative thoughts that are commonly used.**


Psychotherapy Activity: Negative Core Beliefs and Horcruxes

A horcrux is a concealed piece of one’s soul devised from violating nature through murder combined with some undisclosed ritual that binds it to an object. It is said to be the most evil type of dark magic imaginable. Voldemort creates seven horcruxes (8 if you include Harry) in order to live forever. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry, Ron and Hermione, all take turns wearing one of Voldemort’s horcruxes (Salazar Slytherin’s locket) as they struggle to find a way to destroy it. They had to take turns wearing the locket because they noticed that it would make them all very irritable, negative, and hurtful toward each other after prolonged periods.

The locket appeared to plant ideas in each wearer’s mind that triggered his or her previously established negative core beliefs. When Harry wore the locket, he felt more alone, hopeless, desperate, an imposter, and insignificant. When Hermione wore the locket, she likely began to question her own intellect or usefulness (given her fear of failing). When Ron wore the locket, he became more jealous, irritable, helpless, and insignificant. It was the effect from wearing the locket that drove him to leave Harry and Hermione in the forest. Wisely, Dumbledore foresaw Ron’s potential challenge and bequeathed him the deluminator so that he could return to them once his mind became more rational.

Unfortunately, we all have negative core beliefs that influence our automatic thoughts. It is as if we all wear horcruxes from time to time. They whisper negative ideas and perceptions that either aren’t true or don’t have to become true. You could choose an item of jewelry, a tattoo, or some other bodily accessory that represents a horcrux in your life. You could also carry around a crystal, stone, coin, or some other relevant object in your pocket. It serves as a reminder that those thoughts are not actually a part of you, but a culmination of negative beliefs derived from experiences or observations that you accepted within you.

We can become so used to wearing our horcruxes that we sometimes look to them for comfort in familiarity. You are essentially feeding your mind poison every time you indulge a negative automatic thought. Life is hard enough without adding your own self-deprecating spin on it. Without your horcrux(es), you will notice that your life is more pleasant than you previously thought, and your potential will improve as a result. So get out your imaginary sword of Gryffindor, basilisk fang, or fiend fire spell and work on destroying your horcruxes one by one.

Journal or visualize the following steps:
1. What does your horcrux look like?
2. What feelings or vibrations does it give off?
3. What does it feel like against your skin?
4. Imagine that you have been wearing it for a while. You feel your energy and positivity drain with each passing moment. What is your horcrux whispering to you?
5. Write down the messages you are getting from your horcrux.
6. What experiences have you had that have shaped those messages or ideas?
7. How might your life be different without those experiences?
8. Take some time to think of facts and evidence that contradict your horcrux messages.
9. What are some positive or productive things you can do to actively contradict your horcrux messages? (Make sure to incorporate time in your schedule to accommodate doing some of those things every week).
10. Take your negative horcrux thought and write down the opposite statement. If your horcrux thought was something like, “You are stupid”, or “You will never amount to anything”, then write “I am intelligent,” “I am skilled”, “I am smart where it matters to me,” or “I possess the tools to be successful”, etc.
11. Repeat those affirming statements to yourself over and over while imagining the horcrux burning into ashes in your palm.
12. Take a deep breath in and notice the peace you feel without your horcrux whispering lies. Just as you accepted your negative core beliefs over time, you can use that same process to internalize new positive core beliefs that can help guide you to helpful or healthy automatic thoughts and actions.


Please note that these therapy exercises do not qualify as stand-alone treatments and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Contact me with questions or to schedule an appointment:

E-Mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: (248) 923-1408

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Part I- The Pensieve

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic gain.*


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a very popular treatment modality for difficulties such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, etc. The premise behind CBT signifies that events/situations do not cause us to feel the way we do, rather it’s our thoughts about those situations that cause us to feel the way we do. In essence, if we can change our thoughts to become more realistic and positive, then our feelings will also improve.

For example:
In Harry Potter’s third year at Hogwarts, Professor Lupin conducts a Defense Against the Dark Arts lesson using a boggart. Many individuals in the class had an opportunity to face the boggart and earn points for their house. Harry was eagerly imagining how his boggart would turn into a dementor and pondered how he might transform it into something funny or amusing. Before Harry had a chance to face the boggart, Professor Lupin stepped in front of Harry, blocking him from doing the exercise.

The following reflects a likely corresponding thought for Harry:

Negative Thought: Professor Lupin must have thought I wasn’t skilled or brave enough to face the boggart so he jumped in front of me. I am not good enough and I must prove myself or else be viewed as weak or incapable.

Distorted Perception: What is irrational about Harry’s potential negative thoughts?
1. Harry is assuming that he understands Professor Lupin’s motives to intervene with the boggart.
2. Harry equates not having a chance to face the boggart with being perceived as a failure or inadequate in some way.

Note: Harry’s interpretation of the situation was likely influenced by his past experiences of being repeatedly belittled by his aunt, uncle, and cousin.

Cognitive Reframing: This is the step where real facts and evidence are used to directly contradict the negative thought. Remember to start with a validation of your feeling in order to acknowledge your experiences.

1. Harry feels sad or disappointed that he was not given the chance to prove himself.
2. Although it felt as if he were being singled out as incapable,
a. Harry has no way of knowing Professor Lupin’s motives or rationale for interfering (excluding use of truth serum or legilimency). Even if Professor Lupin were to tell Harry about his motives (he did), Harry is still trusting his word at face value and would not know for certain.
b. Harry is not a failure nor inadequate from that one missed opportunity because his worth and capabilities have been shown many other times: including, facing Voldemort version 1.0 (aka Professor Quirrell’s head parasite), Voldemort version 0.5 (young Tom Riddle self-preserved in a diary), escaping a forest full of giant spiders, killing a Basilisk, and performing well in all of his DADA classes, despite having questionable teachers (all before turning age 13!).
c. Harry’s abilities do not have to determine his self-worth and value. If Harry had grown up with a loving and supportive family, he would likely feel more secure with his identity regardless of his performance. Self-worth can be derived from many areas in life, such as, relationships (family/friendship/romance), adventure, learning, growth, helping others, spirituality, connecting with nature or the environment, etc. Most of all, it is his own opinion of himself that matters most. After all, he will be his own life-long companion.

The truth of the situation was that Professor Lupin assumed that the boggart would turn into Voldemort in front of Harry, therefore, he did not want a fake Voldemort roaming around the classroom. Voldemort could logically have been Harry’s worst fear, and Harry did consider that, but he realized that the dementor’s were scarier to him. Harry’s negative thought assumptions were wrong on all counts. Professor Lupin was actually concerned for the other students and if they could handle whatever fear Harry would bring into the room, given the intensity of Harry’s experiences that others had not experienced. If anything, Lupin believed that Harry was very capable but that his classmate were not, thus reversing Harry’s fear entirely.

While we can’t all say we’ve faced Voldemort 1.0 or 0.5 (no matter how scary your boss gets sometimes), there are always logical or realistic points that can be used to contradict negative thoughts, even if you have to get very creative or specific. Think of it like a measuring scale in potions class. On one side you have your negative and irrational thoughts. They weigh much heavier than the side holding your positive or realistic thoughts. We want to keep adding as many facts, evidence, or rational points possible to that positive side in order to either a. balance the scale for a more realistic perspective of how both sides compare, or b. tip the balance of the scale to the positive side so it has more weight, therefore allowing you to feel better.

**More to follow in future posts regarding specific common types of irrational thought patterns**

The CBT Pensieve Exercise:

Remember from a previous HP Psychotherapy post that a pensieve is a rare stone basin that can store memories for later to be re-watched or re-experienced by that witch or wizard.

Journal or Visualize the following sequence:

  1. Imagine that you have a pensieve in front of you ready for use.
  2. Think of a memory that caused you to feel upset (it could be recent or from the distant past).
  3. What was occurring during that memory?
  4. What were your thoughts at the time about the situation occurring?
  5. Visualize using your wand to cast your memory from your mind into the pensieve. Watch the wispy memory float into the basin and swirl into a familiar image.
  6. You are looking at the beginning of your memory. You inch your face closer to it and feel yourself being sucked in like a gravitational pull.
  7. As you fall to your feet, you notice that no one can see you, hear you, or has awareness of your presence as a witness in this memory.
  8. Use your five senses to observe the scene going on as a witness of your memory (sight, smell, taste, touch, sound).
  9. Who is there and what is happening?
  10. Do you notice any specific details about your memory?
  11. Are you watching yourself in your memory?
  12. What are the feelings experienced by individuals in the memory?
  13. What are your feelings as an observer of your memory?
  14. What is important about this particular memory?
  15. What are your thoughts about the situation occurring in your memory? Compare the different thoughts between yourself as an observer to what you remember yourself thinking while you were presently experiencing your memory.
  16. How do those thoughts impact your feelings?
  17. Are those thoughts positive, negative, or neutral?
  18. Are those thoughts helping you feel better or making you feel worse?
  19. Are they productive or counterproductive? Why?
  20. If you decide the thoughts are irrational, what makes them irrational or distorted?
  21. How would you feel either without that thought, or replaced with a more positive thought?
  22. Think of specific examples of real facts, events, or situations, which directly contradict your negative thought(s).
  23. Would the measuring scale be equal yet? Which side is heavier now?
  24. Keep adding more realistic and positive facts and evidence to disprove your irrational negative thought(s).
  25. How does it feel to realize this new way or thinking?
  26. How does it impact or change your perception of what is happening in the memory?
  27. If you could go back and tell your past self in your memory something, what would it be?
  28. Imagine that this process has now helped you to accept, let go, and move past this negatively draining memory. You can feel the weight of it lift off of your shoulders and dissipate with the now shrinking memory. You are flying upward out of the pensieve and back into your present self’s body. You feel relieved to be back and thank yourself for the newly attained clarity and growth with the situation. You vow to use this process again when new negative thoughts or memories threaten to make you feel lousy.

**Be sure to check back for a new post about Negative Core Beliefs and Horcruxes to accompany this post in the near future**


Please note that these therapy exercises do not qualify as stand-alone treatments and it is recommended that you seek help from a licensed professional mental health provider.

Contact me with questions or to schedule an appointment:

E-Mail: jmorrismhc@gmail.com

Voicemail: (248) 923-1408

 

The Fallacy of Change

Have you ever found yourself thinking, “life will be better when…”? It seems the grass is always greener on the other …

The Danger of Shoulds

Should is used in many languages with varying degrees of unhealthy consequences. The first type of ‘should’ has …

Harry Potter Psychotherapy: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Part II- Horcruxes and Negative Core Beliefs

*I do not own Harry Potter, therefore, mention of characters/concepts are solely intended for educational and therapeutic …