I have been working in the mental health/addictions/human sexuality for field for over 20 years. I have counseled hundreds of individuals and couples, as well as facilitated hundreds of groups. For nearly 10 years prior to this I was in my own process of learning, growing, and overcoming many years of depression and low self-esteem. I worked with counselors, attended 12 step and support groups, kept a journal, and read many self-help books. Am I cured or immune from all my old thinking, beliefs, and behaviors? No I am not. Am I much better at maintaining a more positive and realistic frame of mind? I certainly am.
During the past couple of years I have posted many helpful ways of looking at life and managing feelings and the events we encounter. I hope this information has helped the thousands of people who have viewed my blog. But, offering this information and making suggestions is much easier that applying these things to my own life. I do a pretty good job for the most part maintaining balance in my life and my emotions. Am I able to apply these each and every day to each and every hurdle I encounter? The truth is that sometimes it isn’t so easy to reach into my bag of tricks and I experience the anxiety, anger, and depression that we all do. I don’t always remember the things I know. I have human experiences just like everyone else.
One way I benefit from all the work I’ve done on myself is that any emotional upheaval I experience is not as deep or long lasting as it once was. It is much easier to find my center once again. The things I suggest in my blog as well as ways to see the world which make it easier to manage are things I apply in my own life. Many people I know and many of my clients use what they have learned working with me. I have seen amazing changes in my life and in the lives of many others over the years. It took applying what we have learned consistently and being persistent. If you have the desire to improve and change your life you can. It takes time to change.
It is important to understand that our perception of reality becomes our reality. In many cases our perceptions have become distorted based on beliefs we developed early in life. Therefore, just because we perceive something to be true it might not be the case. Using the example of a person who is bitten by a dog; some people develop a fear of all dogs. Most dogs are not likely to bite us and we approach all dogs with the same fear. The fact is that only a small percentage of dog bite people so fearing all dogs is a perception not based in the truth.
Avoid thinking in absolutes or all or nothing. The concepts of always and never are invariably the result of faulty and distorted thinking. Also, it is not helpful to think that you should have done “this” or shouldn’t have done “that.” Regrets for previous actions are not helpful in improving mood and moving forward in our lives.
Identify the thoughts or beliefs that are faulty, erroneous, or self-destructive. Find alternative thoughts and beliefs. The next step I call “catch and correct.” Every time you “catch” yourself engaged in faulty thinking replace that thought with one that is more helpful. That way you are “correcting” your old patterns of thinking. This requires increased awareness of your thoughts and vigilance. It also required you to be persistent in your effort. This process will take time in order to change old automatic thinking to a new way of thinking. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of keeping a journal to record your thoughts and feelings. This strategy works for depression, anxiety, other fears, and self-esteem issues.
Most of all be gentle and kind toward yourself. No one does it perfectly and neither will you.
If you only read self-help books or articles by many pop-psychologists, you would likely believe that changing how you think, feel, and behave is a relatively easy process once you decide to do so. Many people write in such a way that leads you to believe it should be as easy as deciding to change and instant change occurs. Deciding to change is only the first of many steps toward the attainment of lasting and permanent change. It will require a commitment of your time and effort to reach your desired goal.
The first thing you must understand is that most of your thoughts and behaviors are not done in a conscious manner. They are mostly automatic and are habits you have developed over time. We all have a set of beliefs that determine how we see things and, therefore, determine what we think and what we do. This ultimately determines how we feel. In making the changes that will ultimately improve our mood, self-esteem, and our lives we are changing habits. Habits take time and effort to change.
We all have this conversation going on in our heads (self talk) that determines our reactions to events. I suggest that you start a journal and write about how you experience life. This will help you to identify faulty or distorted thinking that negatively affects your life. The next step is to explore alternative thoughts and behaviors to replace those that do not work. Having someone to share your thoughts and feelings with as well as exploring alternatives is extremely helpful. The support and encouragement from a trusted relative, friend, or counselor increases the likelihood of a successful outcome.
I will continue to discuss the process for change in my next post.
I am not much into using the old cliches even though they are as true today as ever. “One day at a Time.” “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” They have truth to them. To be honest, there is nothing new under the sun as far as coping with life. What has worked still works and will always work. It is all repackaged and stated in another way. But, it is still the same.
I hear my clients discuss what they have read or heard. I have never heard anything new. It just sounds different. Truisms will always be true just like the sun will continue to come up and the seasons change. One thing I know to be very true: If you are willing to put in the work and be persistent, you can change and make your life better.