The Power of Psychology and Therapy can help ANYONE

Although I’ve spent a lot of time studying psychology, and working in human services and mental health, I still find it difficult working on certain things and asking for help. For years, I encouraged parents and grandparents to seek help for their own sake and most of all for their children. I felt that then as an advocate and now as a teacher, I should be able to have everything together as if knowledge is enough power.

I don’t feel that anyone should feel ashamed for attending therapy or asking for help, but sometimes, I don’t always see myself in that category for some reason. I tend to downplay some of the things that I have experienced in life; some of which are almost too scary to talk about online for fear of being judged (read: or perhaps too scary to talk about right now). I think it may be about time to reread that book “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown…

At any rate, I teach psychology and yes, I also attend therapy in the form of family therapy/marriage counseling and I recently started attending a Cognitive Behavioral Therapy group with the veterans. The CBT group comes with a binder and homework. This week’s homework was on Identifying Automatic Thoughts. This means learning to identify that those thoughts really are automatic for us by separating the situations, moods, and thoughts involved so that we can learn to be more in control of our moods.

There are 3 levels of Cognitions. Automatic thoughts, intermediate beliefs, and core beliefs.

Some examples of Automatic Thoughts:

I can’t do anything right.

I’ll probably get fired.

I’ll never be successful.

Intermediate Beliefs (Internalized rules, messages or expectations in attempt to make sense of the world. The “rules of the road” about self and others.)

Heh, you saw some of mine above right?! It’s great, and I am supportive of others seeking help, but I’m not sure that it is okay for me to identify as someone who also needs help at times…

Core Beliefs: Very entrenched and rigid beliefs about oneself, absolute truths about how the world works, these are “internalized messages”.

ie: I’m incompetent

 

I’ve found that identifying these parts and separating them out helps me to find the flaws in these automatic thoughts as I often worry about getting in trouble, or whether or not I’ll be successful. Truth is, I know I’m not incompetent but it doesn’t always stop some of these automatic thoughts from flowing.

I tend to also have a lot of automatic thoughts around the house (My husband and I are temporarily living with my in-laws. I am finding that it can be extremely challenging living with another family and experiencing their ways of family life, habits, behaviors, etc that are far different than the way that I grew up.)

Another example that was given in our homework showed how there can be differing reactions to the same event:

Activating Event = Co-Worker walks by (in this case I’m thinking of my in-laws) without saying “Hi” or even acknowledging you

Reactions:

“How dare he ignore me!!!” – Annoyed

“I wonder why he doesn’t like me anymore?” – Depressed

“I wonder what did I do?” – Anxious

“Hmmm… what’s that all about?” – Puzzled

“What a space cadet!” – Amused

With this type of scenario, I tend to experience the depressed and anxious reactions, separately or together. I am also finding that some of these things are a bit deeper having experienced certain things in the past that these events trigger and take me back to. I hope that doing some of this work will help me to practice and find more ways to get rid of or manage some of these automatic thoughts better and ultimately help me to be more present and successful. Some of my goals are to be gain greater mental clarity and presence so that I can be a more caring, courageous, and compassionate caregiver, wife, and family member. I also hope to grow my confidence in myself and in teaching. (Yes, I have lofty goals!)

#IWillSmileTodayBecause Being in the Present is Good Today #FridayFeeling

I will smile today because I can recognize that today is good. Each day is good, really, but some days it is harder to see. Today, my husband and I ran some errands very successfully. It made me smile when Steve asked me “Did you notice, I’m being really flexible today with my plans? …I’m semper gumby.”

Today, we were able to be flexible with our plans and enjoyed an unexpected, unplanned breakfast at Ihop today and (read: AND!) navigated the grocery store without a lot of anxiety. We went early and made our stops pretty quick which may have helped. It felt great. It’s the simple things.

Tonight, we are going to see a musical. I hope that it goes as well. There has been a lot of stress in our house lately and we all need a break and night out. I love theater and I am really looking forward to it! I am making spaghetti with meat sauce and garlic bread for supper, I know Steve is really looking forward to that (his fave). We forgot the salad mix at the store, oops. Ah well, Steve and I have been really focused on eating better lately and have opted for more veggies and salads lately.

As a Catholic, I am not really supposed to eat meat on fridays, but it seems that every friday we end up having meat lately. I guess there are many worse things. I guess I will pray a little more. I actually took my rosary out of my car today with the idea that I will start using it more.

I may be rationalizing this meat-eating on a Lenten Friday, but I guess it is what it is. I am on the other hand making a considerable amount of progress on some of my other goals. I have been eating healthier, exercising a little more, and working through a lot of challenges with myself and with my relationships. Times have been more difficult lately, and there were moments that I wasn’t sure how Steve and I would make it through them. It hasn’t always been pretty, but we continue to support each other, working on ourselves, having courage and compassion, and ultimately greater connection. It’s a great #FridayFeeling 🙂

 

#LetsMakeTodayBetterBy having courage and compassion

I am typically a compassionate person, and this may have played a part in my gravitating towards caregiver roles in my work and personal life. I grew up in the Roman Catholic faith. I learned that it was important to share with others, give even when you have little, and treating everyone with kindness. When I went to Catholic School, I remember learning in 1st grade from Sister Patricia the golden rule “do unto others, as you wish they do unto you”, and that in order to have joy, “Jesus comes first, then others, and then yourself.”  I think that this is one of the reasons that caring, and kindness towards other is easy for me.

In my current work, I try to spread compassion by talking with my students about things like common misconceptions about mental illness and how to fight mental illness stigma.

Sadly, the media uses sensational headlines about mental illness to sell their stories and politicians use mental illness to push their agendas. I try to counteract some of these things, even in the small world in which I work, live, and play. There are times when it feels my efforts are futile, and other times, I feel I’m really helping to make great strides. I hope that it helps one of my students someday to have courage and strength for their friends, family, partner, or themselves, so that they may get help if and when they ever need it. In the world we live in, it takes great courage to ask for help. In my work and in my life, I have seen firsthand how the stigma of mental illness has kept families and individuals from seeking help.

The world needs more compassion. We, as a people, need more compassion, but it also takes great courage. Let’s make the world a better place; have courage to throw kindness around like confetti!

 

The Gifts of Imperfection

I’ve read a lot of books out of necessity instead of pleasure, perhaps that is why I don’t often read anymore. Recently our family counselor gave my husband and I “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are” by Brene Brown.

I am a bit of a perfectionist and so to an extent I am anxious about making mistakes and fearful that I won’t measure up. I have trouble with doing something simple and letting it be. It could be something as simple as writing an email; I’ll find myself writing, editing, re-reading and re-writing. This has served me well in academia as my papers have been well-written. Although, even when my graduate professors would return my papers with comments like “100 – This was excellent! I enjoyed reading your paper and learning about … I could not find anything wrong with this paper”, I still had trouble accepting that feedback and feeling satisfied.

This year, I made my new year’s resolution a bit broad, I aim to be a happier, healthier me. As part of this, I am reading and taking time to reflect on Brown’s words. In the Gifts of Imperfection, Brown discusses shame resilience, as well as courage, kindness, compassion, and connection. What I am learning to recognize and remember is that kindness and compassion towards the self is just as important as having these towards others. Furthermore, these are also important if we want to make the best connections with ourselves and each other. These are also key if we want to be and enjoy life in the moment.

With that being said, I am going to practice courage in starting a new knitting project, a Slouchy Beanie with a Visor. I am a new knitter and it will be the first hat that I have attempted, so I am a little nervous that it may not come out right. I am going to lean into that feeling though, and just go for it. All of my scarfs so far have come out lovely, so hopefully this project will too!