It’s the Thought That Counts
Written by listed counsellor/psychotherapist: Michelle Katz : Certified Relate Counsellor & BACP Senior Accredited
23rd February, 2012
Suffering from anxiety, low self esteem, stress or depression?
It’s the Thought That Counts ……….
Fact : we all worry about something.
So many people experience crippling anxiety which affects their self esteem, security & confidence. The number of things we worry about are of course countless, but they all have one thing in common……..fear. The following concerns are those I see with frequency, both in and outside the counselling room.
The Worst Case Scenario.
These people worry about the future and all the terrible things that could go wrong. They think about a potential 'disaster' and then spend hours or days ruminating on all the ways it could go wrong and the terrible outcomes. It's called ‘Catastrophising’. These worriers enlarge the catastrophe whilst minimising their coping strategies, leaving the gulf between the two feeling insurmountable. As a victim to their unhappy thoughts, they often suffer with depression and life simply feels overwhelming.
No One Likes Me.... (or they wouldn't if they really knew me !)
These people worry that if they speak up for themselves, or they don't please the other person, they will be rejected. They believe deep down that really, they are quite unlovable and therefore the only way to maintain a relationship is to become what the other person wants them to be. Unable to risk disapproval, they adopt a persona, sometimes pleasing, sometimes entertaining, but for both, being with other people can be exhausting, and so they seek their own company.
They then feel lonely and unpopular which simply confirms their fears….. ‘no one likes me’.
Others experience irrational, terrible thoughts, thoughts they are ashamed of and would never dare admit to having. What these people are unaware of, is, everyone has irrational thoughts. Unsolicited thoughts pop into our heads with frequency, but so long as we don’t act on them, they are simply thoughts, spontaneous and unbidden.
I'm Scared to be Happy
When all in life seems well, they worry that it won't last, that something disastrous is about to happen and that they will come crashing down. So they prepare themselves.......’I won't feel too happy and then I won't have too far to fall
when tragedy strikes’.
Of course life has it's up's and down's, but how incredibly sad if we can't enjoy the journey even when the pathway is smooth.
In reality, how often do our fears actually materialise? How often are we faced with impending doom? The answer......... rarely
Sadly or perhaps encouragingly, what makes us so terribly anxious and scared is our thoughts, nothing more, just our thoughts. The exact same ‘process’ we use to look forward to a holiday or seeing a friend. The difference is, when our thoughts are worrying ones, we believe them to be true. We spend hours, sometimes days pondering, ruminating, engaging with them, and like everything else, the more time, energy and effort we put in, the more we ‘get out of it’. The only trouble is in this case all we’re getting is more fear. Our belief that worrying about the outcome prepares one and that the shock won’t be so great, is just another thought we buy into.
When Deepak Chopra talks about fear he says 'Fear's main
tactic is to make illusion seem real, but if you believe in an illusion, you're buying into a lie. When you give in to fear, you are either projecting into the future or reliving the past. Here and now, you are safe. While fear is trying to convince you that it's real, what's really happening is that you lose touch with the present'.
How often are we actually living in the present moment? The answer I suspect is, for most of us, very rarely. We live in the past or the future and with our 'version' of what has or will happen. Many of us are addicted to negative, destructive, fearful thoughts and it is hard to break a lifetime’s habit. Yet, if we can learn to be in this present moment, right here right now, we can begin to give ourselves a moments break from the incessant chatter that goes on inside our heads.
When we are able to recognise what we are thinking, we can begin to see our thoughts in a more realistic light. Our thoughts are just that.......a mere thought, nothing more than an illusion, no more or less true than a positive thought would be!
You would not believe in a lie, yet that is exactly what happens when a thought is experienced and believed as if it were the 'truth'. "Anytime one of our fears comes true, we give fear the credit for having protected us until that moment. Which only encourages us to spend our whole life anticipating disaster. " (ibid)
I recently bumped into an acquaintance who told me that she was very much looking forward to her first holiday without children in 9 years…. if only there wasn’t the flight. I asked her what she meant and she told me of her fears ‘What if there’s an airport strike, or there’s something wrong with the plane. What if our luggage gets lost. What if someone has sneaked a bomb on board or the plane crashes. I said ‘oh I understand, you play the ‘what if’ game. She looked at me quizzically.
‘It’s like a game of monopoly, only each square has a ‘what if’ on it. You throw the dice, land on a ‘what if’….. ruminate on the distressing, frightening thought until such time as you’ve made yourself thoroughly miserable or scared. And then you roll the dice again’! She looked at me in amazement and laughed. As hard as it is to believe, this acquaintance got the hang of it almost immediately. When I next saw her she said she had had
a wonderful holiday, she hadn’t played the ‘what if’ game. What is more, she had recognised that the ‘what if’ voice, actually belonged to her father!
Sydney Banks says we all have innate health. If we can learn to listen to our thoughts, to treat ourselves with kindness and compassion, our innate health will lead us to the wisdom that is within us all.
I believe the only thing that gets in the way of our innate health, is ourselves and our fears. So today, experiment and try and do it differently. Every time you notice you are worrying about something, ask yourself ‘ is this thought helping me or am I simply buying into a fear’.
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