This idea came to mind yesterday as I was beginning to dread my next EMDR session. EMDR itself is fine. It’s the time in between sessions that I truly dislike. My brain has gone into hyperdrive, and traumatic memory after traumatic memory is pouring forth like Old Faithful. It’s unpredictable just like Old Faithful, too.
In an attempt to make the best of it, I’ve been trying to play Match the Core Beliefs. In my thinking, these memories aren’t coming forward without cause. They must have something in common. So, I’ve been writing them out in an attempt to uncover any hidden core beliefs. It’s actually been a good strategy. As I’ve done this, I’ve felt a bit better–less hypervigilant and irritable but irrationally fearful.
Fearful of what? Nothing and everything. Just…randomly afraid. Afraid that someone I know will die. Afraid that everyone I’m close to will suddenly decide that I’m too something (fill in the blank with whatever quality seems most repellant) and run away. Afraid that another catastrophe will befall my family. Maybe it’s just the ebb and flow of general panic. I am keenly aware of all of it. I can even observe it from a rational distance.
So, this notion popped into my head yesterday as I was observing the flow of my rather anxiety-provoking thoughts. “What if you told yourself the opposite of what you feared to be true? What if, instead of all the cognitive distortions that might actually be legitimate based upon your life experiences, you actively engaged your self-talk and told yourself the opposite?”
Well now, that sounded positively ludicrous! My brain spins tales that make the Brothers Grimm sound like Mother Goose! How could I possibly tell myself something…positive?
Then another thought: “You let yourself get all worked up and run over by the negativity in your mind. Why not let yourself get built up by positivity that you deliberately create? If you are willing to respond emotionally to negativity, then why not take some control and respond positively to better thoughts that you have a say over?”
This little voice had a valid point. I would have been offended were I not somewhat fascinated.
“Okay, how do I do this?”
“What’s making you the most upset? What is weighing on you and causing you anxiety?”
“Where do I begin?” I replied sarcastically.
“The most anxiety?”
Sometimes the answers that come forward are surprising. We think that we know ourselves so well, and, in some ways, we do. Other times, we don’t like something we see in ourselves because it doesn’t line up with our values or our self-assessment. We want to be viewed by others as one way when, in reality, we aren’t that way at all.
I am excessively self-reliant, and it is a value that both my parents upheld fiercely. To ask for help was akin to admitting to stealing. Needing help was a character flaw. Needing help was selfish. If you needed help, then something was wrong with you. It’s like they were raising a tiny Teddy Roosevelt.
My father insisted that I learn to tie my shoes when I was 3 because I should not need his help for anything. I learned to dress any wound that I had at age 4. As an adult, I find asking for help very difficult, but, at the same time, I find excessive self-reliance as displayed in my parents ridiculous. Asking for help is appropriate and good and yet I have been criticized for my self-reliance. I am, however, heavily conditioned never to ask for help. I was punished severely for needing help as a child. A visceral response occurs in me at the moment that I need it. On some level, I am convinced that people will actually abandon our friendship should I seek their help. This is what one would call a core belief. Core beliefs are not rational. They are often conditioned responses that rise up within us under pressure. I was taught that asking for help=selfish=punishment=abandonment. So, under no circumstances can you let anyone see you sweat. To need is to be abandoned. To need is to be innately inadequate. To need is to be somehow inherently repulsive.
I don’t intellectually believe this at all, but there is a part of me that has been conditioned to behave that this is true. I fear that this is true.
Well, now what? I am very uncomfortable with admitting this. Furthermore, asking anyone for help makes me almost sick to my stomach, but I know that being allowed to help someone is very validating. I also know that refusing someone the privilege of helping can cause feelings of rejection and illegitimacy.
“Ah,” my fearful mind says, “what about being beholden to people?” My mother used to help me and consider it a debt. Nothing was ever given freely. Strings were always attached. That is another reason for my excessive self-reliance. There was no such thing as a gift in my family. I learned early on that everything was quid pro quo.
My reassuring mind then says, “The people in your life now love you, and they know you. They want to be there for you. You can ask them for help. They are not waiting to hold your past against you or even your weaknesses. Love does not do that. So, you can tell yourself that you are safe, loved, and valued in the present, and the people whom you have chosen are for you. No one is going to throw you away or run from you because you feel like you are too much but not enough at the same time. Or, you can continue to buy into the nightmares your brain throws at you.”
Well, that’s cheeky, but it might be true. A part of me gave another part of me a stern talking to, but it got my attention.
When do we say enough is enough in terms of fearful and negative self-talk? If we can go down the “What if…” road that leads to hell, then we can just as easily go down the “What if…”road that leads to heaven. “What if this all goes to shit?”…”What if this turns out so much better than I ever thought it could?” Two mindsets.
Which one do I choose? I know which one I want to choose. I want the path of hope.
It’s hard, and it is a choice. So, keep at it. It does pay off.