The Power of What If

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.

“Just look at her! We’ll have her naming national parks and riding a horse in no time!”

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.


17 Comments on “The Power of What If

  1. I’m identifying with this post- I think that it’s about teaching children never to have needs of their own. If you need your parent, you are made to feel guilty for ‘bothering’ them and they are absolved of all responsibility for you. As a child, I took myself off alone at 12 years old on the bus to have two teeth removed by the orthodontist. I was so proud of myself, but as a mother I’ve realised that I would never have allowed my children to go through that alone. And. as you say, asking for help incurred a ‘debt’. It’s taken me a lot of effort to accept help from others but there are lots of lovely people out there and it does make for healthier relationships, I think.

  2. I can usually pull off some good ol’ positive self talk for a few hours, me and my mind that I just made nice with can hang out for a few hours tip toeing through the lilies but the beast inside comes back in a few hours to reclaim his rightful seat. All the, “Don’t trust them, because they’ll get you” or “just accept your fate, your a looser” and many other hit tapes are the beasts favorite and plays them to wash out all of those good happy thoughts that I had been deluding myself with.

    Tonight we talked about anger and I went numb so numb it freaked me out because I tend to say, think and feel way too much

    Great picture and that’s one fine mustache 🙂

    Thanks again for your honesty, I am glad you share because it is often difficult for me to hear people because most seem to dishonest but I hear you loud and clear.

    I hope you experience steady uphill progress with positive thinking, I don’t have much success with it as of yet.

    Your an incredibly brave woman, I appreciate your honesty, never stop, never give up.

    • Well, this isn’t positive thinking. I’m challenging core beliefs which are wrong. Ned Flanders of The Simpsons seems to be that stereotypical poster boy for positive thinking. To delude oneself is to lie or present oneself with a false reality, but your core beliefs are actually the ones deluding you. That’s the real mindfuck. “Don’t trust them because they’ll get?” THAT is the delusion. “Just accept your fate. You’re a loser.” That is the delusional thinking that a core belief perpetuates, but oh does it feel so true. And learning to challenge them with another belief is how we get rid of them and override them. That’s what I’m trying to do, and that’s one way EMDR helps.

      • I hear you, I probably shouldn’t have replied right after getting out of therapy.

        It is very early in my EMDR journey, I have not even started the actual treatment, my therapist wants to get to know me fairly well before we jump into it so I am sure the core beliefs will be dealt with later.

        • No, it was a good response. It is representative of just how impossible it all feels. HOW do we challenge that shit? HOW? Just how entrenched it all is. It is reality. It’s the truth.

          • It is reality, the truth instead of the beast analogy would be that challenging my core beliefs isn’t as easy as positive thinking because they are burned in, the whole neuro pathways thing and emotional damage has them locked in tight, just a few minutes of thinking positive isn’t going to do it, this is going to be a battle or war actually.

          • Yes, it is. That is why few people do it. It is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. Truly. And I’ve done many hard things.

          • I agree, I do appreciate having finally found a therapist that hears me, I wasted too much money getting to this point. I remember the other thing now, I am experiencing this panic attacks, they scared me at first, even thought I was having a heart attack but now that I can recognize them I just ride them out.

            Ok, great talking with you as usual.

            I appreciate you

          • I have panic attacks. They are trauma-based. I hate them. My thinking starts them.

          • As usual I can’t just reply once and move on because “more” always comes up, (I wish I were a clear communicator,) you mentioned the feelings or thoughts of people leaving you, the constant feelings on that line, I so get that, I am also bombarded with this, it really is annoying. Shoot I had something else but it’s gone now. Oh well.

          • I’m in the middle writing a post on this. It really hit hard in therapy this week in a way that finally made sense to me. Like..I REALLY got it. And now I might actually be able to climb out. So, I have to write about it. Maybe it will help. Hopefully.
            You can always email me, G.

          • YAY, I know you will climb out, I believe you will because you have what it takes. I promise, I won’t gush 🙂

          • Well, I will be your cheer leader, I don’t know your road specifically but I know the horror of a Vietnam era Army dad, horror is a good descriptor.

            You have what it takes, I believe that 100%

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