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Monday, August 22, 2011

Happiness comes from B, not A!

My journey moves from one hospital, to another that is eerily familiar.  On discharge, I begin a 12 week class on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy that is being held at the same hospital I was once admitted to as an adolescent.  No longer an in patient facility, it's now used strictly for out patient services.  Having dinner in the dining room feels looks smaller than I remember and I'm struck again at how time changes one's perspective.

In the conference room that was once used for the daily patient briefings, we sit around a large boardroom table and begin.  This first session is one of the three that will stick with me, molding to my core and shaping who I am; I want to share the core lesson with you.

We discuss how different people can experience the same event, and have different reactions and emotional outcomes to it...and that this is largely on how they process the experience.  We're used to thinking of life as a series of events, and then emotional reactions - someone is nasty, I feel sad.  On the board, Steph* writes:

A. Something happens
C. Emotional reaction

Starting at the board, I wonder what "B" is.  If someone snaps at me, I feel sad and upset...what could there be in the middle?  This is then filled in with:

B. Thoughts about the event

Hmmm.  Bollocks, I think.  But, I'm still carrying that spark from my moment in hospital, and so I try and prise my mind open to see it through, and low and behold, the world changes...again.

You see, when someone snaps at me, I think "they hate me, I've stuffed up, I'm going to lose them, I can't do anything right"...and then I feel sad.

Steph offers me some different options...what if instead you think "Wow, they're having a bad day.  I guess I'll come back to this topic later"?  You don't feel sad because of what happened, you feel sad because of what you think about what happened.  You don't have any evidence to say that they snapped at you because they hate you or that you're about to lose the friendship.

Look at your evidence, she says, and find the explanation that most realistically fits with the available facts and, given the choice of two equally likely possibilities, pick the more positive of the two.

It's a lesson I managed to lose sight of in the last four months and the fall out of that has me vowing never to do it again.

* Name changed.  This post is part of a series of posts on my introduction to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

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