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Friday, August 19, 2011

Pure Clarity

I have had two defining moments of "pure clarity" about myself, the world and the way in which we interact which have been life and perspective changing.  As the second happened only a little over a week ago and I am still processing it, I'm not ready to share.

But, I'd like to share with you the first moment I had and the changes it led to.  It also set the scene for epiphany number two.

I have struggled with depression and anxiety (although I only really understood the latter in the last month) for most of my life.  Two years ago, I was hospitalized due to my mental health for the second time in my life - and my first admission as an adult.  I had hit a point of absolute rock bottom and felt unable to continue with anything.  I remember my first night in hospital laying in bed crying - for myself, for my children, for what felt like the hopelessness of it all.  And making myself a promise that, somehow, I would get it together and get better, for my kids.

During my time there, I attended many of the classes that the hospital held on self esteem, anxiety management, etc.  It was during one of these that I was struck with the "ah ha!" moment...when I was introduced to a concept called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.  We were asked to think of a "core belief" about ourselves and the world - something like "I can't do anything right" or "I don't have any friends".  I chose the following statement:

I can't ever REALLY change anything.

I was convinced that I was stuck in repeating the same patterns, and mistakes, over and over again - that I was powerless to make absolute changes in my life, that truly altered my path.  I remember feeling rather smug thinking, "Let's see this exercise disprove that."

We then had to come up with evidence to support the statement - of course, I had a load of it.  I can "never" lose weight, I'm "still" depressed, etc.  Ha!  See.  True statement.

Then, we were asked to come up with some examples that disprove the statement.  I thought about it, and found two very powerful examples:
Almost ten years ago, I quit smoking - and haven't touched one since.
At the same time, I stopped self harm behaviors - and haven't hurt myself since.

I remember sitting looking at the page and very wrong I was.  That I'd been preventing myself from making the changes in thoughts, feelings and behaviors that I needed to make, because of this "core belief" that I was entirely unable to change anything about my life.  When in actual fact, I'd made two HUGE changes, permanent and real changes, to myself and my lifestyle.

The final step of the exercise was to re-word your original core belief statement ("I can't ever REALLY change anything") to something that was actually supported by the evidence on your sheet.  I changed mine to:

With enough determination and effort, I CAN change most things in my life, in a permanent, sustainable way.

The object of the exercise, was to demonstrate that how you think about situations impacts enormously on how you feel about the situation.  By breaking down a negative core belief and examining it to see if it actually held water, I was able to re-program my thinking about making changes in my life in such a way that I was not only viewing myself and the world with more realism, but it was also a much more hopeful and inspiring picture with which to move forward.

Stay tuned for my next CBT post....Happiness comes from B, not A!

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