Category Archives: Compassion for self and others

Sober Inspiration: Stepping away from Self-Improvement

So I seem to be getting the same message from different sources and in different mediums.  I’m guessing I need to take note!  This also mirrors a conversation I had with Prim about how I’d overdone it somewhat in the self-help reading and had emotionally overwhelmed myself in the process 🙁  So in a direct snapback to that I then read the book Stand Firm: Resisting the Self-Improvement Craze (see image) and then serendipitously listen to a podcast interview with Danielle LaPorte where in discussing her new book White Hot Truth – she hits upon similar themes 🙂

His book’s premise is this:

The pace of modern life is accelerating. To keep up, we must keep on moving and adapting – constantly striving for greater happiness and success. Or so we are told. But the demands of life in the fast lane come at a price: stress, fatigue and depression are at an all-time high, while our social interactions have become increasingly self-serving and opportunistic.
 
How can we resist today’s obsession with introspection and self-improvement? In this witty and bestselling book, Danish philosopher and psychologist Svend Brinkmann argues that we must not be afraid to reject the self-help mantra and ‘stand firm’. The secret to a happier life lies not in finding your inner self but in coming to terms with yourself in order to coexist peacefully with others. By encouraging us to stand firm and get a foothold in life, this vibrant anti-self-help guide offers a compelling alternative to life coaching, positive thinking and the need always to say ‘yes!’

It introduces 7 steps:

  1. Cut out the navel gazing
  2. Focus on the negative in your life
  3. Put on your No hat
  4. Suppress your feelings
  5. Sack your coach
  6. Read a novel – not a self-help book or biography
  7. Dwell on the past

He espouses the Hellenic tradition of Stoicism:

Stoicism is predominantly a philosophy of personal ethics which is informed by its system of logic and its views on the natural world. According to its teachings, as social beings, the path to happiness for humans is found in accepting that which we have been given in life, by not allowing ourselves to be controlled by our desire for pleasure or our fear of pain, by using our minds to understand the world around us and to do our part in nature’s plan, and by working together and treating others in a fair and just manner.

“Will-power is like muscle strength, the Stoics believed: the more we exercise it, the better and stronger it becomes.  No matter how silly such innocent examples might sound, it isn’t so stupid to practice turning down a dessert, a glass of wine or a lift in a car.  Self-control is one of the absolutely key virtues for the Stoics, albeit one that encounters a degree of adversity in our accelerating culture, with its penchant for ‘living in the moment’ and its exhortations to ‘Just Do It!’ as the ad says”.

He goes on to say: “As an ‘anti self-help philosophy’ I definitely think it’s useful, partly because it emphasises self-control, a sense of duty, integrity, dignity, peace of mind and a willingness to come to terms with (rather than find) yourself.”

Quite.  Practical pragmatism if you will.

And Danielle is riding the same vibe too it would seem as a reflection of the backlash against the self-improvement movement.  Her book asks:

Has your self-help become self-criticism?

White Hot Truth is a wise and often (hilariously) relatable exploration of the conflicts between spiritual aspiration and our compulsion to improve, from Oprah SuperSoul 100 member, Danielle LaPorte.

Danielle cheerleads seekers to fully own their wisdom by having a good laugh (and maybe a good cry) at all the ways we’ve been trying to improve on our self-improvement.

I’ve enjoyed reading and listening to these and hope you do to 🙂

Friday Sober Jukebox: Humour as a defence (Lit)

humourThere were so many gems in Sally Brampton’s book ‘Shoot the Damn Dog‘ that I have already shared here before.  This is also utterly true and resonated for me – humour as a defence.  I’m a nurse – gallows humour is our professions stock-in-trade.

First Sally’s words:

They don’t like jokes in group therapy.  Humour is a defence.  I am in denial, they say, which is just another word for smart ass.  I use humour to hide behind, because I cannot bear to feel my feelings, cannot face the truth.  I use too many words, they say.  I hide behind language.  I intellectualise my feelings and then explain them away.

‘Stop using your head, Sally.  How do you feel?’.

‘How can I tell you how I feel if I don’t use words?’

They sigh.  I can see the word ‘difficult’ captured in bubbles above their heads.

‘Feel the feelings’ they say, again.

And then what? My feelings are stuck in my throat.  The feelings that I can’t, actually put into words.

Once again, she nails me, completely.  Yes, yes, yes.  Thank you Sally 🙂

And this is what Psychology Today says:

This may explain why some psychologists classify humour as one of the “mature” defense mechanisms we invoke to guard ourselves against overwhelming anxiety (as compared to the “psychotic,” “immature,” and “neurotic” defense mechanisms). Being able to laugh at traumatic events in our own lives doesn’t cause us to ignore them, but instead seems to prepare us to endure them.

Perhaps laughter could be most properly considered as a weapon against suffering and despair. If we can joke about a disappointing or traumatic event, we’ll often find ourselves feeling that what’s happened to us isn’t so bad and that we’ll be able to get through it. This expectation serves two vitally important functions:

  1. It diminishes or even eliminates the moment-by-moment suffering we might otherwise experience as a result of a traumatic loss, which
  2. Actually makes it more likely we will make it through a trauma unmarred and flourish once again

So back to gallows humour then.  This is what Wiki says:

Sigmund Freud in his 1927 essay Humour (Der Humor) puts forth the following theory of the gallows humor: “The ego refuses to be distressed by the provocations of reality, to let itself be compelled to suffer. It insists that it cannot be affected by the traumas of the external world; it shows, in fact, that such traumas are no more than occasions for it to gain pleasure.”

As the Psychology Today article continues: Laughter is a powerful means by which we can encourage ourselves. That when confronted with setbacks, adversity, trauma, or terrible news, even if it may seem socially inappropriate, we should reach toward humor. We should try to find a way to make light of whatever circumstances make us afraid. Because if instead of focusing on the negative impact of an adverse event or experience we focus on simply laughing about it, actively and consciously pursuing a perspective that makes it funny, we just may be able to activate the most under recognized but powerful weapon we have against suffering.

MrHOF asked for this to be the Friday Sober Jukebox and the video made me laugh 😉

PS Don’t forget that this Sunday London hosts its first Mindful Drinking Festival!

Sober Insights: The Self-Torture Game

So continuing reading Healing the Shame that binds you by John Bradshaw and he talks about a process called the self-torture game.  He says that “it is almost always so habitual that it is unconscious”.  Felt pretty apt so I thought I’d discuss it further here.

It was identified by Fritz Perls as Top Dog-Under Dog Thinking.  Here’s a bit more definition from Wiki:

Topdog vs. underdog is a phrase coined by Fritz Perls, the father of Gestalt therapy, to describe a self-torture game that people play with themselves in order to avoid the anxiety that they encounter in their environment.

The topdog describes the part of an individual which makes demands based on the idea that the individual should adhere to certain societal norms and standards. These demands are often characterized by “shoulds” and “oughts”.

The underdog describes the part of an individual which makes excuses explaining why these demands should not be met. It is often the case that these excuses act as internal sabotage to ensure that the demands are never met.

Gestalt therapists often guide their patients through an exercise where the patients takes on both of these roles. With the guidance of the therapist, the patients can come to gain insight about themselves which can help them have a healthier relationship with their environment.

I think I engaged in this a great deal when I was drinking and it definitely kept me stuck in shame.  My inner critic was my top dog ‘I shouldn’t drink in the week’ or ‘I ought to be able to have a few nights off without it being a problem’ and my drinking behaviour – the victim or underdog.

It’s been happening again recently but I’ve been noticing it.  I injured my back at work a few weeks ago and it has slowed me down and hobbled my usual activities at home, including running.  In my forced resting state I’ve been doing a huge amount of reading and learning and emotional growth which has been both insightful and overwhelming.  I can recommend three books for emotional recovery work: From Surviving to Thriving by Pete Walker, Taming Your Outer Child by Susan Anderson and John Bradshaw’s Healing the Shame that binds you.  I wouldn’t recommend reading the three back to back as I’ve done as I’ve been the instigator of my own emotional overwhelm because of it.  Tread slowly and gently is what I learned!

I noticed this voice pop up around my reduced activity.  It shows up in my thoughts as anxiety related to gaining weight because I’m not running and about being lazy around the home because I’m resting my back.

Perlz argues that the internal conflict speaks to unfinished business.  What I mean by that is, in this scenario the top dog voice is my internalized early parent figure and the underdog is me as a child being chided for being lazy.  By bringing this into consciousness I get the opportunity to finish the unfinished business by acknowledging the dynamic, become more self-integrating (as this is a defensive split in the human personality) and self-accepting, process the emotions attached and thereby facilitate resolution on this specific personal representation of the ‘self-torture’ game.

Is this something that sounds familiar to you too?  Do you recognise this self-defeating thought pattern?

A Tunnel That Wakes You – Dear Sugar (Cheryl Strayed)

Dear Sugar

I think (know) I have a serious problem with alcohol.  It freaks me out; it even wakes me up in my sleep because I am terrified of this tunnel I keep going further into.  No one has ever said anything to me about it, because I’ve always been professional, calm, laid-back and in control.  I don’t think I have control anymore, and it seriously scares me.  I drink before work, when I wake up, drinking during lunch, and drink as soon as I get home to fall asleep, when no on can see me doing it.

But I also drink out socially, with my friends, and they are impossible NOT to drink around, and they actually prefer to see me “on”, which is the only state I seem to be comfortable with now.  I don’t think I can give up drinking out socially, because without my friends, I would probably just end up drinking more at home alone.

I know you are not a psychologist, but I would like to get some unbiased advice about this.  I have tried to approach some people about this before (including therapy), but it has proved fruitless, and also really embarrassing.  I guess I am hoping you have the magic, easy solution to this, and I am going to assume there probably isn’t one.

Thanks, Drinker

Dear Drinker,

My unbiased advice is that you know you’re addicted to alcohol and you need help.  You’re right that there is no “magic easy solution” to this, sweet pea, but there is a solution.  It’s that you stop using alcohol.  Privately.  Socially.  Morning.  Noon.  Night.  And probably forever.

You will need to do this when you’re ready to do this.  To be ready you need only the desire to change your life.  To succeed, most people need a community of support.  Alcoholics Anonymous is a good place to begin.  There, you will find those who struggle in the same ways you do; people who once told themselves the same lies about what was “impossible.”

Addiction is a tunnel that wakes you up in the middle of the night.  Everything else happens out here in the light.

Yours, Sugar

Taken from Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed.

Friday Sober Inspiration: Shame and The Squirrel Cage

So I’ve been reading John Bradshaw’s Healing The Shame That Binds You and oh my goodness when I read the section on Shame as The Core and Fuel of Addiction I almost fell off my chair!  It’s called The Squirrel Cage and is so reminiscent of this post I wrote it is spooky …..

I’m going to quote this section from his book but will share a series of Youtube video’s you can watch where he speaks about shame and this book’s premise.  There are 5 video’s in total and I’ll link the first one below.

Over to John:

Neurotic shame is the root and fuel of all compulsive/addictive behaviours.  My general working definition of compulsive/addictive behaviour is “a pathological relationship to any mood altering experience that has life-damaging consequences.”

The drivenness in any addiction is about the ruptured self, the belief that one is flawed as a person.  The content of the addiction, whether it be an ingestive addiction, or an activity addiction (such as work, shopping or gambling), is an attempt at an intimate relationship.  The workaholic with his work and the alcoholic with his booze are having a love affair.  Each one alters the mood in order to avoid the feeling of loneliness and hurt in the underbelly of shame.  Each addictive acting out creates life-damaging consequences that create more shame.  The new shame fuels the cycle of addiction.

The image at the top of the post is taken from Dr Pat Carne’s work, giving you a visual picture of how internalized shame fuels the addictive process and addictions create more shame, which sets one up to be more shame-based.  Addicts call this the squirrel cage.

I used to drink to solve the problems caused by drinking.  The more I drank to relieve my shame-based loneliness and hurt, the more I felt ashamed.  Shame begets shame.

The cycle begins with the false belief system shared by all addicts: that no one could want them or love them as they are.  In fact, addicts can’t love themselves.  They are an object of scorn to themselves.  This deep internalized shame gives rise to distorted thinking.  The distorted thinking can be reduced to the belief, “I’ll be okay if I drink, eat, have sex, get more money, work harder, etc.”  The shame turns one into what Kellogg has termed a “human doing” rather than a human being.

Worth is measured on the outside, never on the inside.  The mental obsession about the specific addictive relationship is the first mood alteration, since thinking takes us out of our emotions.  After obsessing for a while, the second mood alteration occurs.  This is the “acting out” or ritual stage of the addiction.  The ritual may involve drinking with the boys, secretly eating in one’ s favourite hiding place or cruising for sex.  The ritual ends in drunkenness, satiation, orgasm, spending all the money or whatever.

What follows is shame over one’s behaviour and life-damaging consequences: the hangover, the infidelity, the demeaning sex, the empty pocketbook.  The meta-shame is a displacement of affect, a transforming of the shame of self into the shame of “acting out” and experiencing life-damaging consequences.  This meta-shame intensifies the shame-based identity: “I’m no good; there’s something wrong with me,” plays like a broken record.  The more it plays, the more one solidifies one’s false belief system.  The toxic shame fuels the addiction and regenerates itself …..

I would really recommend the book but if you’re a visual and auditory learner instead watch here:

Friday Sober Jukebox: I’m Free

So here I am once again reeling from insight after insight triggered happily by reading another Pete Walker book!  Finding that I’m free – or continuing to work myself free from old constraining ways of thinking around my shame from drinking and other perceived weaknesses which is often represented by the voice of our inner critic.  It’s just too good not to share and once again I strongly advise you to go read the whole book! 🙂

14 Common Inner Critic Attacks (He kindly provides a therapeutic thought-correction response with each attack/programme) and these are a great addition to my posts looking at Drinking Thinking errors.

  1. Perfectionism.  This is a self-persecutory myth.  I do not have to be perfect to be safe or loved in the present.  I am letting go of relationships that require perfection.  I have a right to make mistakes,  Mistakes do not make me a mistake.  Every mistake or mishap is an opportunity to practice loving myself in the places I have never been loved.
  2. All-Or-Nothing & Black-and-White Thinking. I reject extreme or over-generalized descriptions, judgements or criticisms.  One negative happenstance does not mean I am stuck in a never-ending pattern of defeat.  Statements that describe me as ‘always’ or ‘never’ this or that, are typically grossly inaccurate.
  3. Self-Hate, Self-Disgust & Toxic Shame. I commit to myself.  I am on my side.  I am a good enough person.  I refuse to trash myself.  I turn shame back into blame and disgust, and externalize it to anyone who shames my normal feelings and foibles.  As long as I am not hurting anyone, I refuse to be shamed for normal emotional responses like anger, sadness, fear and depression.  I especially refuse to attack myself for how hard it is to completely eliminate this self-hate habit.
  4. Micromanagement/Worrying/Obsessing/Looping/Over-Futurizing. I will not repetitively examine details over and over.  I will not jump to negative conclusions.  I will not endlessly second-guess myself.  I cannot change the past.  I forgive all my past mistakes.  I cannot make the future perfectly safe.  I will stop hunting for what could go wrong.  I will not try to control the uncontrollable.  I will not micromanage myself or others.  I work in a way that is ‘good enough’, and I accept the existential fact that my efforts sometimes bring the desired results and sometimes they do not.  A serenity prayer moment 😉
  5. Unfair/Devaluing Comparisons to others or to your most perfect moments. I refuse to compare myself unfavourably to others.  I will not compare ‘my insides to their outsides’.  I will not judge myself for not being at peak performance all the time.  In a society that pressures into acting happy all the time, I will not get down on myself for feeling bad.
  6. Guilt.   Feeling guilty does not mean I am guilty.  I refuse to make my decisions and choices from guilt.  Sometimes I need to feel the guilt and do it anyway.  In the inevitable instances when I inadvertently hurt someone, I will apologize, make amends, and let go of my guilt.  I will not apologize over and over.  I am no longer a victim.  I will not accept unfair blame.  Guilt is sometimes camouflaged fear.
  7. Shoulding‘. I will substitute the words ‘want to’ for ‘should’ and only follow this imperative if it feels like I want to, unless I am under legal, ethical or moral obligation.
  8. Over-productivity/Workaholism/Busyholism. I am a human being not a human doing.  I will not choose to be perpetually productive.  I am more productive in the long run, when I balance work with play and relaxation.  I will not try to perform at 100% all the time.  I subscribe to the normalcy of vacillating along a continuum of efficiency.
  9. Harsh Judgements of Self & Others/Name-Calling. I will not let the bullies and critics of my early life win by joining and agreeing with them.  I refuse to attack myself or abuse others.  I will not displace the criticism and blame that rightfully belongs to my dysfunctional caretakers onto myself or current people in my life.
  10. Drasticizing/Catastrophizing/Hypochondriasizing. I feel afraid but I am not in danger.  I am not ‘in trouble’ with my parents.  I will not blow things out of proportion.  I refuse to scare myself with thoughts and pictures of my life deteriorating.  No more homemade horrors and disaster flicks.  I will not turn every ache and pain into a story about my imminent demise.  I am safe and at peace.
  11. Negative Focus. I renounce over-noticing and dwelling on what might be wrong with me or life around me.  I will not minimize or discount my attributes.  Right now, I notice, visualise and enumerate my accomplishments, talents and qualities, as well as the many gifts that life offers me, e.g., nature, music, film, food, beauty, colour, friends, pets, etc.
  12. Time Urgency. I am not in danger.  I do not need to rush.  I will not hurry unless it is a true emergency.  I am learning to enjoy doing my daily activities at a relaxed pace.
  13. Disabling Performance Anxiety. I reduce procrastination by reminding myself that I will not accept unfair criticism or perfectionist expectations from anyone. Even when afraid, I will defend myself from unfair criticism.  I won’t let fear make my decisions.
  14. Perseverating about Being Attacked. Unless there are clear signs of danger, I will thought-stop my projection of past bullies/critics onto others.  The vast majority of my fellow human beings are peaceful people.  I have legal authorities to aid in my protection if threatened by the few who aren’t.  I invoke thoughts and images of my friends’ love and support.

1 – 9 are what Pete Walker describes as ‘perfectionism attacks, fueled by toxic shame, create chronic self-hate and self-flagellation’ and 10-14 ‘endangerment attacks, fueled by fear, create chronic hyper vigilance and anxiety‘.

Aren’t these just the best?!  What a freeing list to read 🙂

And if you’d like to work on easing your inner critic voice here is a meditation from Melli over at MrsMindfulness

Sober inspiration: Emotional Hunger and Addiction

So I’ve been reading Pete Walker’s second book Complex PTSD: From Surviving to Thriving.  This is not the first time I’ve talked about Pete’s writing which has been revolutionary for me in deepening my understanding of the emotional recovery aspects of addiction and you can read them all here.  In this book he digs even deeper into recovery from emotional trauma and I felt compelled once again to share what he wrote specifically about emotional hunger and addiction.

He writes “The emotional hunger that comes from parental abandonment often morphs over time into an insatiable appetite for substances and/or addictive processes.  Minimization of early abandonment often transforms later in life into the minimizing that some survivors use to rationalize their substance and process addictions.  Fortunately, many survivors eventually come to see their substance or process addictions as problematic (*raises hand in acknowledgement*).  But many also minimize the deleterious effects of their addiction and jokingly dismiss their need to end or reduce their reliance on them (*raises hand again*).

When the survivor  has no understanding of the effects of trauma or memory of being traumatized , addictions are often understandable, misplaced attempts to regulate painful emotional flashbacks.  However many survivors are now in a position to see how self-destructive their addictions are.  They are now old enough to learn healthier ways of self-soothing.

Accordingly, substance and process addictions can be seen as misguided attempts to distract from inner pain.  The desire to reduce such habits can therefore be used as motivation to learn the more sophisticated forms of self-soothing that Cptsd recovery work has to offer.

Grieving work offers us irreplaceable tools for working through inner pain.  This then helps obviate the need to harmfully distract ourselves from our pain.

If you’d like to listen to someone talking about their experience of PTSD can I recommend the recent interview of Will Young on Bryony Gordon’s Mad World.

I appreciate that not all of those who visit this blog or read these posts come from traumatic or emotionally abusive childhoods, but equally some of us do.  As AA advocates ‘take what you need and leave the rest’ and hat tip to Anne over at ainsobriety who gets a mention in the recovery piece linked to this AA wisdom! 🙂

Hi My name is Lou, and I’m a recovering emotophobic

So this was another new word to me that I heard recently – emotophobia meaning to be emotophobic.  Not to be confused with emetophobic, the fear of being sick!

What is emotophobia?  It is the fear of negative emotion; i.e. a fear of expressing anger, frustration or disapproval.

I am a recovering emotophobic because I grew up with the ‘toxic trio’ as it is called in children’s safeguarding.  The term ‘Toxic Trio‘ has been used to describe the issues of domestic abuse, mental ill-health and substance misuse which have been identified as common features of families where harm to children has occurred. They are viewed as indicators of increased risk of harm to children and young people.

As I wrote recentlyIn my household growing up our family ‘didn’t do’ emotions as we were often reminded.  I now understand that we (the children) weren’t allowed to do negative emotions.  I learned very early on to keep my head down, my mouth shut and a smile on my face.  Look happy even if you were dying inside.

As Pete Walker describes “emotional emancipation happens when a person is both abused for emoting and is, at the same time, abused by toxic emotional expression.  This scares us out of our own emotions while simultaneously making us terrified of other people’s feelings ”  He goes on to say that “much of the plethora of loneliness, alienation, and addictive distraction that plagues modern industrial societies is a result of people being taught and forced to reject, pathologise or punish so many of their own and others’ normal feeling states.”

There was so much negative emotion expressed around me that I effectively developed a fear of them and learned very early on to dissociate as a way of coping with the anxiety and stress that it caused within me.  I also learned to self-soothe my anxiety by skin picking (also called dermatillomania).

Even now if someone around me is verbally expressing an aroused and heightened emotional state, and this is personally rather than professionally where I have learned to manage it well due to the nature of my job, I will tend to dissociate as I find it triggers emotional flashbacks to my childhood. And I still struggle with occasional skin-picking although it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be as I am only too aware of the many scars on my arms and legs that remind me of my past.

This is something I am working hard on as this is according to Braiker’s self-help book,[1] part of the “disease to please”/codependency behaviours I am aware that I struggle with along with these other cluster of traits:

My fear has meant that I have not been good at self-championing which is vital as part of our emotional recovery journey because as Matt at Surviving My Past says:

being our own champion and showing ourselves compassion, erases shame.

For me all of this comes back to shame.  Shame around my childhood and past experiences, shame around my drinking, shame around being me.

A great resource about C-PTSD, toxic shame and recovery from emotophobia is Richard Grannon and in this blog post he gives some great tips for working with toxic shame or in this video on  YouTube he talks about emotional literacy.  I am working my way away from it and towards self-championing one day at a time – a lifelong process.

Friday Sober Jukebox in memory of Robert Miles, RIP

 

 

Repetition Compulsion (Friday Sober Jukebox: I Heard)

So this is something I’ve been reading about in Pete Walker’s Tao of Fully Feeling.  The best description I read was from a blog by Graffiti Girl 2013 and she encapsulates beautifully what repetition compulsion is:

“Repetition compulsion is the repetition of a traumatic event and an attempt at mastery of one’s feelings and experience, in the sense that she unconsciously want to go through the same situation but that it not result negatively as it did in the past. Some people make the same mistakes over and over. The individual unconsciously arranges for variations of an original theme which he has not learned either to overcome or to live with.”

This is what Psych Central had to say about repetition compulsion:

Humans seek comfort in the familiar. Freud called this repetition compulsion, which he famously defined as “the desire to return to an earlier state of things.”

This takes form in simple tasks. Perhaps you watch your favorite movie over and over, or choose the same entrée at your favorite restaurant. More harmful behaviors include repeatedly dating people who might emotionally or physically abuse you, or using drugs (including alcohol) when overcome with negative thoughts. Freud was more interested in the harmful behaviors that people kept revisiting, and believed that it was directly linked to what he termed “the death drive,” or the desire to no longer exist.

But there may be a different reason.

It could be that many of us develop patterns over the years, whether positive or negative, that become ingrained. We each create a subjective world for ourselves and discover what works for us. In times of stress, worry, anger, or another emotional high, we repeat what is familiar and what feels safe. This creates rumination of thoughts as well as negative patterns in reactions and behaviors.

As an example, someone who struggles with insecurities and jealousy will find that when his significant other does not return a call or text immediately, his mind begins to wander to negative and faulty thoughts. The thoughts begin to accumulate and emotionally overwhelm the person, which leads to false accusations and unintentional harm to the relationship.

In spite of not wanting to react this way, the person has created a pattern over years that then becomes familiar to him. To react differently, although more positively, would feel foreign. When someone has done something the same way for years, he or she will continue to do so, even if it causes harm for both herself and others.

This idea also resonates with the concept known as the law of the instrument.  Maslow’s hammer (or gavel), or a golden hammer is an over-reliance on a familiar tool; as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

People also revert to earlier states if the behavior is in any way rewarding, or if it confirms negative self-beliefs. For someone who inflicts self-harm in a time of emotional distress, it is a behavior that momentarily relieves the pain even if later on the individual feels shame over it. In the example of a person who continuously enters abusive relationships, we might find that he or she is highly insecure and does not believe that he or she is worthy of being cared for.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT) can provide effective treatment routes for reshaping thought patterns that lead to maladaptive behaviors. These types of therapeutic approaches focus on bringing awareness to cognitive distortions, irrational beliefs, and negative thought tracks.

By working on different techniques, one can learn how to recognize when thoughts or actions are more harmful than beneficial, and how to stop them from occurring. The brain’s cognitive processes will be rewired and retrained to develop new patterns that are productive, rational, and positive, which ultimately leads to more adaptive behaviors and choices.

It takes years for people to develop maladaptive patterns, habits, and repetitive choices, and it may also take years to reshape them into something that becomes worth revisiting.

References

Dryden, W. (Ed.). (2012). Cognitive Behaviour Therapies. SAGE Publications Limited.

Inderbitzin, L. B., & Levy, S. T. (1998). Repetition compulsion revisited: implications for technique. The Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 67(1), 32.

I was struck by this psychological theory because it is something I’ve come to learn about only recently and it reverberates through my life in many ways, including my past use of alcohol to psychologically hammer my emotional discomfort.

I recently spent a couple of months working at Focus12 in a nursing consultancy capacity and the Consultant Psychiatrist I was working with there was an eminent and learned fellow.  His parting words to me that summarised his work and life wisdom was:

Sit still and do nothing.

I think much of my repetition compulsion would do well to heed this sage advice!  How about you?

This tune so sums up how this feels for me:

Thoughts of the escape of drinking/Impostor Syndrome

<– This is what drinking was for me.  An escape hatch from myself and the world.  And I still miss this at times of stress and crisis.  Even now this last week I’ve recalled memories where I’ve thought and felt that drinking made the unbearable bearable.  I KNOW that this is a salvation fantasy but it still persists.

So I’ve been struggling a bit recently to feel happiness in life generally prompting mid life musings of the ‘Is this it?’ variety.  Not in a ‘f*ck it, a drink is the answer’ way but in a ‘I wish I could escape these thoughts/feelings’ type way.  The ever present hangover free clear head lamented as a burden, not a gift.  I yearn for an escape or miracle and feel overwhelmed with impostor syndrome.  I must be a fraud right?  Approaching 4 years sober and yet still wishing for an off switch to my brain – the release of being comfortably numb.  And then as often happens I order the perfect book from the library to aid my discomfort.

I’ve been reading ‘Making Miracles in 40 days – turning what you have into what you want‘ by Melody Beattie.  She is a recovery warrior and has written numerous books including seminal works on co-dependency and these were the words that stopped me reading and found me here writing a blog post to share her words:

Either we refuse to talk about the loss or we can’t stop telling the story.  Guilt and obsession are the sixth and seventh stages of loss.

Once I made my choice, I began to consciously grow despite the numbness, rage, and sadness I felt.

When deep change begins – whether it’s a miracle or loss – expect to feel uncomfortable for a while.

I feel all of these things right now.  Not about not drinking – although I can’t stop telling the story here still – but about living life not numbed by booze but numb, rageful and sad because of the reflections on my past life, how they have left me feeling in the present and how it then impacts on my future tripping thinking (which is not the first time either!).  It feels like the deep change with recovery is two-fold: the stopping drinking part and then the emotional learning part.  Getting sober is both a miracle and a loss so you feel very uncomfortable in the beginning and then get waves of uncomfortable as you continue to change emotionally.  This is where I am.

She goes on to talk about happiness after loss:

Your happiness will look and feel more like peace.  But now it will be real, and it will be yours.  It won’t depend on others or what they do or don’t do.  That long, dark tunnel of transformation – when we really become empowered to make miracles – only happens once. 

Happiness means being at peace with ourselves, wherever we are, whoever we’re with, whatever we feel, whatever we’re going through, and whatever we have or lack.  Happiness means working for the sake of doing the work, not for a particular outcome.  Happiness means we’re with someone, because we enjoy the person’s company, not because we want to get that person to ask us to get married.   To feel this kind of happiness, we need to release old unfelt emotions, and feel whatever we feel.  We’re not desperately seeking someone to love us.  We want everyone to be themselves – to be who they really are.

She goes on:

Most of the time we aren’t learning what we think we are.  Being open and empty are the requirements for learning something new.  Later, when we master the lesson, we’ll see what we learned.

By being present for each moment, we learn to live in the Mystery.  We stop trying to figure things out (another form of control) and relax into not knowing.  We trust that our answers will come in their own time.

Time to learn to let go of my impostor syndrome and work on that salvation fantasy of a realistic miracle, non-drinking escape hatch or just peace within myself.