No doubt you’ve encountered or even read numerous blogs, articles, and/or books that extoll the virtues of optimism. Some research has shown that optimists tend to have better relationships, happier lives, and greater accomplishments. Some authors suggest that you can never be too optimistic and that, by implication, you should worry if you tend toward the pessimistic side of things.
I suppose I should be concerned about all of this hoopla over optimism. You see, as my wife will readily verify, I rather often take a different approach. It’s something that Dr. Julie Norem calls “defensive pessimism.” Sounds sort of awful doesn’t it? Does this mean that I walk around morose and glum and project nothing but doom and gloom? Not at all.
However, I do frequently imagine “worst case scenarios.” I run various “what if” scenarios through my mind such as:
Most people, who have more anxiety than they want, work hard to rid themselves of their anxiety. They try relaxation training, meditation, medication, and more, all in a desperate attempt to conquer uncomfortable, distressing feelings. And who can blame them? After all, isn’t that the goal of therapy—to rid yourself of anxiety, uncertainty, doubts, and discomfort once and for all?
Well, yes and no. Of course most therapists would love for you to be able to feel calm, relaxed, and peaceful all of the time. However, that goal isn’t possible for anybody. Life is full of unpredictable, often random, dangers, hassles, and perils. Therefore, if you have the goal of eliminating these things, you will almost certainly fail.
I’m pretty sure that I came out of the womb as a cognitive behavioral therapist. Well, maybe a behavioral therapist—I guess I wasn’t using language those first few months. But, I’ve always been acutely aware of how rewards, lack of rewards, and thinking all interact and influence feelings and behavior.
In my early training, I considered myself a radical behaviorist. I still do pretty much. I believe that the words we use and the thoughts we think can be considered verbal behavior. But, those beliefs are much more complex than what I wish to discuss today.
The way you think about things can affect the way you feel. That’s a basic premise of cognitive therapy. Here’s an example. One morning you get to work and realize that you left your iPad at home. You have these thoughts: “Oh no, I forgot my iPad. I’ll never be able to get any work done today. I don’t even have my calendar. I know I have some appointments but I don’t remember when. This is terrible. If my boss finds out about this, he might fire me.”
Well, after that thought you might be pretty anxious.
On the other hand, what if you have these thoughts? “Oh no, I forgot my iPad. What an idiot I am. How can I be so stupid? I should have checked to see that I had everything before I left. Why do I always have to be so stupid?”
Having those thoughts might lead to feeling pretty depressed.
So, Laura responded to my blog on Six Reasons for Not Treating Your Anxiety or OCD with one of her own blogs that may have helped you rethink your “treatment interfering beliefs” in a more productive way. If so, you’re ready to move ahead, right? Well, not quite.
I think it’s also wise to take one more important step. Specifically, I’d like you first to consider accepting where you’re at, problems and all. That’s right; evaluate yourself as acceptable and OK as you are.
Realize that you didn’t ask to have problems with anxiety and OCD. Rather, you have these problems for lots of good reasons. You may have had genes that tilted you in this direction. Or perhaps you experienced one or more traumas. Maybe your parents were overly critical and overbearing. On the other hand, maybe they couldn’t provide the structure you needed as a child. Perhaps you grew up in an unsafe neighborhood. People acquire anxiety and OCD for these reasons and many more. They pretty much never become anxious because they “wanted” to have these problems.
Yet, many clients judge and evaluate themselves very harshly just because they have some problems that they didn’t ask for in the first place. They see themselves as weak, incompetent, and horribly flawed. Thus, they tell themselves that they absolutely MUST overcome their problems. In addition, they should do so quickly and completely.
A couple of days ago, Chuck wrote about why some people either believe they can’t get better or decide not to get treatment for their anxiety or OCD. Some readers had other ideas like having no money or not having access to good cognitive behavioral therapy.
Here are six ideas for overcoming such obstacles to change:
Try contacting the nearest college or university. Most colleges have psychology clinics that have well supervised upper level students or graduate students work with clients in order to gain experience. Costs for such services are often modest and most use a sliding scale. Community mental health agencies also use sliding scales to charge for services.
You read blogs all of the time exhorting you to get treatment for anxiety, OCD, and other emotional problems. But have you heeded that advice and gotten treatment? For many people, the answer is that they haven’t.
You might wonder why that would be the case. After all, if you have a problem, you should venture out and do something about it, right?
I’d like to suggest that if you’ve had significant problems with anxiety or OCD, yet avoided getting treatment for years, you’ve probably done so for some pretty good reasons. And it makes more sense to take a look at your reasons for not seeking treatment than to beat yourself up for not having done something about your problem. There are six major reasons or beliefs we’ve heard people give for avoiding treatment. See if any of these apply to you:
Human beings are graced with having minds that can use language and thoughts to learn from the past and anticipate future events. How glorious! We can actually manage to read about various threats, calamities, and hazards—and sometimes actually prevent them from happening or minimize their effects when they do.
Therefore, we can substantially reduce a variety of risks by learning to drive the speed limit, use seat belts, avoid excessive sun exposure, avoid known toxins, engage in regular exercise, and eat healthy.
All of these things are great to do. Unfortunately, humans also have a habit of taking things too far. We exaggerate our minds’ ability to predict the future and prevent what we fear from happening. For example, some people refuse to consider locating to the southwest (including our lovely part of the country New Mexico) because they are afraid of snakes. Well in the 25 years of my residency, I’ve only seen two snakes and I walk or jog quite frequently. The chances of actually getting bit by a snake are extremely unlikely—much less than getting hit by a car or having a heart attack.