I have a love-hate relationship with one of the major therapies endorsed by psychology today: cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT).
Both as a therapist, and as a client, I know it can work. It can bring fast relief in acute times. So it’s a good thing to have in your inner toolbox when you’re working with the challenges life can throw you.
In a (very small) nutshell, CBT asks you to question your thoughts, and the beliefs that underpin them. It asks you to have another look at the way you’ve got things set up in your mind. To see if the conclusions that it’s so easy to jump to in the heat of the moment are actually even real or right. To renovate the interior of your inner-most home. And it has a few user-friendly formulas to do it with.
Which all sounds great, right?
But something about CBT also irritates me. Because it seems a bit patronising, sometimes, to be sort of “taught” to “un-think” or un-learn your so-called “negative thoughts.” To sort of shuffle things around in your skull to just think a little differently.
Sometimes that seems a bit fake. A bit try-hard. A bit rose-tinted glasses goody-two-shoes to suggest that there are “right ways” and “wrong” ways to think.
But then I have to remind myself that there’s also a whole lot more to CBT than just hoodwinking yourself with word games and tricky thinking. For at another level, this seemingly formulaic therapy can also reflect elements of much deeper, much older wisdoms such as:
“You are not your thoughts”
(which I once heard spoken by a Buddhist monk on the radio).
What do you think about that idea?
Anger. It’s got a pretty bad reputation. And we’re often told what to do with it: be careful with it. Suppress it. Vent it. Override it. It’s like anger’s some kind of volatile, toxic force to be harnessed or defused.
But maybe there’s another way of looking at it altogether.
Maybe you can actually learn from anger. Listen to it. See what it has to tell you. Get curious about it.
The sticker in the photo (above), in a cleverly vandalised train carriage I travelled in recently, has another suggestion for how to respond to anger:
“If anger is present
rove to another age”
So let’s take another look at anger for a moment.
I couldn’t help but smile when I walked past this building in my neighbourhood recently. There’s something beautifully absurd about a sign announcing “OFFICE” above a doorway that’s then been completely bricked-in. I wonder if they get much business…?
Yet what’s not so funny is how you might be doing this to yourself, to your life, at times. How you might be walling-off the very opportunities or happenings you’d like to take place. How you might be sending messages out there – to others, to yourself – that completely, unwittingly, contradict your dreams. And maybe even stop them from having a chance.
So let’s take a look behind the brickwork for a moment and see what’s going on…
I had a set of spare keys cut yesterday, so I can store them at a friend’s place in case I lock myself out. And it got me thinking…
What about the keys to your internal spaces?
The keys to your thoughts, your dreams? Your ups your downs? Your emotional and psychological home. How many people in your life have access to the inner sanctum of you? Who’s got keys?
It’s worth having a look at this every now and then, to assess if your levels of security or accessibility have changed or need updating. To find out if more – or perhaps less – people have access to you than you might have thought (or that you might hope for).
All of this points to the idea of boundaries. About psychological safety and connection with others. Of striking a balance between being locked away in an isolated tower of ‘safety’ alone, or being completely enmeshed where you’re sort of ‘access all areas’ for everyone that happens along.
There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer for this stuff. It’s just about finding out what’s right for you. For now.
So let’s take a moment just now to ponder…
A couple of years ago, the house I live in was broken into, and some personal things were stolen. The person (or people) who did this got in through the back door. And the thing that made it that much easier for them was that the back gate to the property didn’t quite shut properly.
I’d known about this for some time, but somehow the fencing never seemed a priority to fix – until it was too late.
There are parallels here for our personal lives, too. You’ve probably heard about the idea of ‘boundaries’ between yourself and other people – the place where you ‘draw the line’ with them. Where you might let certain people in so far, but no further.
Part of the function of boundaries is to keep us emotionally safe. To draw some protection around our innermost selves and secrets, and to reduce our vulnerability.
Another function is to help us protect our identity and individuality, so that we can be connected, yet still separate, from the other people in our life. Boundaries stop us getting ‘enmeshed’ with another person, so we don’t lose our sense of self in the relationship.
Sometimes it can be tricky to keep some space between yourself and another person, especially if they’re your family or friend or partner.
Sometimes their expectation is that you ‘should’ be closer, or that ‘that’s what love is all about.’ (Sometimes, you might have those expectations yourself).
Yet might there be such thing as too much togetherness? And if so, what might such a thing cost you?