Friday, November 06, 2009

And Then What?

In a recent Since You Asked column, a woman asks, "How can I detach from my mother without feeling like a horrible person?" Cary counsels:
Cognitive therapy lets us ask, OK, so, What if, indeed, I were to feel like a horrible person? What does that really mean? What would be the end result of that? Would I die? Would I feel intense pain? Would others be harmed? Maybe we have had this voice in our heads, this little voice, saying, You can't do that or you'll feel like a horrible person! If we write these thoughts down, and see them, we see that they are not so accurate. We can ask ourselves, OK, how long would I feel like a horrible person? Would it be momentary? Would it last an hour, or days? And just how horrible a person would I feel like?
I have discovered lately that this general technique - going down the "what if" path rather than treating it as intolerable - works for a lot of fears. Sometimes it is the key to resolving insecurities.

For instance, if I am worried that Ed is mad at me, it can make me very upset. I might then expend mental energy trying to figure out if he is, indeed, angry. Maybe he says he's not, but I think he's lying, or he's angry and doesn't even know it. (A lot of this is hypothetical, but such concerns do come up around some of my other insecurities. For another person, the question might be, "What if he/she is cheating on me?") There's no way to be sure.

I have to stop and say, OK, so he might be angry. What then? Everyone gets angry sometimes. It's not a big deal to have someone angry at you. It's not like he's going to physically attack me. If he yells I'll just wait until he stops, or I can always leave. He probably won't yell anyway. And who is he to be angry? Why do I care? Fuck him if he's mad, I didn't do anything. Whatever.

Sometimes consequences really are pretty catastrophic. What if I have an incurable cancer? The best I can do there is perhaps to consider that I knew I would die of something someday in any case. It's not much comfort. But most fears don't have consequences that are actually that bad. What if I have a panic attack on the airplane? Well, then, I'll feel absolutely horrible for a while, but at some point it will end, and I'll still land on the other side and go on with my life. What if this woman cutting my hair accidentally nicks my ear? Well, it'll hurt a little and then heal.

So I think the key to a lot of those "Oh my god, what if...?" moments is to go ahead and answer the question.

1 comment:

Sally said...

I really don't think I've approached things this way.