“What you believe is very powerful. If you have toxic emotions of fear, guilt and depression, it is because you have wrong thinking, and you have wrong thinking because of wrong believing.” – Joseph Prince, clergyman
“She thought she would give cognitive based therapy (CBT) a shot.”
Paula was a we’ll dressed woman in her mid forties, married twice, no children and widowed once. She lived on her own now in a large Victorian home on a quiet street. She had inherited family money and so was well off financially. She had one sister living in the U. S. with whom she was in regularly contact.
Paula had been taking prescribed antidepressants for years. She said she had tried them all, and none worked, and she was angry about it. In frustration, she thought she would give cognitive based therapy (CBT) a shot. She said she had nothing to lose but time. Such was her attitude as we started our work together.
She then said, “If we can put a man on the moon, why can’t we cure depression?”
“Is your default thinking strategy…depressing?”
“Paula we can’t cure something which has no organic pathology…no disease component…nothing which shows up on our electronic devices like a CAT scan or PET scan…we can’t make someone change the way they think…only focused learning can do that, and then, only if they are willing!”
“Are you saying, what my sister has been saying for years…my pessimism creates my depression?”
“Is your default thinking strategy…depressing, Paula?”
“I have sound reasons for my pessimism…the first was the jerk I married, the second, the one who died and left me alone, with no kids and so no grandkids in my future,…and I could go on?” she snapped at me.
“How come some people still appreciate their life in the face of tragedy?”
“You have certainly had your share of challenges Paula. But do you know anyone who hasn’t? Do you know anyone who has not had trauma and other losses in their life? I can’t find one…anywhere. So, how come some people still appreciate their life in the face of tragedy? Did you ever wonder?”
“Ken, are you suggesting I become an optimist…a Pollyanna…wandering around elated and infatuating everything…those people are really annoying!” she said with a scowl.
“As you probably know, that approach is just as big a handicap! Paula, I’m suggesting explore being an optimistic pessimist or, if you prefer, a pessimistic optimist!”
“How do I do that?”
“Let’s use a couple concrete examples from your life. Paula, what was one of the worst things that’s ever happened to you so far in life?”
“Mental illness, of course, is not literally a ‘thing’ – or physical object – and hence it can ‘exist’ only in the same sort of way in which other theoretical concepts exist.” – Thomas Szasz, psychologist
“A divorce is no more a failure than a long marriage is a success!”
“There are two which come to mind immediately…my divorce from my first husband, Carter and the death of my second husband, Bart.”
“Paula, I’ve learned, from my work and having been married over forty two years, that a divorce is no more a failure than a long marriage is a success…they are just essential learning experiences for those involved to prepare them for their future.”
“Are you saying I learned vital things from divorcing Carter that have been useful to me since? Ken, are you kidding me?” she said with shock erupting on her face.
“I bet a part of you already knows without having Carter in your life there would have been no Bart later in your life…is that not true Paula?”
“Well…I suppose.” she replied reluctantly.
“Carter made no time for me…he worked all the time.”
“Paula, let’s get more specific. There is no waste in nature, no wasted relationships, no wasted time either. What did you learn from being with Carter for a time that was useful later in your relationship with Bart ?”
Paula paused before responding…as if thinking in a new way for the first time. Then she said, “Carter made no time for me…he worked all the time. So when I met Bart I was determined to find someone who would make time for me in his life…that’s the big difference for me, Ken!”
“Are you saying you learned from Carter you wanted, and deserved, someone in your life who would make you a priority in their life?”
“Yes! That’s it exactly, Ken!”
“…you learned you were important enough to have someone who valued you…”
“So, being with Carter wasn’t really a mistake on your part because you learned you were important enough to have someone who valued you and that’s what attracted you to Bart?…so why still be angry at Carter since he was the one who prepared you to seek out and find Bart?”
“I never thought of it that way before!” she replied.
“Paula, I’m not suggesting you deny the pain you experienced with Carter…I’m suggesting notice, also, how it contributed to who you are today and what you achieved with Bart! Notice both sides and thereby honour yourself and appreciate your life!”
“Ken, as I hear you say that…there is part of me that agrees and another that resists and goes back to the pain, the blaming and so on.”
“Paula, your heart knows this duality law already, your heart knows natural law…there is no pain without equal pleasure, your heart knows you are doing OK. But your head hasn’t learned yet and so reverts to a self protection strategy of depression and denial. But, the beauty of this natural duality is, it keeps us on our toes, learning for our future.”
“Paula, tell me seven things you don’t miss about Bart.”
“Are you saying my head hasn’t caught up to my heart yet and so it defaults to a depressive or pessimistic strategy to feel safe?”
“Yes…and you can consciously learn to use both to grow both self appreciation and your self worth!”
“But how do I learn to be an optimistic pessimist or a pessimistic optimist?”
“The same way, as a child, you learned to walk…you practice daily! Let’s start by finding the duality to your relationship with Bart before he passed. You obviously still miss him in many ways which suggests a one sided perspective. So, Paula, tell me seven things you don’t miss about Bart.”
And that’s what she did. This helped her to move through her grief for Bart and get on with her life. At first she struggled to practice it consciously. As her skill developed it became more automatic and her self appreciation and gratitude grew for her life. So she changed her pessimistic default strategy to a duality default strategy of optimistic-pessimism or pessimistic-optimism, which freed her to empower herself and her life.
“It is almost impossible for anyone, even the most ineffective among us, to continue to choose misery after becoming aware that it is a choice. If you want to change attitudes, start with a change in behaviour.” – William Glasser, psychiatrist
Until Next time…
Please note we have moved to new offices Suite # 3 at 549 North River Road, Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island, Canada, C1E 1J6
Also there will be another Breakthrough Experience™ Seminar on December 6 & 7, 2014 at our new offices. Details are available at Here
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Further information: www.kenpiercepsychologist.com