Often, clients will visit me and want to be rid of a habit, memory or process that is really unhelpful to them. Naturally, they see these as important in how they currently suffering. This is especially true in anxiety related cases and depression. There is an expectation that, as a therapist, I will ‘do something’ to take this problem away. How hard do you think it is to take something …Read More
Tag Archives: fear
Today I rang the mother of a young client (14 yrs) who recently attended clinic with severe anxiety, panic attacks and depression. Apart from ‘checking in’, I wanted to share an important message with his mum based upon current world events. After our session, he has been doing really well. His parents were so grateful for the change in their son, his reconnection with the world and his new resilience. …Read More
When studying psychology, they love to ask the question “what is the difference between seeing and perceiving?” How would you answer that? I once went to Egypt, and one evening the difference between perceiving and seeing was beautifully demonstrated. I was invited to attend the ‘sound and light’ show at the great pyramids. We were ushered to our seats, the lights are dimmed and the show begins. All of a …Read More
For whatever problem you have, one thing that is true is that it has three in built ‘trapdoors’. These trapdoors will take you out of your problem….and straight into your solution.
Each and every problem that you have has these three trap-doors. Using one or more of these trap doors allows you to escape your problem and find a solution.
In the clinic, helping clients find these trap-doors and use them allows them to escape anxiety, fears, phobias, bad habits, addictions and depression.
Perhaps you can try them for yourself.
Trapdoor 1: Exceptions
Problems become all-consuming as we focus on them. They consume our attention and seem to be everywhere, and in everything. Regardless of the situation, there will ALWAYS be a time or place where your problem does not exist. Often this is in a place where you do things that you love – perhaps in a sport, a craft, on holiday, socialising. If you can find the exception, you could consider how that exception could apply at a time the problem exists.
If it is not always a problem, what is it really?
Trapdoor 2: Evidence
It takes little to ‘convince’ ourselves that the problem is real and powerful. We will find ‘evidence’ everywhere for our problem. However, we are often very quick to dismiss any evidence that we are doing something that is NOT our problem.
The rule from cognitive science is 3:1. That is, we would need three pieces of evidence that something is not a problem to match one piece of evidence that the problem still exists. It is easy to find the one, and difficult to see the three.
What if you could pay attention (and accept) evidence contrary to your problem? What if you could imagine three pieces of evidence. Seek and ye shall find!
If you could find three pieces of evidence contrary to your problem, what would that mean about what your problem was?
Trapdoor 3: Expectation
If you consider your problem, does it come with a positive or a negative expectation about the future?
Normally, problems come laden with negative expectations – that is, people consider their future is going to be full of negative (bad) events based on their problem. The expectation that the problem is going to continue and have a negative impact sets the person up to get what they focus on – more negative outcomes.
However the future is not written. If you had a problem now, but managed to have a positive expectation about the future, what would that mean about what your problem was then?
Using the trapdoors:
The trapdoor within your problems leads to solutions. Are you ready to give yours a test?
OK, think about your problem. Really get in touch with how it feels, what you see or hear when you are in it.
Now consider the trapdoors.
What is the exception in your life to the problem? As you consider that, how does that redefine what your problem was?
What is the evidence that you have something other than your problem? As you consider and accept at least three things that would prove you were other than the problem, what would that mean your problem was?
If you were to consider that the future is different to the past, what would a positive expectation mean that the problem has become? And if you looked back at now from when your positive expectation was a reality, what would you have done to the problem?
And as you consider these, you can think about any number of possibilities that would be a great solution for you now. Which one will you now take forward?
I would love to hear how you got on with this exercise. What did you discover, what has changed?
Have you heard the fairy tale of the princess and the pea? Sleeping on a great pile of mattresses, the princess could not sleep because somewhere, deep down in the pile, there was a pea between two of the mattresses.
Such a small thing, deep down, having a big impact on behaviour at the top level. And so it is with our deepest fears.
I often have clients who consider important to try to understand where and when certain things first emerged in their lives. Consider a client who feels that how he views the world is as a result of the way his brother used to treat him when he was a kid. Although it can be powerful to reflect upon where things come from in most clients, digging back in the past can also be a source of more frustration and pain – it can be like wallowing in the thick, black mud of our sordid past and can be unhelpful in moving toward a more fulfilling life.
It really depends on the client, and I make no hard and fast rule about reviewing the past – as long as it helps the client move forward and is helpful for them in the present and the future.
This particular client no longer lives at that time, and he no longer lives in close proximity to his brother. However, he reports that this event or events of his youth are what impacts upon all of his actions in the present. For him, it is the ‘pea’ under his mattress.
I don’t like to break it to clients so bluntly as I will here – but I find that unhelpful. Can this client ever go back into the past and change what happened? No. They are therefore ‘stuck’ with this as an excuse for all of his maladaptive and unhelpful thoughts and feelings. Anything that comes up for this client, he can blame something that is both external to him, and impossible to change, as the cause (his brother in the past).
I wonder if you can focus on a memory, good or bad. Now try your hardest to completely erase that memory from your mind. When you are done, now go back and test if that memory is still there.
Memories are not physical things. They do not exist as specific entities within your brain. You recreate the memory at will by initiating the firing of specific brain cells, in a specific sequence. A memory is an hallucination. So why are hallucinations so powerful on our behaviour in the present?
The pea under the mattress does not lie in your past. It lies somewhere else. It lies in the view of yourself, which you carry through time. It is in this present moment, and in every present moment that has been (your past). It will also be with you in every present moment that will come in future. But like memories which are created only in the present – so is your deepest view of yourself. You create this as a ‘filter’ on experience and stimuli in every moment. It exists only in the present, as everything else that happens in your brain.
That is a challenging idea, is it not? We are so conditioned to seeing time in a continuous fashion that we can deposit things along it like things stuffed into a row of lockers. We can go back and open a particular locker and examine this or that which lies within. In fact, that is not true. We cannot access the past and open any of those lockers. We can only hallucinate that we can.
There is really only one ‘locker’. On the front, in big bold letters, it says “NOW”. Any memories are created NOW. Every thought about the future is created NOW. Every feeling is created NOW. Imagination and memory are wonderful examples of hallucination. And like everything, if it is helpful, then keep and utilise it. If it is unhelpful to you living a full and rich life, then do something about it.
We have deep seated beliefs about ourselves. These can be positive or negative. It is these beliefs that are the pea under our mattress. They impact upon how we interact with the world.
Have you ever looked to see what ‘pea’ lies in your self belief that drives and impacts your behaviours? What did you learn when you found it?