Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stop Negative Thoughts

Before I started therapy, my mother used to live in my head. She'd watch everything I did, and provided a constant stream of negative feedback. If I did something wrong, she'd yell at me and let me know how stupid I was for not seeing these consequences ahead of time. If something was wrong, she'd explain to me how it was all my fault, and that this was evidence of how rotten I was. If it wasn't my mother, it was my grandmother ("You dummy!") or my father ("Goddamnit, get your $#!+ together!"). They would scream at me, in my head, all day long, and then made sure to take a thorough inventory of everything I'd screwed up, and tell me all about it as I was trying to fall asleep. It was a brutal mental onslaught. And no matter how much I screamed back at them (in my head), I couldn't get them to shut up.

Finally, I asked my counselor: "How do I get that voice in my head to shut the f**k up?" (I had an awesome relationship with my counselor.)

"I'm so glad you asked," she said smiling. "Most people don't have the courage to admit they have that voice---or voices---in their head. They think it makes them crazy. But that's perfectly normal. Would you like to do some EMDR* on it?"

"Yeah! That's be great."

EMDR, for Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, is a type of therapy that allows the patient to detach from emotionally-charged memories, and look at them from a less personal point of view. And my counselor had special training for trauma recovery designed in Seattle. And she knew what was coming, because it was something true of all people...

What I discovered was, it wasn't my mother, or my grandmother, or my father yelling at me. It was ME. It was my inner child, scared and insecure, who had put on Masks of Authority to appear like my mother, etc., so that I would pay attention and be careful. It was actually a perverse form of self-love, where I was trying to protect myself, by getting mad at myself. When I was screaming back at myself, all I was doing was yelling at my most vulnerable self.

So, instead of fighting fire with fire, my counselor gave me a new thing to say:

Hi, I understand that you are trying to protect me, but this is not helpful right now. If you could leave me alone for a little, I'd be able to concentrate on this more, and be more careful. So, could you please be quiet for a little while? I appreciate your trying to help, but I'm okay right now. Thank you.

Later that night as I was setting about some chore, the Voice started up with it's barrage of negative commentary. I stopped and recited what my counselor told me. And, like magic, the voice went away! A sense of lightness came over me, and I was able to complete my chore in peace. I even did a really good and thorough job. So I stopped again and told my inner child:

See? Everything worked out! You don't have to yell and scream at me for things to work out. It's okay. I've got this managed.

Since then, that voice is mostly gone. Oh, sure, it pops up every now and again, but I just remind it of what I told it the first time, and it goes away again. I am, for the most part, left at peace. And it's a beautiful thing.

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