In April of 2014 I was in an intensive outpatient therapy program. (For more details as to why, see the post “Marching On.”) One of the many exercises we did was aimed as reversing distorted thinking patterns. I’ve since seen several versions of this process, but the one we did back then has stuck with me. I came across the worksheet I wrote out in fulfilling that assignment.
It’s condition in many ways reflects the year that has passed: some smears, some stains, some faded lettering. Also like the past year, it may be a little difficult to look at but it is a great reminder of how much I have been able to grow and how far I’ve come. There are still things I need to work on, but I wanted to take a moment and highlight some victories.
To put this in context, we were told to write down specific beliefs that we held about ourselves and to identify its direct impact on our lives. We then considered what the reverse – the exact opposite – of that belief might look like. Finally, we determined if the reverse was true, or at the very least more true than the original belief.
Most all of these have had the opportunity to turn around in my thinking. Some of them still stick there ugly heads up in moments of depression or anxiety, but going over the list helps me stay aware of my hotspots and their “counter-truths”.
There are a few items that made my radar back then that have radically changed in they way I see them on a daily basis. Here are just a few:
Belief: I must please others to be worthy.
Impact: I over extend myself and make commitments I can’t keep.
Reverse: Others don’t have as high expectations of me as I do. (Truer)
Today: I see the value in myself and can enjoy serving others as an outpouring of that value, not as a way to secure it. I am less sensitive to the thoughts and opinions of others, and yet somehow find greater meaning in them when I don’t feel to pressure to conform.
Belief: It’s not OK to feel good.
Impact: I accept feelings of pain and darkness as normal.
Reverse: We were created for physical pleasure. (True)
Today: Having come through a few surgeries that relieved decades of chronic pain, I have been able to move post the idea that pain is a constant in life. That has transcended my physical awareness of pain into the idea that I can more fully know spiritual peace as well. I still have some physical issues that need addressed, and my spirit will always be growing, but there is clear forward progress here.
Belief: I must hide my true feelings.
Impact: No one really knows me and I don’t really know myself.
Reverse: My emotions and thoughts are worth expressing. (True)
Today: See also the entire volume of the writing on this blog! Healthy expression is a doorway to inner peace. I am still getting the hang of it, but I’m in a much stronger place than I was a year ago.
Belief: The world is an unhappy place.
Impact: I am not disappointed with sadness and depression.
Reverse: There is joy to be found in even the smallest corners of creation. (True)
Today: I would love to say that I have some as far with this as I have with the physical pain. I have made great leaps and bounds. One thing I can say is that the joy I experience in life is less and less dependent on circumstances. While I may not see the “joy to be found in the smallest corners”, I know that I am at least capable of bringing that joy with me to those spots in the world (even if I’m not very effective at it yet).
Belief: Life is full of stress.
Impact: I accept tension and stress as the mental and physical norms.
Reverse: Our bodies and minds were created with the ability to rest and restore themselves. (True)
Today: I think this is where I have made the most progress. Learning to relax, to meditate, to “let go” has been the center point of my physical, mental and spiritual recovery over the last year. Our minds and bodies are not intended to function at their peak 24/7. When we push them that direction, they will break down – one way or another. There is still, and always will be, so much more I can learn on this point – but for now I get to celebrate progress, not perfection!
One theme that I noticed in the way I stated many of my distorted beliefs was the phrase “I accept.” I wrote in my last post about the challenges of “accepting what we cannot change and the courage to change what we can.” I’m wondering, as I reflect on this tattered spreadsheet, could “distorted thinking” (stinkin’ thinkin’ as we like to call it) be summed up as “accepting that which we could change and stubbornly fighting that which we cannot”?
Based on my last year of growing up, I would say that that it’s worth the energy to quit simply “accepting” and give purposefully moving forward a fair shot.