Recent world events have many of us feeling more than a little anxious about life in general. If you find yourself feeling overloaded with stress or worry, in constant conflict with loved ones and co-workers, or just burdened with the belief that you’ll never be enough, there may be something in your history that is triggering it. It may be time to ask yourself: What is cognitive behavioral therapy and do I need it?
Cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, was developed by psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck. It was his belief that the thinking patterns of an adult, learned in childhood, could limit their quality of life until the end of their days. Becoming aware of those thinking patterns could make it easier to break them. However, this awareness requires you to take a hard look at your current perspective and consider that those who taught it to you may have been wrong. Your worldview is built on connections with many elders that you love and respect. Uncoupling your perception from your worldview is challenging, but it can be incredibly freeing.
Owning Your Perception
CBT practitioners encourage their clients to create just a little daylight between a perception and a reaction. For example, you may walk into a room of new people and feel extremely anxious, even if you’ve been invited by these folks and they are excited to meet you. Why? In working backwards to understand why this discomfort creeps up, your therapist may take you back to childhood experiences. For example, if you had a parent who constantly moved you back when you tried to get closer to see something new, suggesting that you were in the way, you may have determined that you’re not deserving of a space at the head of the class or the front of the line.
If you were raised to believe that striving could lead to danger, you may struggle with anxious thoughts about the risks of failure. For those raised in homes damaged by addiction, you may have been inadvertently trained to believe that you didn’t deserve to be safe. You may have been taught that your needs were not appropriate to express, that you were a bother, or that you were going to have to figure things out on your own. In each case, your early life lessons limited your chances to build happiness in adulthood because you were taught that you aren’t worthy of being valued. Cognitive behavioral therapy allows you to own your perception.
When you feel questioned or challenged, you may choose to react in anger as though threatened, to shut down to avoid the pain of rejection, or to believe that the person who challenged or questioned you is doing so because they dislike you. For children who grew up in abusive homes, having a boss or a spouse who is a shouter can be truly terrifying; children who grew up in the understanding that anger = injury can suffer terrible anxiety and even panic attacks when someone starts shouting.
Because CBT enables you to break the connection between perception and response, you give your brain and your adrenal system a break. The disconnect can be as simple as a series of yes-no questions:
1) Is someone shouting or just talking loud? You may discover that someone has a snack stuck in a vending machine.
2) Is that person shouting at you? No, they are unhappy with the vending machine or another inanimate object.
3) Are they a hazard to me? No, but they may kick the vending machine.
These disconnections allow you to break the visceral reaction that occurs when your anxiety, discomfort and fear start to ramp up. To determine if you are a good candidate for CBT, carefully consider how your brain talks to you.
Do you find yourself using words like “always” or “never” to describe yourself or your actions in a negative way? Do you see others in this same light? You may have had a difficult experience with a co-worker or a family member. Is this now a difficult relationship that you would like to improve? CBT can free up your life by freeing up your brain. If your self-talk is abusive, or if your life is getting smaller because you just can’t find a place where you think you will be welcomed, you can change how your brain talks to you.
Our counselors are available 24 hours a day. Call 833-610-1174.