November 18, 2018

Acceptance and Anxiety

The other morning I was listening to one of Dr. David Burns Podcasts, number 88 to be exact. (Just a little plug there for him on feared fantasy expanded.)  Anyway, as I was listening to this amazing woman fight her fears of social anxiety, and as Dr. Burns talked about humour and laughter as a form of acceptance, I had a moment of clarity.  Acceptance is one of the ways to fight or negative thoughts about ourselves.

Before I share what that was, just a little background.  I’m part of a Christian group of therapists, and some who aren't that have Christian clients, that practice team CBT and we been collecting Bible verses and go along with what we are learning and what we’re practicing. So, that's been on my mind and when Dr. Burns started talking about acceptance it made be wonder how does that fit the Christian model since we are to grow in grace, do good works, be perfect as our Father in heaven is perfect, etc. We will talk about that later, as the Bible harmonizes with itself. 

An epiphany just washed over me as I thought about the Bible verse, "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love." 1 John 4:18. KJV.  I can't fear (be anxious) when I accept myself and the circumstances life throughs at me. And accepting myself, or loving oneself, is a Biblical truth, "And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” Mark 12:30-31. NLT.  

Then came to mind, 1 Corinthians 13, as it struck me as how to define love in the first place. "Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.  Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance." 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. NLT. What does the Bible say is love? Well it’s a lot of things but a big part of love is it keeps no wrong, is not irritable, it is patient, and kind. These are things we should be for ourselves.  Keeps no wrong - accept it and move on, not irritable - accept it and move on, patient - don't be so hard on oneself, kind - don't be so hard on oneself.  When you combine all three of these Bible verses we see this high-level solution to fighting negative thoughts which is acceptance using humour piece and disarming to squash thoughts of anxiety and fear about ourselves. When we have this kind of love it casts out fear.

I’ve never been a fan of the terms self love. One Christian author puts it this way, "Those who are filled with self-esteem and self-love do not feel the need of a living, personal union with Christ. The heart that has not fallen on the Rock is proud of its wholeness. Men want a dignified religion. They desire to walk in a path wide enough to take in their own attributes." E.G. White, Christ's Object Lessons. Just accepting all your flaws and not worry about them is not only in conflict with the Christian experience of growth in moving forward, but also that selfishness or focusing on oneself too much takes our eyes off Christ.  That when we feel bad we see our need of Jesus.  Then, as I was reviewing all these principles, praying for harmony of the concepts, it occured to me, definitions and context. 

It seems rather than argue or try to twist and idea, often we have to go back to how we define something.  Not just from the dictionary, but all the weigh, emotion, and other thoughts we have about a word or concept. For example, self-esteem can mean holding oneself as important, even putting one's needs above others or it can mean, a confidence that allows that person to complete a task, or both.  This article isn't about self-esteem or self-worth or self-love, maybe I'll do one on that in the future, but obviously we need to see all the scriptures as a whole.  That we do have to love ourselves or we can't love others.  

Add to that the Bible is clear we do have worth and value, so I’ve always been OK with self-worth, in other words that all human are infinitely valuable because the God of the universe would have died for even just one of the 'least' of us. From that same author, "One soul is of infinite value; for Calvary speaks its worth." The Review and Herald, March 13, 1888. But when I was listening to that podcast on acceptance, I realized without loving ourselves as in the definition of 1 Corinthians 13, self-worth is an intellectual assent and we’re still fighting fears and anxiety about ourselves. The Bible verse and love others as yourself is a clue that God does expect us to love ourselves, not that we are placing more value on ourselves or ignoring what God as done for us, but in a way that we are not treating ourselves like garbage. Because we are to love others in an equal amount, neighbour as yourself, how can we express the beautiful love revealed in scripture to others, if we have no "love" for ourselves?

So how do we get this love, the love of ourselves that is within a Biblical model of selflessness and yet not unduly critical of ourselves? The same way we love others. Acknowledge while we all make mistakes and have things that really do need changing, we all still have infinite value because Jesus died for you, for me. If you’re not a Christian, you can take the view that every human being has value because they’re human. The second step would be forgiveness, "keeps no wrong" from 1 Cor 13. Pretty hard to love someone you’re angry with, or holding a grudge against, and that includes yourself. Of course, in context self loathing may have a place to give you motivation or self awareness of what you need to change, but you cannot stay in that moment. In fact, I would go so far as to say we can acknowledge our flaws without self loathing. Can you not see other people as imperfect, see their flaws, and yet not hate them or think they’re horrible, terrible, awful people? Of course, then you can do this for yourself as well.  

Remember there is an amazing paradox at work here, acceptance of our flaws can actually empower us to move forward in growth and even changing those flaws.  We are no longer fighting ourselves in an unwinnable battle, rather we see our need and are able to give that to God.

It is truly powerful when we put it all together, harmonizing all the principles we've talked about so far.  Our fear is the beginning of wisdom, it drives us to God, to self-reflection, then as we accept that we are flawed human beings, that we need God, we can embrace change and are empowered to move forward. 

PS: You are always welcome to chat with me. I offer a free 15 minute consultation. 

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November 6, 2018

Imagined Grief/Worry/Concern Has Real Effects

There I sat one morning, crying. Nothing had happened yet. The day was still ahead of me, same as the day before. The to do list sitting on my computer. The cat snuggled up on my lap. Me trying to wake up at 5 AM. But this morning a few tears flowed even though "nothing" had happened...yet. 

While anticipatory grief refers to grieving before an event is finalized, such as getting a cancer diagnosis or other terminal illness, we can even experience bouts of grief based on what we think the answer to a test result might be. Our brains interpret what we believe as a real event. If are thinking that this might really happen, we start processing as if it already has. Much like when watching TV, your brain doesn't know it's fake or artificial.  The emotions you experience are very real.

For me that morning, it was waiting on a diagnosis for my father. I’m still waiting as I write this. No matter, the stress is real in any case. Learning to cope effectively with these kind of events is the reality of our modern age. So much of what we experience is "artificial." I'm not sure that's even the right word since we are in uncharted waters. Gone are the days when two months later a letter came in the mail that your spouse died on the battlefield. Now at every newsflash your heart quakes with worry, was that near his/her posting? Gone are the days when you went on with life, frequently thinking about your children, hoping they were doing well across the country as they started a new life for themselves. Now, we obsessively check Facebook and worry when our texts are not returned in a few minutes. We don't have to wait for news to come by pony or even postal truck, now we are connected to the entire world 24/7. 

Stressors are at an all-time high in our artificial world. It’s artificial in the sense that the event hasn’t happened yet, we are being bombarded by information that may or may not be relevant or real.  Millions of us watch a fake, make up world on fictional television. Even our social interactions on social media is partly artificial because we don’t express exactly what is going on but rather share cherry picked pictures and ideas.   

Our brains and bodies have to adapt to whole new world in this fast modern digital age. So how can we cope? How can we take back control from the flood of information that changes our perception of reality, even if reality hasn’t changed? Step back. Give yourself time away from all the banter, the electronics, the world. Spend a few minutes in a natural, real environment. Walk the dog in a park, do some gardening, bake some cookies, have tea with a neighbor, take up sewing, the list is just about endless. Do something outside in nature adds some other health benefits, but there’s a lot you can do even in your own home. Brainstorm what would be helpful for you. The only parameters, you need to enjoy it, it must be something in the moment and physical or tangible. 

What about those moments of sadness, worry, or stress when we are just thinking of what might be? Well, those emotions are real even if the event isn’t. Embrace it for a moment, then work on your thoughts. Deal with any distortions you might be having. Make sure you’re not catastrophizing, making it bigger than it is in this moment, or overgeneralizing, i.e. this one event ruins my entire life (a future event can't take away your past). More on clearer thinking here. Right now you’re worried and you have every right to feel stressed and concerned. Whether the test results are for you or for family member. Or maybe you’re at dissipating grief for some other reason in any case embrace the moment and move through it. For more on anticipatory grief check out my previous blog article here.

PS: You are always welcome to chat with me. I offer a free 15 minute consultation. 

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