Attitudinal Healing - Think Again
by Liza Misra
As a college student, Rakesh was deeply affected by the break-up of an intimate relationship. Now a confirmed bachelor, Rakesh believes that there is no stability in love and would rather not risk having his heart broken again.
o When Nidhi was eight years old, she was castigated by her dance teacher for being clumsy. Nidhi has since never dared to dance again.
o As a child, Shobha was always unfairly compared to her far prettier sister. Although striking and good looking, Shobha has always seen herself as plain and unattractive.
Cognition refers to the way we look at things - our perceptions, mental attitudes and beliefs. These, in turn, influence our behavior, levels of happiness, self-esteem and peace, and eventually determine our destiny. Because of their vital importance, Cognitive Therapy deals with changing dysfunctional thought patterns and replacing them with more rational and valid ones. Anger, fear, sadness and love are basic emotions but our distorted thinking can often convert them into depression. Cognitive therapists believe that anxiety, upsets, depression and mood swings are the result of thought distortions.
The development of Cognitive Therapy has been through the contribution of many individuals. In the 1930s, Dr Abraham Lowe, a physician, was the first to emphasize the important role of our thoughts and attitude on our feelings and behavior. Dr Albert Ellis, a New York-based psychologist, refined these concepts and created Rational Emotive Therapy, which lays stress on the role of negative self-talk and irrational beliefs in a variety of emotional problems. Finally, in the 1960s, Dr Aaron Beck of the University of Pennsylvania adapted these ideas and treatment techniques to the problem of clinical depression. He described the depressed patient's negative view of the self, the world and the future and proposed a new form of 'thinking therapy' called Cognitive Therapy. This has since been used for a number of problems ranging from depression, anxiety to eating disorders like anorexia.
Most of us are barely aware of our thought processes or the kind of games they play and the damage they do. Cognitive Therapy teaches you to recognize these thought patterns and gives you systematic steps to change them. The resultant change in mood is amazing. This awareness of how superficial our behavioral patterns are and that we have the ability to change them, gives us the sense of control we need to live effectively. Among the common thought distortions is 'all or nothing' thinking which is one's tendency to see things in black or white. This is how perfectionistic people operate. Unless something is flawless, they cannot accept it or themselves either. Hence they live in continuous fear of making a mistake. A 19-year-old came to me with a history of three years of depression and mood swings, as failure in one of her exams convinced her that nothing could go right with her life.
'Over generalization' is another common distortion of thought. Here we conclude that something that has happened once will occur over and over again. The pain of rejection stems almost entirely from over generalization. Another 18-year-old patient was disconsolate over a broken relationship, convinced that she would never get into one again. Words like 'always', 'never', 'ever' are commonly used while over generalizing. Jumping to conclusions and mind reading are other traps we fall into. Our ideas are based on assumptions rather than actual facts. Using a lot of 'should', 'shouldn't', 'ought' and 'must' on oneself can create pressure and self-dissatisfaction. Directing them towards others creates frustration and anger for us and for others.
Morals, values and our social system are man-made and they vary from culture to culture and time to time. By avoiding these mental distortions, we learn to perceive life more realistically and experience an enhanced emotional state with a greater appreciation for our genuine emotions.
The root cause behind all mood disturbances and upsets are our personal belief systems. Many of our beliefs like self-sacrifice and perfectionism are culturally endorsed but yet dysfunctional. For it can often lead us to deriving our self-worth from the way others see us or through our achievements.
There is a need to question and change these belief systems. Common dysfunctional beliefs include 'the need for people's approval in order to be happy', 'that one must be a useful, productive, creative person for life to have purpose', 'failure at work, is failure as a person', or 'to be a good, worthwhile, moral person one must try to help everyone who needs it.'
Are these beliefs true and valid? It is easy to understand the folly of equating one's self-worth with material success and productivity. It is more difficult to realize that there is anything wrong with doing what the people around you expect, or in feeling responsible for the happiness of those you care for. This is where awareness is required. These beliefs create a lot of distress because they are not valid. It is not within one's capability to ensure another's happiness, no matter how much you care for them.
Our attitudes are the result of years of conditioning within a certain culture and environment. It is essential to recognize attitudes which are self-defeating and change them through rationalization. Cognitive Therapy deals with these changes. Replacing dysfunctional attitudes and beliefs with a more valid belief system makes life fulfilling and self- enhancing. Such an approach can eradicate all negative feelings and lead man towards spiritual awareness, happiness and peace.
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