One of my favorite Buddha quotes is : “We are what we think”. Never was a truer word spoken. These thinking traps are part of old patterns that lie behind our thinking, feeling and behavior and often lead to things going wrong. Hard as we then try to make things better, they often get worse and then it feels like we are destined to stay that way. So the vicious circle goes on….
In my last post, I looked at three common thinking traps that keep us in the vicious circle of dysfunctional thinking, feeling and behavior. The key to making a change for the better is to recognise what holds us to the old learned patterns and procedures that consolidate our thinking. These patterns have often been repeated as we have made our way through early childhood, our early and late teens and into adulthood. They often represent our early attempts to make sense of our world, to interact effectively with others or to protect ourselves from harm or abuse. We are usually only partly aware of this process and once these patterns and their roots are identified, the process of changing for the better can begin.
The Avoidance Trap
Avoiding things we find difficult gives us a temporary sense of relief. By putting some uncomfortable task into the future, we often convince ourselves that we have indeed found a solution and a plan to deal with it. However, by doing this, we often overlook the fact that we are making things difficult for ourselves in the long run, increasing our sense of ineffectiveness and lack of control. A classic example of this can be found in people who suffer from agoraphobia. Every agoraphobic has experienced something frightening outside. This brings on feelings of panic, nausea, dizziness and overwhelming terror. The physical manifestation of the anxiety involved can feel like a real organic illness, the symptoms being similar but the cause different. It is then a case of feeling that if a safe place is left (often bed or a particular room), then the physical symptoms will return, leading to fear of death or serious illness. Thinking patterns have convinced the sufferer that going outside will cause anxiety and illness. Consequently, this is to be avoided at all costs. The avoidance trap, as in the extreme example above, is usually connected with the fear of something. We avoid contact with others for fear of rejection. We avoid making decisions for fear of them being wrong. We avoid everyday tasks, leaving them for others or for the last moment. Most people fall into the avoidance trap because they have convinced themselves they they will not be able to cope with unforeseen or imagined circumstances. They use “what if ?” scenarios to judge the degree of rejection, pain or ridicule that awaits them, leaving them incapacitated. Under these conditions, avoidance for them is the easiest option. Ask yourself these types of questions to identify the avoidance trap :
Do I avoid things because I believe I will fail?
Are you afraid of not meeting yours or other people’s standards?
Do you think… I will fail, so why start?
The Low Self-esteem Trap
Many people suffer from low self esteem. They place little value on themselves or their contribution to anything, meaning for them they have little to offer anyone. This often manifests itself in various ways..putting themselves down, driving themselves to be succesful while putting up a wall, or being “the coper or pleaser” who gets things done. The sense of worthlessness is often well hidden from the outside world and when a crisis of confidence comes, it often shocks the people around us who saw us as efficient, confident and “go-getting”. People with low self esteem have very little sense of “self” and find it hard to ask for anything for themselves for fear of being blamed or punished. This sense of worthlessness usually derives from our childhood when we were continually criticised or judged as “bad” or “wanting”. We then absorb a feeling that what we express and ultimately who we are is “wrong” or “bad”. This feeling is often accompanied by an army of musts and shoulds. We think we must and should because what we are aiming for is unclear, we just know it probably won’t be good enough. We feel we cannot get what we want because we have convinced ourselves that (a) we don’t know what we want (b) we fear punishment for mentioning it (c) even if we know what we want, we convince ourselves we don’t deserve it. This leads to the trap of not expressing ourselves and then punishing ourselves for being weak. This consolidates our already hopeless thinking patterns. to identify this, ask yourself these questions :
What words do you use to describe yourself? A useful exercise is to look at yourself in the mirror. What do you see? Do you think “I’m awful, ugly, nothing, bad?” If you think this way, what part of yourself are your referring to..body, mind or feelings? Or is it all of you? Look in the mirror again and think what a friend might say about what they see there…they are usually more objective. They would probably come up with more positive things. Try this for a week and see what comes of it.
Self monitor for a week the amount of times you say “I am hopeless” or something similar. Make note of your tone of voice, feelings and thoughts. Does it remind you of anything from the past?
Do you know what you do well? Make a list. If you cannot do this, ask a friend.
Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a Counseling psychologist in private practice working with individuals,couples, groups and companies globally. Online therapy is, in his experience, effective for treating a number of major conditions. Are you having issues that you need to talk through? He has a range of plans that can help you get the help you need. Online Therapy details : Here …….