How to stop overthinking.

By David Joel Miller.

Overthinking is harmful to your mental health.

Overthinking

Overthinking.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

People who do a lot of overthinking, sometimes called rumination, increase their anxiety and their sadness. Unchecked overthinking, far from being helpful, can result in worry and leads to mental health issues such as anxiety disorders and depression. In overthinking your mind becomes your adversary, not your ally. If your mind is constantly turning things over and over and is wearing you out or if you find your overthinking has begun to interfere with your sleep and your relationships, it’s time to do something to put a stop to that over thinking.

If you suffer from overthinking here are some ways to get off that destructive path.

Notice when you overthink.

Overthinking can become an insidious habit. Become aware of when you are feeling distressed or anxious. The first step in getting overthinking out of your life is to become aware of how frequently you are overthinking. Avoid the trap of overthinking your overthinking.

Practice thought stopping.

When a child is doing something, they shouldn’t, we tell them to “knock that off.” When your mind starts taking you into bad neighborhoods, tell that mind to “stop that.” Another technique for stopping negative thoughts is to shift your focus to something positive. Search your memory for the happiest event in your life or imagine a happy event. When your brain begins to overthink possible negative occurrences, tell it to move to the positive.

Focus on the things that are likely to happen.

Most worry and overthinking is the result of an excessive focus on things that might or could happen but are very unlikely. Don’t spend large amounts of time thinking about things that are unlikely to happen. Most of the things we worry about never happen. Overthinking low probability events distracts you from dealing with the things that need doing today to prevent problems in the future.

Become a happiness expert.

Overthinking makes you an expert on unhappiness. Having a laser focus on what could go wrong obscures your vision of what could go right. People who are high in anxiety and depression develop a cognitive bias towards the negative. They don’t see the positive in their lives, and when they do they discount it. Notice small positive events in your life. When something good happens, don’t blink right away. Continue to look at and think about those positive, happy occurrences.

Avoid perfection paralysis.

Frequently people who are high in overthinking consider themselves perfectionists. An excessive focus on a perfection can leave you paralyzed. Pursue excellence. Try to become the best person possible, but avoid an emphasis on absolute perfection. Whatever you achieve should be valued.

Accept yourself as you are.

Failure to accept yourself, as you are, leads to a lot of unhappiness. However, you are, is perfectly acceptable. Acceptance values how far you have come. If you spend all your time looking for flaws you will miss your unique, individual qualities. Acceptance of yourself, others as they are, and the world the way it is rather than insisting that people places and things must be the way you want them to be will increase your happiness and reduce your anxiety provoking overthinking.

Inventory what you have not what’s missing.

Our society today, with its emphasis on the lifestyles of the rich and famous, has resulted in a lot of people believing their life is missing something. Constantly thinking about what’s missing from your life robs you of the enjoyment of the things you do have. When your focus is on keeping up with the Trumps, you will never have enough. When you adopt an attitude of gratitude, you can enjoy the people and the things you do have rather than grieve over your lack of those things that others have.

Take the long view.

Overthinking takes the short view. The focus is on what’s lacking now, the problems of today. Ask yourself what difference today’s problem will make 20 years from now? How about 50 years from now? When you start focusing on where you want to be in the future the problems of today shrink and become insignificant.

Reframe the scary as exciting.

Before an athletic contest, teams try to psych themselves up. If you expect to be beaten badly, it will take all the energy out of your performance. Worry about failing a test is likely to result in lower scores. Go into life’s adventures expecting them to be exciting and regardless of what you do you can have fun. Focusing on the scary parts of life prevents you from ever-living.

Get into action.

A great way to overcome overthinking is to get into action. Stop ruminating about what could go wrong and start doing. Some of what you do today will be the great memories you will be storing up for the future.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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Do you overthink things?

By David Joel Miller.

The more you think about things, the worse you feel.

Overthinking

Overthinking.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Overthinking, sometimes described as rumination, is a common feature of several emotional problems, especially anxiety disorders. These constant thoughts can leave you both physically and emotionally exhausted. At times, you may feel as though your thoughts are racing away without you. Because you think these thoughts so often and they are so upsetting, you may begin to believe that the things you think about are very real possibilities.

Overthinking what might happen in the future increases your anxiety. Overthinking your past, beyond the point of learning from your mistakes, can result in depression. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that going over and over the same issue in your mind, in the same way, will result in additional insight. Overthinking increases self-doubt. The over-anxious brain is constantly on the lookout for threats and magnifies the smallest risk to terrifying proportions. Here are some of the common causes of overthinking.

Overthinking is about judging yourself too much.

Overthinkers judge themselves more harshly than they judge others. Self-evaluation, looking at both the things you do well and the things that you could improve on can be helpful. If your self-evaluation does not move beyond repeatedly reviewing less-than-perfect behaviors, you are judging yourself too harshly. Using the same scale to judge yourself that you use to judge others can reduce excessive self-criticism and prevent overthinking.

Comparing up causes overthinking.

Overthinkers always compare themselves to others who are better looking, more successful or seem more important. Constantly comparing yourself to others who have more or accomplish more, results in discounting everything you have accomplished. Rather than comparing yourself to someone you admire and feeling you are inferior, look for ways to learn from what they do and improve your performance.

Focusing on the negative increases your anxiety.

When you constantly look for the negative, that’s what you will find. Avoid focusing on what’s wrong in your life. Look for opportunities to improve yourself and the life you’re living. Spend less time thinking about what’s wrong and more time focused on the actions you need to take to reach your goals. Overthinkers look for the negative and disregard the positive.

Too much attention to other people’s opinion is harmful.

If you constantly are focused on other people’s opinions of you, your self-doubt increases. Everyone will have an opinion about your life. Sometimes it’s helpful to seek out advice and information from teachers or mentors. Too much attention to other people’s opinions results in you not having an opinion of your own. Be very careful whose opinion of you receives your attention. You are living a real life, and the person whose opinion matters most is yours.

Not knowing who you are creates confusion.

Not having a clear picture of who you are, results in a great deal of confusion and uncertain. Be careful not to be simply a reflection of other people’s opinions. Get clear on your values, your goals, and the person you want to become. Learning about yourself is one of the most important tasks you will undertake in your life.

Believing mistakes mean you are flawed undermines your self-confidence.

Focusing only on your mistakes put you on the path to overthinking, self-doubt and anxiety. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that you must be perfect to have value. All humans make mistakes. Cut yourself some slack. Accept that making mistakes is a necessary part of learning, growing and becoming who you can be. Learn from life experiences but don’t judge yourself harshly. Looking only at your mistakes leads to a very negative, biased, opinion about your self-worth.

Being overly judgmental of others creates uncertainty.

Avoid judging others using a stretched yardstick. If you expect an unreasonably high standard from others, you will find that you are unable to measure up to the standard you have set. The more judgmental you are of the people you meet, the more difficult it will become for you to feel good about yourself. Humans are not infallible computers, but then computers frequently make mistakes also. Avoid expecting impossibly high standards from yourself or others. Accept that you like all other humans are a work in progress.

Work on making overthinking a thing of the past. If you’re overthinking has gotten out of control, consider working with a counselor or therapist to get your thoughts back on a helpful path.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Shiny outside, dark side within – the narcissist.

By David Joel Miller.

Narcissists are dazzling at first.

In psychology, there’s an idea referred to as trait narcissism. This trait is closely related to self-esteem and measures how good you feel about yourself. As your narcissism rises, you feel better about yourself. Generally, this is considered a good thing. As your self-esteem rises you take better care of yourself. You may dress better and exhibit more self-confidence. The problems begin when the narcissist loses the ability to empathize with others, and it becomes all about them. At that point, high trait narcissism, or self-esteem, can become a destructive pathological narcissism we call narcissistic personality disorder.

Too much narcissism quickly turns repulsive.

People who have dated pathological narcissists report that in the beginning, the narcissist was extremely attractive. They often dress well, have expensive cars, and appear successful. Pathological narcissists have attracted fields where they can run the show and be in control of others.

When you first meet them, Narcissists are charming. Romantic partners find themselves swept off their feet. In romantic relationships, the problems begin to appear about the seventh date. In business contexts, it may take many months to recognize the destructive aspects of the narcissist.

In narcissism confidence becomes arrogance.

Confidence is a good thing when it comes from a high level of skill and talent. What makes the narcissist dangerous is that their confidence is the result of overvaluing their abilities. Narcissists are good at boasting that they can’t produce the result. What looked like competent turns out to be arrogance. They overestimate themselves and underestimate everyone else.

The narcissist’s overconfidence turns out to be a lack of insight.

Narcissists seek evidence that they are always right and superior to others. Consequently, they discount the opinions and contributions of others. They lose the ability to understand how their actions are affecting others. Narcissists, the pathological kinds, just don’t care about other people. Their view of the world is unrealistic they are unable to accept that they are less than perfect.

The Charming narcissist becomes manipulative and impulsive.

When you first meet a narcissist, they turn on the charm. This is easy for them to do because they fully believe that everyone worships them and that they are superior to others. Because of their unrealistic self-confidence and don’t think things over and act impulsively. These impulsive actions based on the belief that they are always right in their actions should always be admired.

With a narcissist, a dramatic life turns into attention-seeking histrionics.

Because of their grandiose beliefs, narcissists tend to live drama filled lives. They live larger than life adventures. In their minds, they should be the stars of their own reality show. If others interested in him should lag, they’re likely to behave in histrionic ways.

It’s not unusual for people with pathological narcissism, technically called narcissistic personality disorder, to also qualify for diagnoses of histrionic personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder. When you believe, you are that wonderful; it’s easy to believe that everything should be about you and that the rules that apply to ordinary mortals don’t apply to you.

With the narcissist, imaginative becomes odd, even bizarre.

People who are high in self-confidence are often imaginative and creative. When self-esteem moves into being feelings of superiority, that creative streak can become bizarre thinking and behavior.

More about Narcissists.

As we move through our series of Narcissism posts, feel free to ask questions and leave comments. To help you find these posts, below are some links to point you in the right direction. Keep in mind that all the posts about narcissists appeared in the narcissism category but links to future posts will not be live until future posts appear.

Narcissism category.                          Personality disorders.

Narcissistic traits.                               Psychology. (coming soon)

Narcissistic relationship partner.        Relationships.

Self-esteem.                                        Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Surviving a Narcissist.

By David Joel Miller.

Some narcissists you just cope with.

a narcissist

Surviving a Narcissist.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

It may be hard, but there are plenty of times in life when you are going to have to get along with difficult people. Narcissists turn up everywhere you go. Some occupations, business management, politics and other high-pressure jobs attract people who are high in narcissistic traits. I’m beginning to believe that some jobs turn vulnerable people into pathological narcissists. Sometimes, for your own peace of mind, you must find ways to work with them.

If you are in a close, romantic relationship with the narcissist, or if they are a relative you may decide that you just have to accept them the way they are. Sometimes it’s not worth the conflict to upset your narcissist.

Here are some suggestions for surviving that narcissistic encounter.

Give that narcissist lots of praise.

Narcissists expect, need, frequent praise and complements. The best way to get along with a narcissist is to give them lots of approval. Some narcissists are insecure, and they crave praise. If you don’t give it to them, they are offended. Other narcissists believe they deserve your appreciation and will feel cheated if you don’t express your admiration. Hand out that verbal recognition in front of others to maximize its effects.

If you must criticize a narcissist, do it in private.

Narcissists expect to be praised and admired. Saying anything negative or disagreeing with them in public is likely to be taken as a personal attack. If you are forced to disagree with a narcissist or give them bad news, do it privately so that their public persona remains undamaged.

Make the narcissist the center of attention.

The higher that someone in your life is in narcissism the more they believe they should be the center of attention. If you take the spotlight off the narcissist, expect an all-out war. When they are in the room, let them shine. Your time comes with a narcissist is off stage. If you want to earn extra points, make sure you mentioned their contribution favorably whenever you get recognized.

Get clear on the narcissist’s rules.

Narcissists believe they are superior to others. If you want cooperation, make sure you know what their rules are and follow them. They may have a distorted understanding of truth, lies, and loyalty. You need to develop an understanding of when leaving negative things out will be considered lying and when not telling them your criticism will be considered loyal.

Do not cross a narcissist.

Because of the narcissist’s sense of entitlement, they are very likely to take everything personally. Before you take action, consider carefully whether the narcissist will agree with what you said and did. In making choices, your primary consideration will be making the narcissist happy. Make sure what you do will make them look good.

Keep your narcissist laughing, use humor.

Don’t get heavy or serious with the narcissist. They expect to be the source of all important ideas. Keep it light. Look for ways to keep them laughing. When you make the narcissist happy, they like you. Avoid being the one to bring them bad news. Narcissists are likely to blame the messenger. They tend to reward people who tell them what they want to hear even when it’s untrue. Narcissists are equally likely to punish people who bring them bad news even when it is a necessary truth.

More about Narcissists.

As we move through our series of Narcissism posts, feel free to ask questions and leave comments. To help you find these posts, below are some links to point you in the right direction. Keep in mind that all the posts about narcissists appeared in the narcissism category but links to future posts will not be live until future posts appear.

Narcissism category.                          Personality disorders.

Narcissistic traits.                               Psychology. (coming soon)

Narcissistic relationship partner.        Relationships.

Self-esteem.                                        Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Fear and anxiety not the same thing.

By David Joel Miller.

Confusing fear and anxiety cause you emotional pain.

When is fear real?

Fear, Anxiety, and Worry.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Many people are high in anxiety. They report that they are afraid of a great many things. To conquer anxiety, you need to learn the difference between the things you are afraid of, the ones you really should be afraid of, and the things that make you anxious for very personal reasons.

Recent research suggests that we may have been getting two different things confused.  While fear and anxiety may look a lot alike, the kind of behavior we do to defend ourselves, the circuits in the brain for these two things are quite different.

Fear is about an immediate danger.

Defensive behaviors are controlled in the human brain stem. The brainstem controls automatic reactions to things. It’s the part of the brain that keeps your heart beating when you fall asleep. Many fears are hardwired into the brainstem and function to protect humans from harm.

If you are too close to the edge of a cliff, and about to fall off, fear kicks in and tells you to step back. For most people avoiding falling off a cliff or from another high place keeps them from getting injured or even killed.

If you’re out in the wilderness, it is a good thing to be afraid of bears and lions, tigers and other wild animals. Most primates are instinctively afraid of snakes. Some steaks are poisonous and can kill you. Having an automatic fear eliminates the need to study the snake in front of you to determine if it’s poisonous. Experts, those who work with snakes on a regular basis, learn the difference between poisonous and non-poisonous snakes. Avoiding snakes, especially the poisonous ones, can save your life.

Anxiety is about distant possible dangers.

While fear is about a current immediate danger, anxiety is about future. The majority of things that anxious people worry about are things that are unlikely to happen. Often anxiety is related to rumination.

The part of the brain that appears to be involved in anxiety are the structures that should be used for thinking and planning as well as memory. People who are high in anxiety will attempt to improve results and keep themselves safe by trying to imagine all the things that could possibly go wrong.

The more you sit and try to think of things that might go wrong in the future, the more things you’ll find to be anxious about. It turns out that most of the things that we worry about will never happen. Anxiety is about trying to predict low probability events.

Planning for the future and for contingencies is a good thing. But if you find that you are spending a large amount of time trying to foresee everything that could possibly go wrong, you have moved from planning to trying to be a fortune teller.

The more you try to be perfect and never make a mistake, to create a life in which nothing can ever possibly go wrong, the more you will worry. Unfortunately, the belief that you can somehow protect yourself from every possible catastrophe turns out not to be true.

Whenever you find that you’re worrying about something and it’s making you anxious, the first question to ask yourself is how close am I to this potential danger? Is this something that could happen in the next minute? The second question you should be asking yourself is how likely is this bad outcome to be.

Ask yourself do you want to give up 99% of your life to avoid the things that have a 1% chance of happening. Living, and having good things happen in your life, requires doing lots of things. Unless you really love your anxiety, consider adding more spontaneous, exciting things to your life. Try more things and pay special attention to the things that go well not the few things that don’t turn out the way you want them to occur.

Learning the difference between realistic fears and the high anxiety that worrying brings can result in a much happier life.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Feeding your worry.

By David Joel Miller.

Are you feeding the anxiety monster?

Scary fearful monster

Anxiety Monster.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

The more you feed your anxiety, the larger grows. It’s easy to miss the connection between worry and anxiety.

Some dictionary definitions of worry are:  to give in to anxiety or decrease, to let your mind dwell on your troubles and difficulties.

Continuing to worry increases your uncertainty and grows your anxiety until it takes over your life. How many of these ways are you feeding the anxiety monster with your worry?

Stay up all night keeping worry company.

When there is lots of uncertainty, potential problems ahead, many people hold on tightly to their worries. Often after a good night sleep, things look differently in the morning. A certain way to expand your anxiety is to sit up as long as possible, thinking through every possible negative outcome. Ruminating about low probability bad outcomes is just the sort of worry-food the anxiety monster craves.

You won’t let anyone else babysit your worry.

People who have their anxiety under control learn to use experts to manage their risks. One way to increase your anxiety is to keep all your worries to yourself, and never share them with anyone who might be able to put your mind at ease. Have financial challenges? You should talk to a financial professional. If you have medical issues, you need to see your doctor. For emotional issues, a good counselor can be helpful.

Some people become so attached to their anxiety that they would never consider allowing anyone else to babysit their anxiety monster. If you become unwilling to share your worry with anyone who might be able to help reduce the risks, you’ve taken on the care and feeding of an anxiety monster.

Every morning pick worry back up.

Should you ever get a good night’s sleep, make sure you pick up where you left off worrying the night before. Mentally healthy people can set aside their worries and engage in work and play and positive social relationships with others.

Some people come to view anxiety as their best friend. Their hope is that by worrying enough, they might be able to prevent something bad happening. If you’ve adopted this thought, you’re likely to find that even when the danger is past, after being able to do something enjoyable with others, as soon as you can, you will pick your worries back up and cuddle them tightly.

Stay angry to grow anxieties.

When you’re angry at someone, you’re likely to expect the worst from them. If you’re angry at others, you expect them to be angry back. Your anger at others and your anticipation of their retaliation are certain to feed your anxiety monster.

Indulge negative feelings.

Negative feelings are a super food for anxiety monsters. Indulging yourself in every possible negative feeling is guaranteed to increase your worry and anxiety. Should you ever chance to spot a silver lining, search carefully for the black cloud behind it.

People who are high in the ability to worry and make themselves anxious, are often skilled at seeing the worst in every person, place, or situation.

Remind yourself that it is your fault.

If you want to stay anxious and fearful all the time, take on the responsibility for the whole world. Tell yourself that you should have foreseen that earthquake and moved somewhere else. If something breaks, believe that it’s your fault. When others treat you badly, look for what you must’ve done wrong to create their bad behavior.

If someone you know abuses drugs or alcohol or gets in trouble with the law, ask yourself what you must have done wrong to make them misbehave. This constant believing that everything that goes wrong in the world must somehow have been the result of your failure to foresee it is guaranteed to keep you unhappy and anxious.

Search for evidence to grow your fears.

Whenever there is a doubt, do your best to find evidence to prove that the thing you’re afraid of is dangerous. If you can’t find reliable scientific evidence, post you worry on social media and ask people to tell you why you should be afraid of something. When there’s no evidence, believe that your fear is justified just because it feels scary to you.

The human brain has a bias towards negative information. Let ten good things happen, followed by one bad thing, most people will remember only the one problem. Say you get a job interview, and the interview goes well, you get the new job at a very good salary, but on the way home, you get a flat tire. Continue for the rest of your life to remind yourself nothing good ever happens to you “every time” you try to drive; you get a flat tire.

Especially worry about things you can’t change.

People with a well-developed anxiety monster rarely think about things they might be able to control. Nothing expands anxiety like focusing exclusively on things that are out of your control. To maximize anxiety don’t worry about working overtime and paying your electric bill, focus your worry on the possibility this will be an unusually cold winter, and there might be a worldwide shortage of fuel.

Have you had enough anxiety?

I tried to exaggerate all these ways in which people can increase their anxiety. I hope you can see that there may be thoughts you are practicing which are increasing your anxiety. Consider trying to have more helpful thoughts. Change some of the ways you’ve been dealing with life’s challenges and see if you can’t reduce your anxiety.

If your anxiety, worries, and fears have grown so large, that they are taking over your life, consider that now be might be the time to seek professional help. A good counselor or therapist can help you learn to manage and reduce your anxiety and fear.

Want to sign up for my mailing list?

Get the latest updates on my books, due out later this year by signing up for my newsletter. Newsletter subscribers will also be notified about live training opportunities and free or discounted books. Sign up here – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

Therapy can make stress and anxiety disorders worse.

By David Joel Miller.

Traditional talk therapy may make your problems worse.

Pain, Anxiety, Depression, Stress

Pain, Anxiety, Depression, Stress.
Photo courtesy of Flickr (marsmet481)

Don’t get me wrong; talk therapy has been helpful to a large number people.  But occasionally I encounter a client whose condition has been made worse, not better, as a result of being in therapy.  One predictor of whether therapy will work for you is the fit between you and your therapist. If the kind of therapy they’re doing or the way they’re doing it is not helpful, begin by talking with the therapist about this. A good therapist will work with you to find helpful solutions. If you find you therapy making things worse, you may end up needing to switch to a new therapist. Below are some ways I have seen therapy be unhelpful and some suggestions for making it more helpful.

Repeated talking about it can retraumatize you.

Some therapists were trained that the way to be helpful to people, was to do a thorough biopsychosocial assessment before they began treatment.  This historical approach often means beginning with the first event in your life and move things forward one event at a time.  Therapists with this orientation may well believe that the key to fixing your current problems, is to thoroughly deal with your childhood issues first.

More than one client as told me that their therapist’s insistence that they needed to talk about past abuse in detail, became so painful they had to discontinue therapy. We often hear from victims of trauma that the having to go over and over the details was more painful than the initial experience.

There’s some truth to the idea that you can’t heal injuries, physical or emotional, that you deny exist. The problem comes from efforts to dig up the graveyard to get at the root causes before the person is even able to cope with life today.

What is often more helpful is a “solution-focused” approach to your problems. This approach means beginning at the top with the problem that is affecting you today. If today’s problem is unemployment or a bad relationship, that may need working on right now. Keep in mind that early life experiences may be impacting today’s issues. As you get today’s problems under control, you may decide you want to work on those old long-term problems, or you may decide that having solved today’s problems you need to move on with your life.

Talking in therapy can turn into co-rumination.

Sometimes therapy can perpetuate problems.  It’s easy to stay stuck, week after week, reviewing the exact same problems.  When this is done with a friend, it is sometimes described as co-rumination.  The same process can be harmful when done with a therapist or counselor.

Narrative therapists described this as staying stuck in a problem-saturated story. Repeating the same story over and over can magnify its control over you. The challenge is to stop the pain and begin to create a story of how the future can be better than the past.

Being in the wrong group therapy can make your problems worse.

We see this often in substance abuse treatment.  A young adult gets caught with some marijuana, which is illegal in his particular jurisdiction.  This person gets referred to drug treatment and placed in a group made up largely of heroin addicts.  Not only is this group not helpful, but there is an increased risk that this person will develop a worse problem than before.

An equally bad problem can be created when a woman with a history of domestic violence ends up in a PTSD group with some returning military veterans. Group therapy can be extremely powerful, but only if you’re in the right group.

Sometimes the symptoms become the problem.

Many of the things that are described as symptoms of a trauma-related disorder are in fact ways that people adapt to having survived that trauma. When therapy focuses too much on ending symptoms, it can become unhelpful.

For example, a victim of trauma may begin drinking, trying not to have to remember the painful experiences. Someone notices the person’s drinking, maybe because they’re drunk at work or they get a DUI. They may end up in treatment for alcohol use disorder. The difficulty here is that for this person the alcohol is not their problem, it is their solution. The problem is the recurring intrusive memories of the trauma.

Using “unhelpful” behaviors to manage your current symptoms can become a habit. Rather than focusing too much on the unhelpful behaviors, many therapists will work with you on creating new helpful behaviors. Under stress, humans tend to revert to their habitual way of behaving. The therapist will want you to continue to practice your new helpful behaviors until they become your new automatic way of coping.

Don’t give up before the healing miracle happens.

I hope this post will help you understand the ways in which therapy can be helpful, and the times it may not be. If you’re currently coping with the results of trauma and stressors or you have high levels of anxiety that are interfering with your day-to-day life, know that there is therapy out there that can make your life better. If you have been for counseling in the past and it was not helpful, seek out a therapist you can feel comfortable working with. If you’re currently working with someone and it’s not helping, talk to them about this issue.

One other thing you need to keep in mind is that when you’re in severe emotional pain, you may feel like you’re stuck and nothing is getting better. It’s very common for people to make large amounts of progress and not realize they’re getting better. Sometimes your counselor, family or friends will see the changes in you long before you do. Please don’t give up.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books