Posts Tagged ‘cognitive behavioral therapy’

On… forgiveness

Scared to be alone
Frightened of the dark
Everything’s too much
For a boy out of touch with his feelings

I must be to blame
I must be at fault
I believe I’m never good enough
To shine a light that lingers

~James,  Pleased to Meet You

A very wise, caring soul once told me that in order to be happy (in order to stand a chance at happiness) I first need to be able to forgive myself. They still tell me that now.


To be truthful, I’ve never really understood what that means. Forgiving yourself? What a self-serving idea!

Forgiveness is something merited to you by others as part of atoning for your wrongs, isn’t it? Forgiveness is a giving act and utterly unselfish, it cannot be expected and cannot be demanded. It can only be given, freely and unconditionally.

“When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bicycle. Then I realised the Lord doesn’t work that way, so I stole one and asked him to forgive me.”

~ Emo Phillips

At least that’s what I always thought. That’s why I always struggled with the idea of forgiving myself (where to start anyway – it’s such a long list!).

But I realise, if I am to stand a chance at being me again (the me I know I really am), I have to let go of some of this baggage I carry with me, I have to move on from things that haven’t worked. I can’t keep letting my past control my future.

How then does one go about forgiving themselves for their failings, their flaws, their transgressions?

1. Acknowledge your mistakes

I am very good at this. I have ‘acknowledgement of my mistakes’ down to a fine art. I’m all over this one!

Or am I?

Just because I assume fault and take on blame does not mean I’m acknowledging my mistakes. No, rather it means I’m taking on mistakes I have no legitimate ownership of. I martyr myself when I have no need to.

It also means that while I am so busy berating myself for assumed failings, I’m losing sight of the mistakes I’m actually making – such as behaving erratically, pushing people away and being hard work to be around when there is no reason to be so.

  • You will make mistakes.
  • You will get things wrong.
  • You will upset people.
  • You will fail.

Take it, and move on.

2. Accept your flaws

Like a tall building, I’ve got too many flaws…

The hardest thing about having the mind of a highly-emotional, self-doubting perfectionist trapped in the body of a slightly camp, balding thirty-something is getting used to the imperfection that I am forced to endure 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

It’s exhausting!

I am not perfect. In physicality, there are many better specimens out there. In intelligence, I’m bright but I struggle to understand many things:

  • central heating (is the thermostat the temperature I want or the temperature it needs to be to start working? why does the boiler have it’s own separate timer and temperature – arrrrghhhh!!);
  • how anyone invented the first ruler without, well, a ruler to check they had a straight edge;
  • why ‘toast’ is a food in it’s own right, but burning any other cooked food just gives you ‘burnt’;
  • and so on and so forth…

In my abilities, I possess many qualities, but I know that whatever I turn my hand to, there will always be someone who is slightly better than me, and others who will be exponentially better than me.

I am flawed. But then I guess, so are you. Which leads me neatly on to:

3. Know that you are ‘only’ human

I am flesh and blood. A brain. A heart. A soul.

I am the product of my parents, my upbringing. I am the end result; although still a work-in-progress; of every single experience (joyous and painful) that has got me to my 34 years.

If I were an omnipotent being, I would have achieved so much more. Equally, I would have caused damage on a much grander scale.

The modesty and smallness of being human, of being frail, of being time-bound and otherwise constrained should allow me to let go of the guilt that I carry around what I should have done by now, how I should have done things differently

4. Celebrate your gifts

Forgive (see what I did there?) the repetition. I wrote this back in July as a snapshot of what I viewed as being intrinsically ‘me’. I think it still holds true:

  • Quick-wit and sense of humour
  • Great cook
  • Generous host
  • Caring friend
  • Gifted artist
  • Fab personal stylist
  • Lover of fashion and glamour ;o)
  • Open mind
  • Contentment in the little things
  • Sensitive (too sensitive!!) soul

Listing positive qualities about yourself feels so arrogant, so vain. Listing failings and weaknesses feels so much more natural and obvious.

But what sort of a way to live is that? Pretty fucking miserable, let me tell you!

Celebrate your gifts, share them with your loved ones and allow your abilities and skills to be enjoyed by others.

5. Live in the moment

This is really important. I know it’s really important because everyone from my best friend Richard to the Dalai Lama tell me so, in their own ways.

It’s also the core tenet of what “forgiveness” really means, as I’ll let Oliver Burkeman explain:

Strip away the moralising, and all the most reputable psychologists seem to mean by “forgiveness” is to stop demanding that the past should be different from how it was. “Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past,” runs one well-phrased motto, usually attributed to the actor/writer Lily Tomlin. That’s not just eminently reasonable; it’s the only rational way to live. It implies no moral stance, one way or the other, towards the future: it doesn’t mean staying in an abusive relationship, or not prosecuting a murderer. It just means abandoning a particularly perverse form of misplaced optimism: the notion that things that have already happened might one day change for the better. They won’t. The laws of physics don’t work that way.

If I allow myself to stop fretting about the things I can’t change (because they’re in the past), and stop projecting worst-case scenarios on those things that I can only influence (because they haven’t happened yet), then the moment – the now, the right now is the only place that makes any sense to be.

6. Shine the light that lingers

I am not always to blame. I am not always at fault. I believe I’m good enough to shine a light that lingers.

There is room in the world for me. Putting my energies into making my corner of the world that bit brighter has to be worth the effort. To do otherwise would be to perpetuate the darkness.

a line in the sand

wtf? (why the face ;))

This is all about order, the means to move forward knowing that what has been done, is done.

Please, let me be clear, this has nothing to do with Cosmic Ordering or Noel Edmonds, for that matter.

please sir, can we have some more?

chart showing ratio of cuts to debt£6.2 billion of public service cuts have been announced in the last few days, as a means to reduce the budget deficit (which currently stands at £157bn) against a total national debt of £890bn. This debt is equivalent to 62% of our GDP(*).

That, to be frank is a frightening amount of money. It is obscene that we, as a nation, now face massive and continuing cuts in public services in order to prop up a capitalist economy that no longer functions. Bankers have recently claimed they create jobs and wealth, that without government support of the bank’s, the whole global economy would have collapsed. Research into the benefit of bankers, differs.

That may be true, but what we would have lost is an economy that is corrupt beyond measure, that works only on selfish accumulation of wealth rather than shared benefit and growth. Would it have been so bad to throw that out and start again?

If most of the money lost during the recent financial crisis was “made-up” or projected based on potential, then what would have been wrong setting things back to zero and starting again?

We now face a time where £850bn (*) and counting, has been found by our Government to prop up the banks. In return, the first £6bn has been cut from Public Services spending.

This is just the start.

This is just from central government.

Local government will feel and face cuts too, and for years to come.

tightening belts

That is the back-drop to the need for order. I’m not talking revolution or a New World Order, I’m talking the need to put aside what has happened, and do what’s right to move forward.

Like it or not, we can’t undo what our MP’s have done to keep their banking mates happy and ensure their non-executive directorships upon leaving office. We can’t undo the years of treating property as a cash-cow that reached a hysteria and collective greed we should all feel rightly ashamed of.

We can’t find out where the money really went (if it ever existed).

What we can do, within our homes, within our jobs (especially those of us who work in the Public Sector) is prove, and demonstrate our own value.

We work hard, we genuinely believe in public sector work as a force for good.

  • The vast majority of us hate waste.
  • Reckless spending upsets us.
  • Delivering quality services pleases us.
  • Being proud of what we do fulfils us.

These are truths, these are values that we all share.

How can I prove this? Not in word, but in deed. And we all can. The Public Sector is going to be vilified and subjected to greater scrutiny than even recent years have demonstrated.

For society to function, for community to exist, the Public Sector must also continue to exist. David Cameron would have us believe that the voluntary sector will step in to fill the gaps created by cutting public services. Truth is, the voluntary sector can only exist by having as many people as possible in work, and being useful. If people are in work, they have money to donate monthly. They have job security, which affords them the ability to donate time for voluntary work.

The Public Sector needs to be leaner, needs to focus on it’s absolute priorities of health, welfare and protection of the most vulnerable. This is not up for debate.

I am scared of the challenges to my job, to my future career – I can be honest about that.

But I am excited about the changes it will force, especially if they align to my beliefs and values for the role of the Public Sector as vital, effective and efficient.

drawing the line

My job is changing radically. The industry I work in is, it would appear, going to change beyond recognition.

I have two choices:

  • Go with it, forge a path and prove myself to be a valuable asset.
  • Complain, moan, feel terror at the change that is gonna come.

It’s a no-brainer really. My career hasn’t yet gone where I want it to. Our country isn’t where I want it to be. But I can draw a line under what has happened, and do my damnedest to contribute in whatever small way I can to make things how I believe they should be.

In these respects, I am drawing a line under the mistakes of the past – both my own and those outside of my control. It’s a CBT technique, but also sound common-sense advice.

What I am going to do is focus on tomorrow, and what I can do to make a brighter day.

the Downward Spiral…

I’ve completed 4 ABC forms in the last 2 days. What’s going on?

It feels (after a few good days) like the start of a setback, of going backwards in my recovery.

I wish I could stop myself feeling and thinking the way I am, wish I could stop my mind taking itself on these journey’s where all I can do is watch in slow-motion as I act on these ridiculous thought trains. I’ve caused new types of stress to friends and colleagues in the last 2 days, as it places demands on their energy and on their coping skills, that is simply unfair.

And you know the stupid thing? The thing that makes me want to smash my head into the wall until I lose consciousness? It’s all in my power to stop, and yet I don’t. Despite myself (or to spite myself?) I write paranoid emails to colleagues, I think black thoughts about what my friends think of me.

The irony is, do it enough, and it all becomes true. Colleagues will start talking about you and excluding you, ’cause you’re clearly unstable. You can drive friends away by being too demanding, too paranoid. My friends want me, the fun me, the Carl who makes them laugh, who is there to hang out with, go shopping with, have dinner with. But at times like these, all I can give them is a Carl who is so fearful of being abandoned, that he pushes people away.

Cruel joke.

I think being on my own the last couple of days hasn’t helped. The isolation of being alone in your house for 2 days straight gets you thinking, gets you withdrawing from the reality of the world, and nestling yourself in the world of your making, where large parts are just products of an over-active (and needlessly pessimistic) imagination.

So I’ve tried, I’ve really tried, but for today, all I can see is a lot of hurt and stress, and very little to take solace in.

ABC, easy as…

…identifying the errors in your thinking that lead to a negative conclusion and thereby cause anxiety, stress and depression.

So, it’s not as good as the Jackson’s sang it, but I’m a painter, not a songwriter, dammit!

What is ABC?

ABC is a Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) method of capturing a negative thought process, ideally as (or shortly after) it happens.

  • Activating event
  • Beliefs
  • Consequences

A typical ABC form looks like this.

By separating the negative outcome (Consequence) from the thought triggers (Beliefs) and in turn from the cause (Activating event), it becomes easier to see where and how the way you think wholly influences how you feel.

It doesn’t mean the way you think is wrong, just that the mind can easily fall into bad habits and patterns of thinking that are harmful, at the expense of thinking in a more realistic and measured way.

Okay, so what does this really mean?

Let’s look at a real-life example to step through how the ABC model works.

A couple of months ago, I had a group of friends over for the evening, for dinner and chat. Nothing formal, just my closest friends, and me cooking a Roast Chicken.

  • Activating event
    At one point, I left the dining room and went upstairs to use the bathroom. While I was there, I could hear talking and uproarious laughter coming from downstairs.
  • Beliefs
    Immediately, I started thinking that they were all having more fun because I’d left the room. Why else would they be laughing? This must mean they don’t really like me at all and just tolerate my company to get a free feed. They’re probably laughing about what a mug I am.
  • Consequences
    I return downstairs, and am now angry and hurt. I find it hard to talk and join in the conversation, believing I’m not wanted there. As the evening progresses, I tie myself further up in knots, until I make my excuses and go to bed.

This is my ABC for that particular event. Looking back on it, I’m able to see the event in a very different manner. So this is my more rational ABC that would, had I allowed myself to think that way, have led to a less damaging outcome:

  • Activating event
    At one point, I left the dining room and went upstairs to use the bathroom. While I was there, I could hear talking and uproarious laughter coming from downstairs.
  • Beliefs
    I think that the evening is going well and that my friends are enjoying the food and having a good laugh and chat. I also feel relieved that I am now, erm, relieved.
  • Consequences
    I am able to enjoy an evening with my close friends, and am able to take some pride and joy from the fact that I’m a host who can make people feel relaxed and at home.

And that’s all it is – the same Activating Event, two entirely different outcomes. It’s easy, when presented with the examples side-by-side, to see which thought process is healthier. I think(!) this kind of sums it up:

“The trouble with most people is that they think with their hopes or fears or wishes rather than with their minds.”

~Will Durant

The ABC form allows you to capture the process and spot where your beliefs and thoughts can cause distress, for you and those around you.

Boy in the bubble…

Now, I’m not naïve, there are going to be times when people do dislike you and are laughing at you behind your back.

It’s not a way of deluding yourself into becoming a grinning moron, impervious to reality. No. Instead, the aim is to re-measure your thoughts on the evidence rather than the (often negative) assumptions.

Eventually, and with repeated use, you’re meant to get quicker at spotting the ‘thinking errors’ so you can prevent yourself making them in real-time as opposed to during a period of later reflection.

Personally, I’m hopeful that it works, and I’ve got a few forms printed out and with my things at work, to grab in an emergency.