Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Thoughts

Hi, this is Dr. Valarie Cascadden again, writing about our thoughts.

Norman Vincent Peale became famous for his book “The Power of Positive Thinking.” Dale Carnegie wrote, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Leo Tolstoy stated, “Men suffer from thinking more than from anything else.” And in the Bible, it is written, “As a man thinketh, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7). And, ladies, we’re not excluded from this, either. Throughout history, we’ve been reminded about the power of thoughts, negative and positive.

Almost everyday we say it, or hear someone else say it – “I can’t stop thinking about this…” or, “It’s been on my mind that such-and-such…”. Consider how many times you—as they say, get “lost in thought. We sometimes daydream on the way to work, and miss the street or freeway turnoff, even if we’ve been going that way for years. “Getting preoccupied” can be irritating when it interferes with our attention to a conversation, but it can also lead to fantastic creative breakthroughs (the “lightbulb” over our heads can actually have an energizing affect)– and we wonder why that something didn’t occur to us earlier. Our minds have incredible power, and we’ve often heard anecdotes that we only use about 10% of our brain capacity.

PET or CT scans can show how automatic our thoughts are when we hear or see something. A patient is shown a series of images, and the brain’s circuitry lights up like a Christmas tree. Each of those flashes is from a thought.

When someone disappoints us or says something stupid or hurtful, we have a thought. When we are scared or worried, we have a thought. When we’re insecure, jealous, lonely, whatever, we have a thought. It’s so automatic that we’re usually unaware of it, and it immediately triggers an emotion, oftentimes in the form of anger, fear, sadness, or worry.

People come into my office and want to know how they can get over something and move on. Usually they start with saying, “I can’t help the way I feel.” That’s when I educate them about how those nasty feelings first come from their thoughts, which are reactions to what’s happened to them.

We’re not born thinking any certain way. We usually learn how we think or respond by watching our parents or other adults, and over time we adopt thought patterns whether or not we’re aware of it. Then we usually act in a way that reflects the way we feel, even if the way we feel is based on faulty information. If we then act upon perceptions that are not necessarily correct, it may cause difficulty in our relationships with others.

Take, for example, a midlife or senior person who is convinced that he or she will never find love again after a divorce or death of a partner. There are a proliferation of “older” dating sites online, but our lonely-heart remains unconvinced. “I’m too old for love or sex.” A few dates don’t pan out, and the person retreats, giving real meaning to the old expression, “self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Thoughts are habits, and as with all habits, they can be changed through re-learning. One of the best and most effective methods of therapy is what we call Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT. It’s simple, practical, and interactive, and it works well with most age groups and issues. I've alluded to this in other posts, but I personally think that much of the economic and political malaise is fueled by fear that we can again never have "an American dream." As if there was ever any such one-size-fits-all thing in the first place!

When I do CBT, I first take a history and do an assessment. As the client and I identify thought patterns that contribute to the problem, we go to work to uncover evidence that challenges these problematic thoughts, and help the client develop clearer, more rational thinking. As these new thoughts strengthen through the client's practice, so often do calmer emotions.

For further information, or to schedule an appointment, please call me at 818-729-9190 or visit my website at www.midlifecrisesrecovery.com.
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