I grew up as a kid who everyone found perfect. She is so soft spoken, is a gem of a daughter, an ideal student, friend who never picks a fight etc. Teachers, relatives, parents of friends…for some strange reason…were always in awe of me.
Or, were they?
Well, they weren’t! These were my notions about myself and about how others perceived me! I constructed them to be real, based on some interactions which hinted at me being good at a few things, pleasant to be around, intelligent, responsible…and so on.
We all receive encouragement in childhood, but I didn’t process it right. I OVER-GENERALISED it and started believing that “I am way better than my peers; I don’t need to work half as hard; I deserve all the success I have had so far and it will continue; I excel at everything I decide to do, and so on.” As a result, my behaviour reflected complacence. I expected results but was lazy in my efforts. When I didn’t get results, I struggled to accept why I didn’t achieve what I thought I deserved.
Over generalisation is but one example of an unhealthy thinking pattern I developed, growing up. There were several others. Some had a basis in my experience of recurring physical illnesses as a child, still others in growing up in a nuclear family in the national capital, and some are just part of my personality, who I am.
When depression struck, I thought my happy hormone reservoirs would get replenished with 6-8 months of medication and I would be a whole new person without sadness and crying spells getting in the way of life. Little did I know that depression was not just about chemicals but how I approached life and myself. Not thinking right was affecting my behaviour and feelings, ultimately maintaining my illness, despite all the pills I had been popping for years on end.
Turning my days around with therapy
It was through painstaking therapy that little by little I was able to understand the faults with my wiring. In therapy, I identified cognitive distortions, i.e., how I was indulging in magical thinking, perfectionism, catastrophising or minimisation, all-or-nothing thinking, jumping to conclusions…and so on.
Not only was my therapist able to catch me at these unhealthy ways of thinking, but also trained me in identifying them myself. Countering and reversing them is a tall order. When you are already in distress and realise you got there by thinking wrong, you feel angry at yourself and blame yourself for being all twisted in your thinking. You feel you are at the mercy of your thinking patterns and will never break free of them.
But it gets healed. Trust me. As with any useful skill, identifying and countering of unhealthy thinking patterns comes with practice. When it does, you feel liberated and realise you are not to be blamed for the ways in which your thinking harms you. You can fall into these patterns again, but sooner or later you catch yourself sinking, and are able to help yourself out the ditch.
It is natural to manifest cognitive distortions in our minds. Everyone does. But if they have a debilitating impact on your mental health, therapy can help get insight into these and focus your efforts on countering them.
I took very long to reach the right kind of help. Don’t let your thoughts become your enemy and a reason to hate yourself! Find your therapist and start helping yourself today.
Do return for the March 2022 blog! I will continue sharing how I have been helped by therapy.
Disclaimer: Psychotherapy is extremely unique to every individual and CANNOT be generalized. This blog post is merely intended to convey that if it helped me in some way, I recommend you consider it for yourself if you need to. Do not read into it with a personal checklist and think, oh this is exactly what I needed and this is how it will pan out for me as well. It doesn’t work that way. That is also why you should give it a shot. Discover your unique journey with it; your journey of healing will be so much richer with therapy.
Nishtha Singhal, Writer, Manoshala
Read more on trauma, anxiety, insomnia, loneliness, depression , addiction and covid, tea and mindfulness, understanding mindfulness, overthinking, unlearning anger, wellbeing during pandemic and many more