Why You Shouldn’t Believe Your Thoughts

why you shouldn't believe your thoughts

Last night I lay awake, staring at the ceiling of my bedroom with a hyperloop of worries and fears pumping through my mind. I’m generally a calm and laid-back person, but something about the sun going down seems to bring up all of my fears and anxieties. I would be willing to bet that some of you have experienced this hyperloop of thoughts as well, whether that be at night or another time of day. 

 

Why can it be so difficult to slow down our minds?

 

How do we get into these thought loops, and why are we so quick to believe these ideas as if they are fact rather than what they actually are…just thoughts?

 

As Tara Brach, Ph.D (one of my favorite psychologists, authors, and meditation teachers) explains, “when stressed, we often react with looping fear-thoughts, feelings and behaviors that cause harm to ourselves and/or others.”

 

As humans, we evolved to have a bias towards the negative in order to protect ourselves and survive, but in today’s modern society our stress levels tend to be high and our fear response is on overdrive as a result. It’s easy for us to get into the habit of fear or stress-driven thought patterns, and most of the time we aren’t even aware that it’s happening. 

 

Tara goes on to say, “When we’re living out stimulus-react looping…we’re believing something that’s not true. We’re living in a very confined reality of a separate and limited self. A reality that has us locked into a very small sense of who we are.” I know I don’t want to live in such a constricted state, and I’m sure you don’t either.

 

So…what can we do?

Got Change for a Paradigm? Understanding the Paradigm Effect

paradigm effectOne day when I was in high school, my stepdad walked into the room where I was studying (or maybe I was playing video games—I don’t know). He was wearing a new sweatshirt. “Read it,” he said, beaming.

 

The sweatshirt’s white text stood out against its black color, clearly displaying a simple question: “Do You Have Change for a Paradigm?”

 

Clever, I thought as I laughed. My stepdad was was a thoughtful guy and constantly challenged my thinking, so the sweatshirt was fitting for him. Because of his influence, I was exposed to many ideas that I would not have been otherwise. Did I have change for a paradigm? Well, yes, I liked to think so.

 

Indeed, many of us like to think that we’re open-minded, reflective, and willing to see the world differently. And often, at least consciously and about some things, we are. We can be open to new paradigms, or ways of looking at and organizing our experiences.

 

But we can’t help but use the lens of our unconscious minds to look at and make sense of the world. That’s where something called the paradigm effect can influence our thoughts, feelings, and behavior. And that can keep us stuck. But how?

The Secret about How People Change

how people changeEver wonder how people change?

 

Right now, at this very moment, millions of people are in therapy hoping to get help changing their lives. What’s always fascinated me, however, is how so few people really understand what they’re buying when they sign up to see a therapist. They don’t really understand how people change—and how they can transform their lives with a therapist’s help.

 

Of course, most people aren’t terribly interested in how products or services they buy actually work. They buy because they want the desired results at the end. For instance, very few people who buy a car care to know how the engine works. They just want a car that will reliably get them around.

 

I’ve long thought, though, that psychotherapy is especially shrouded in mystery when it comes to how it actually works. Therapists, for our part, don’t generally do a great job of explaining how we help people change, especially because clients don’t often ask directly.

 

But they do ask indirectly. “What’s the next step?” one client asks me. “How do I know I’ve gotten to the root of my addiction?” another wonders. “What do you do to help?” an inquiring caller asks. I think that if therapists can answer questions like these, at least in part and without graduate-school-like lecture, we can greatly reduce our clients’ anxiety and confusion.

 

I’ve already described the process of change elsewhere, especially as it relates to addiction and recovery. I’d like to describe below one way to think about the degree to which we experience change as we move through that process. Before we begin, I need to credit Marty Farash, LMFT, who as far as I know created this useful way of thinking about the levels of change.

Recovering from Porn-Induced Erectile Dysfunction, Boundaries, and More from My Reddit AMA

porn-induced erectile dysfunctionOver the past week, the world has watched as the coronavirus has spread exponentially. Many are either quarantined, self-quarantined, or practicing social distancing, such that our society has ground to a halt.

 

With these practices in place, so many who are struggling with pornography are at home, isolated, bored, anxious, and often with access to the internet. I imagined that these circumstances made their struggles even more challenging, and based on the response that I’m getting in my latest Reddit AMA, I was right.

 

I’ve included some excerpts below of answers to questions that have been coming up more often for me in my practice.

 

Conscious Uncoupling: How to End a Relationship with Grace and Respect

conscious uncouplingAs a psychotherapist for about 7 years now, I’ve had the profound privilege of helping many couples move from conflict, anger, and pain and toward deeper, more conscious intimacy. But it doesn’t always go this way.

 

Indeed, sometimes couples realize in the course of our work together that their relationship, for whatever reason, needs to end. Many partners view the end of the relationship as a personal failure, blaming themselves. Others wallow in anger and resentment, sometimes lashing out in destructive ways.

 

Tragically, in these instances the circumstances that bring about the end of the relationship can have the power to redefine a couple’s entire story together. This is especially true with cases of sex addiction, porn addiction, infidelity, or some other form of intimate betrayal. Partners carry with them the pain, loss, heartache, and anger about the relationship long after it ends and can even carry it over into their next one.

 

It doesn’t have to be this way. There’s another path. That’s where Conscious Uncoupling, a method pioneered by psychotherapist Katherine Woodward Thomas, comes in.

Healing Shame with Self-Compassion and Connection (Part 2 of 2)

healing shame with self-compassionRecently, I’ve been wrestling with a business decision. I was unclear about what to do and decided to ask some trusted colleagues about their thoughts. So yesterday, I hopped on a phone call and talked for a few minutes about my quandary. I wasn’t ready for what happened next.

 

Because of the nature of the decision and my history with similar decisions, I felt very vulnerable. And to my colleagues, it seemed clear that my fears and “not enough-ness” was showing up in my waffling.

 

And suddenly, there is was. A big, fat helping of shame with a side of inadequacy.

 

It was like a sucker punch. I admire my colleagues and looked up to them, and suddenly I felt so small. I felt so foolish. So silly. So exposed.

Understanding Addiction, Part 1: The Disease Model

understanding addiction“Why? Why do I keep doing this?” I get this question a lot, especially from new clients who are struggling to comprehend why they keep engaging in an addictive behavior they don’t want to keep doing. They struggle in understanding addiction.

 

I get it. I’ve been there. I wondered the same for a long time. I couldn’t understand why I continued to drink when I felt as ashamed about it as I did. Eventually, I came to understand why I started to drink and why I continued to need to drink.

 

Eventually, I came to understand that I drank to alleviate my own shame and anxieties. Understanding what alcohol was doing for me helped me learn to be more authentic and manage my feelings differently. When I didn’t need alcohol anymore, I spontaneously stopped when I got tired of how much it was taking from me.

 

Maybe you’re trying to understand your drinking, gambling, sexual behaviors, or other addictive behaviors. Really, you’re asking about what you don’t understand about yourself. That’s where looking at a few models of understanding addiction can help.

Contact with the Affair Partner After an Affair Ends

contact with affair partnerShould he have any contact with the affair partner now that the affair is over? Shouldn’t she cut her affair partner out of his life and stop talking to him altogether? How can I get him to stop talking to her?

 

After an affair, the couple is in crisis. They’re struggling to adapt to their new reality now that the affair has been exposed.

 

The hurt partner is reeling from this world-shattering news. She’s often traumatized and angry, while also struggling with the desire to scour phone records, check his phone, and other responses intended to help her feel safe after a massive betrayal.

 

The partner participating in the affair is often remorseful and desperate to save the relationship.

 

In instances like this, it’s a matter of course that the affair is over, that contact with the affair partner will not continue, and that both partners are all in the save the relationship.

 

But this is not always the case.

Treating Sex Addiction with Harm Reduction Psychotherapy

treating sex addictionThis week, I received the exciting news that I’ll be participating in a panel discussion about sex addiction, approaches to treatment, and how best to help clients needing support with these issues. I’ll be talking about treating sex addiction with harm reduction psychotherapy.

 

The conversation will take place at the conference for the International Institute for Trauma and Addiction Professionals in Phoenix in May. It’s going to be a great chance for mental health professionals on the front lines of out-of-control sexual behavior treatment to compare treatment options and philosophies.

 

Normally I don’t post too much about developments in the field of addiction, though I did give an update about sex addiction receiving a diagnosis last summer.

 

But this panel is so important and exciting because it’s evidence of a growing number of voices in the addiction field who think a bit differently about how to help those struggling with addictive behaviors, including sexual behaviors.

 

I thought I’d briefly compare the traditional approach and the harm reduction approach as I consider my remarks for the panel. I’m very much thinking out loud here as I continue to evolve and grow, so I invite you to be a part of the dialogue in the comments below.

Healing Shame (Part 1 of 2)

healing shameShame. Shame is pervasive these days, as are our attempts to banish shame from our existence. We try desperately to rid ourselves of shame and will sometimes to anything for a moment’s respite from that awful, heavy feeling.

 

Just for a moment, consider what comes up for you when you read this word.

 

Maybe you’re concerned about someone you love. Maybe you’re curious about your own shame and what to do about it. Maybe you’re even now trying to put out of your mind what you tell yourself when you feel shame so you can read this post.

 

If so, you’re not alone. Shame sucks. I would know; it’s a part of my story too. And I often get asked about how shame can be healed. It’s a good question, and one I’ve never quite felt I can answer fully in sessions.

 

While healing is never easy, finding your way out of shame is possible. Before we dive into that topic, though, we need to understand what shame is and how it affects us.