If you google the effectiveness of “XXXX” (depression, anxiety, PTSD, etc., just put in any symptoms), you will found tons of articles finding the evidence supporting Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). I also have many clients told me that they had received CBT for years.
“However, it did make sense when I talked to my therapist, but I just can’t make myself feel differently.” ~ my clients said.
Why? Shouldn’t you feel “better” if “it makes sense” after the talk therapy?
Does change how you see things really change how you feel?
The classical symptoms of depression and anxiety are “could have,” “should have” or “would have.”
“If I could have known……, I would have……”
“I should have ……..”
Recently, I found myself telling my clients the following statement over and over again:
“In any situation, planned or unexpected, we all have the desired outcome. In spite of doing the best we could and chose the best option at the time, the actual result may not the desired outcome we would like it to be. When the real outcome and the desired outcome were different, the difference between them already caused a sense of loss. We can try to reason with ourselves why the decision we made or the choice we pick was the best one. It didn’t change the loss between the desired outcome and the actual outcome.
Also, if there were many choices, the options we didn’t pick, no matter how reasonable we rationalized with ourselves, we experienced the loss of the possible outcome with those unpicked choices.
So, even though we can reason with ourselves why the choice we made was the best choice best on what we knew at the time, it didn’t properly deal with so many loss we experienced while choosing that best choice.”
Therefore, change your thoughts doesn’t necessarily change how you feel because we didn’t adequately deal with the emotions that are associated with the differences between the desired outcome and the actual outcome. We also don’t take care of the feelings of all those possible choices we chose not to engage.
So, what do you do?
First of all, acknowledge your disappointment, resentment, or any emotions that attached to the outcome unfulfilled. Whatever that emotions are, they are there because they need your acknowledgment. Imagine that you are telling a 2-year-old child not to have a cookie before dinner. The child is going to cry no matter how you reason with the child because this toddler is disappointed. So, what do you do? If you yell at the toddler, the child is not going to stop crying but going to cry louder. If you are trying to reason with the toddler, the toddler is not going to understand but keeps asking “but why?” What you are going to do is to hug this toddler and say: “I am sorry that you are disappointed.” You stay with that toddler until the child stopped crying. So, you stay with your emotions until the feelings go away.
Second, acknowledge that underlying those emotions are a need unfulfilled. Ask yourself: “What are those needs?” It might be the needs of proving you can do it. It might be the needs of avoiding the pain. It might be the needs to be accepted by someone important. What are the needs?For example, you choose to take job A but not B even though you like the work in company B better. Ask yourself, “what’s about the job in the company B that appeals you?” Or, you wish your parents can stop drinking, but they haven’t. Ask yourself, “what are the needs unfulfilled because of your parents’ drinking?”
Now, you have known your emotions and comfort those emotions. You know the needs that are unfulfilled due to the undesired outcome; the last step is to ask yourself what you can do to fulfill those needs to take care of those emotions? For example, you chose company A instead of B because of the salary is higher and you can use that money for your family’s financial situation. What can you do to provide yourself the satisfaction or fulfillment about your work in the company A, or outside the work? The other example of the issues of your parents’ alcohol abuse is this: “what are the needs you need your parents to fulfill as a child? Now that you are an adult, what can you do to fulfill those needs or who else in your life can help you fulfill those needs?”
It looks like only a 3-step process, but it is very hard. If you do not have a support system in your life to help you go through this process, it could feel very isolated and lonely. I strongly suggest you try to find a mental health provider to help you clear these feelings. I also encourage my clients to keep a diary and to journal consistently. When they come to the appointment, I ask them to bring their journal.
If you are interested in journaling, here are few questions to guide yourself:
1. Describe the incident happened as detailed as possible. Specifically, describe the desired outcome and what happened that led to the actual result.
2. How do you feel about the result? Listed all the positive and negative emotions.
3. List all the feelings (positive or negative) and explain.
4. Check all the explanation and emotions and ask yourself if there are any unfilled needs.
5. What can you do about these unfulfilled needs?
Once you have done this exercise for a few weeks, you might start to see a pattern emerge. If you realize you are carrying the same emotions over and over again, such as “I am not worthy,” “I am not important,” or “it’s unfair,” you might want t to seek professional help to work through these old feelings showing up over and over again.