Thinking Traps Part 1

When we allow our thinking patterns to turn into a “vicious circle”, we often feel there is no escape, no matter how hard we try.  Traps are exactly that, thinking and behavior that are ingrained and seemingly impossible to shift. When we are in this cycle of thinking, it can define our life, our relationships and fuel depression.

Dr. Nicholas Jenner is a counselling psychologist in private practice working with individuals, couples, groups and companies with a speciality in CBT techniques. Apart from seeing clients face-to-face, Dr. Jenner also runs a thriving online therapy business bringing help to those who find taking therapy online as convenient and tailored for their needs. More Details HER

The “pleasing others ” trap

When we often fear being judged harshly or feel uncertain of ourselves or self-worth, we tend to be unable to express ourselves and move towards the beliefs and desires of other people. Others dictate what we do and we go out of our way to please people, do what they want and thinking what they think. The idea behind this is “If I do what they want, I will be loved, will be ok”. What tends to happen is that over a period of time, we get taken advantage of. The consequence is that we feel abused, angry, hurt and resentful. We use statements like ” I did everything for them and look what I get”. What we are really looking for is affection, respect and love and we get disappointment.The more we are taken for granted, our uncertainty about ourselves is consolidated. Our energy is taken up pleasing others and not developing our inner self. Our own needs are being ignored which often makes us needy and controlling. What we need to to challenge here is why we feel the need to please others in order to be liked. This is often found in early relationships and brought into adulthood. In later posts, I will look at ways of combatting this. To find out if this is you, ask yourself the following questions:

Do I fear not pleasing : Those close to me?, people I work with? anyone and everyone?

If I do not please them : They won’t like me? My life is not worth anything, I will be rejected, abandoned, hated or abused

For me pleasing people means what? Doing what they want, regardless of my feelings? Never getting cross or angry, whatever other people have done to me? Not saying what I really feel in case I am rejected? Feeling dependant on the goodwill of others in order to feel good about myself?

The “depressive” trap

When things in the past haven’t quite gone the way we wanted, we sometimes expect everything to go in the same way. After one or two setbacks, we lose confidence and this can grow inside us until we are convinced we are a failure. Thinking about ourselves in a depressed way can often bring on depression. Although depression can have a physical basis and need medication, research has shown that challenging depressed thinking can alter mood. This can be done by self-monitoring. This method calls for looking at the amount of times we use phrases like ” I can’t do that”, “I look awful so I can’t go out today”, “I am bound to do this badly” and where the depression hits during the day.. If we are prone to depressive thinking, some basic self monitoring of the day will help to identify the times we are most depressed. Rating your mood every hour ( 10 for most depressed, 5 mildly depressed 1 enjoying the moment, etc) This allows us to be aware of our mood and also to realise that there are times when we are less depressed. It is often easy to curl up in a ball and do nothing, thinking nothing will work. Also, if you find that depression is more acute at a specific time of the day, there could be a good reason for this and the hours that are less depressive can be targeted for activities. This is good to also introduce some structure into the day, which is essential for depression. If on the other hand, you feel at 10 most of the time, professional help should be sought.

The “I am better off alone” trap

Sometimes our depression leads us to think that contact with other people is too traumatic. Anxiety springs up when we believe they will find us boring, stupid or that they might reject us. The consequence is that we avoid contact with other people and often cancel social engagements, sometimes at short notice. It is not that we do not want to meet people but we have convinced ourself that it will go badly, so we have no choice. When we do meet others, we do not look at them properly due to our own internal beliefs, find it difficult to know what to say and actually appear distant and unfriendly. Consequently, people leave us alone or keep us at arms length. The result is that we do not have the opportunity to break the cycle by developing the skills and confidence needed. This can lead to hypersensitivity about how people will react to us and leave us exaggerating the chances of hurt and rejection. Consider these questions if you feel you might be in this trap :

How often do you do things alone? Shopping, holidays, walking, etc and why is this the case?

If there is the opportunity for contact with other people, how often do you avoid this?

Do you join clubs, associations, etc and if not, why not?

Do you make the effort to seek company of others or do you feel they must come to you?

Do you worry about making the first move, making eye contact, what you will say?

Do you fear rejection, criticism?

These traps seem very real to us and often we feel they are part of our personality and so cannot be changed. However, they are learned procedures from our past and can with help be unlearned.

2 Thoughts

  1. This use to be me! It has taken me some years to change these unhealthy behaviors and thoughts but like you said, it can be done! Thank you for this insightful post!

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