Friday, April 26, 2013

ABCD and Dirty Coffee Filters

ABCD and Dirty Coffee Filters 
Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC

"Someone at work made a comment and before I knew it I was convinced that everyone at the office hated me. I felt so bad that I cried all night." "I don't know what happened. I was feeling OK and then all of a sudden I felt depressed and worthless. I ended up eating all evening."
Sound familiar? My clients tell stories like this all the time. I usually ask them to examine the event and look at what thoughts flashed through their head immediately before the feeling. Even if we are not consciously aware of it, the way that we think about things that happen to us effect the way we feel about ourselves. Often these thoughts are full of distortions and old messages. I recommend a book FEELING GOOD by David Burns which helps to recognize and change our distorted thinking. But I think we have to look even deeper and change the core-beliefs we have about ourselves. I often tell a story that actually happened to me many years ago: I was waiting for an elevator. When the elevator doors opened, a male co-worker stepped out, looked at me, gasped, made a weird face at me and hurried off without saying hello. If this happened to you, how would you react? Most people say they would think, "I must have done something wrong to make him mad at me." "He must think I'm fat." or "He doesn't like me." Consequently they would feel self-doubt, bad about themselves, self-conscious and very self-critical. This would effect what they do the rest of the day. These negative feelings about themselves would make them withdraw or isolate themselves, and lead to binge eating or self-loathing.
After I tell my story, (I'll tell you how it really turned out later), I write ABCD on a piece of paper. A stands for Action: what happened, the actual events: in this case, the man making a face and hurrying off. (These events may or may not be under our control.) C is for Consequence: what we think about what happens and how we feel: "He's mad" and feeling bad. D is for what we Do: how the consequences shape our future behavior: isolating and withdrawal.
I purposely skipped B because our brains process things so fast, we go from Action to Consequence so quickly that we usually are not aware of B. B is our Belief System, what we say about ourselves deep in our core, what our identity is based upon. Many times if we go inside, we will find a small voice that truly believes "There's something inherently wrong with me." "I'm really not good enough." or "I am not likeable or lovable." Most clients would never say things like this about another person, yet regularly think this way about themselves.
Why do we think these things about ourselves? Our belief system is like a coffee filter. When things happen, events trickle through our belief system and the consequence is what comes out, effecting what we do. Our belief system (coffee filter) is full of old messages we received about ourselves when we were children. These messages come from many sources: our culture, society, religion, family, friends, teachers, relatives, etc. These messages may have been very subtle, i.e. a teacher who only chooses boys for the answers in math may be giving a young girl the message that "Girls can't succeed in math." Or only seeing skinny women on TV gives the message that "Women must be skinny to be loved. I'll never get married if I gain weight." If a parent was always angry or depressed, some children "hear" messages that say "You aren't good enough to make me happy." For some, the messages received from their dysfunctional families were very direct: "You'll never amount to anything." Repeated over and over again, children internalize these messages without question to form their belief system.
When we have a lot of negative self-beliefs it is like a very dirty coffee filter. If you never changed your coffee filter, the coffee would taste awful. Since we haven't changed our belief system in a long long time, the thoughts and feelings we have about ourselves make us feel awful. In order to feel better about ourselves we need to "clean our coffee filter": change our core belief to healthy self-enhancing ones.
In order to this, we usually need to work with a therapist who is trained in this process. If we try to do this alone, our critical parts may take over and agree with the part that is saying "I'm worthless", thus reinforcing and perpetuating these negative self-beliefs. Often we need someone who can help us mediate between the critic and the "worthless" part so that the two don't become even more extreme in their negative beliefs. We need to turn the critic into an ally, like a friendly coach or manager who will work with us instead of against us. We can ask the coach/manager to positively motivate us so we can accomplish what we really want out of life. Then, with empathy and nurturance we can help the "worthless" part to let go of the burden of worthlessness. (Babies are NOT born hating themselves! And neither were you.) Without the burden of worthlessness, this part can become what it was meant to be: free, playful, allowing us to have fun and see life as enjoyable again.

No comments:

Post a Comment