The process of mental health is a lifelong one. I align it with the concept of Alchemy. It requires the continuous study of myself. Part of this work is reevaluating what I have come to identify as myself versus what is unhealthy conditioning that I’ve engrained to survive. By doing so I can “burn away” what is not needed and transmute the energy used for more positive aspects of my life. That exploration is daunting and can be overwhelming especially when undertaken alone. Realizing that a behavior isn’t working for you and not immediately being able to define it’s source is usually something we put in the ‘Just get over it’ bin. A bin society has conveniently conditioned us to believe it actually exists and functions. It is difficult to push past that kind of conditioning, let alone your own personal behavioral conditioning. So the fact that you are reading this means you have the seed in you for change and I hope I can catalyst that in some way.
For me, therapy is an integral part of my life but I didn’t always have an advocate. I grew up a patriarchal Azorean family as a female, middle child, artist. We constantly moved around and as a result I never felt grounded. However it did blossom a desire for change in me which I attribute part my drive for self-improvement to. I felt very confused and disappointed for years knowing I had no one that could guide me in living the kind of life that was authentic to me. I resented my family for a long time for not nurturing my needs even though I had no idea what they actually were yet. I spent years tearing myself in half between trying to fit in with their traditional mindset and lifestyle and the isolating feeling of being an artist with absolutely no validation or guidance in seeking out my own version of personal success. It left me broken-hearted and split down the middle mentally.
Along the way though there were scraps of wisdom and reflections of potential I gathered strength from. It wasn’t until 2008 that I actually decided on my own after having various shitty experiences with therapists to start going again and approach it with the same focus I gave to the hours of introspection I did on my own. In between then and now have been gaps but in the past year, I realized that retraining my mind is not just a priority but an absolute necessity for the path I choose to walk in life.
A few weeks ago my therapist brought up the concept of cognitive distortions. A term I was familiar with but not exactly something that had been brought to my attention as a point of focus. I always thought self-help books were lame (something I think is now worth challenging) so it’s really only been in the past year or two that I’ve opened up my mind to any guidance their materials could provide. She handed me a slip of paper with a list of some cognitive distortions and had me examine it. It immediately resonated with me and I took a picture on my cell phone that I keep with me. I find it helps when I feel chaotic to ground and empower the way I manage my self-care and situations that challenge my mental health.
My understanding of cognitive distortions is that we’ve been conditioned to react in destructive way to ourselves and others that doesn’t align with the actuality of a given situation, often creating conflict within it for both ourselves and others. This has a damaging effect because we are filtering our experiences through our past traumas and that inhibits us from allowing things to occur in a healthy and organic way. This can be followed with guilt and confusion that is a dangerous downward spiral to more severe depression or anxiety. I wanted to share a similar chart that I found on Austin Peay State University’s website. It details not only the patterns of cognitive distortion but also different approaches to untwisting these behaviors. I hope it is able to help you.
I truly believe that any revolution begins with a clear and healthy mind and I plan of writing more on this topic. If you have something you would like me to specifically write about and I can explore intelligently, I would love to hear your idea. Leave a comment below.
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional. All my opinions are my own and any links shared are the intellectual property of their respective authors.