“Julie” had a lot of anxiety about most things. Relationships seemed to paralyze her. Her husband complained about the embarrassment of leaving parties before everyone else, or having to make excuses for declining business events that he wanted to attend. Sometimes Julie would even avoid contact with her own adult children if it involved meeting in a public place, like a coffee shop. Her behaviours at church were routinized so that incidental contacts were almost eliminated. Coming to church late and leaving a bit early allowed her to cope with her anxieties. She needed to sit on the aisle to lessen personal contact.
As she talked, I listened and doodled a simple psych formula: A + B = C, where A is the activating event (the “trigger”), B is the belief or beliefs (often unconscious) about that trigger, and C is the inevitable consequence or predictable outcome.
I made three columns for Julie on the whiteboard and listed the As (activators), the Bs (beliefs) and the Cs (consequences). The As were obvious: involvement with people where she might feel looked at or measured against others. Her beliefs (Bs) spilled out. “I am never good enough.” “I am too tall and boney looking.” “I am afraid of being seen as foolish when I talk.” The consequence was that she avoided people and shut down most relationships. She felt friendless and lonely, and saw her life getting ever worse.
Initially Julie was reluctant to talk about the Bs (her “beliefs” about life) – she “knew” that the problem was that she was an “introvert” in an extroverted world (see blog: Renewing Our Energies) and she really felt that she could not fit in her husband’s social and business milieu where “everyone is more competent than me.” As Julie examined her unexamined misbeliefs she discovered that “nothing but perfect is ever good enough,” that “failure is never an option,” and that “anything but exceptional is mediocre.” This was the harsh and compulsive environment of her growing-up years.
Examining prayerfully, thoroughly, and in scribbling her thoughts in the 3 columns, she adjusted her Bs – just a bit. Her inner urgencies softened. She became less abusive toward herself. Therapy was now testing her new self-evaluations. She saw how unimaginative and thoughtless she had been in incorporating outdated belief structures into her ever-emerging life. Her re-written beliefs were truer to life and more representative of who she was and who she wanted to become. And just bringing her beliefs into the daylight of conversation reduced their hurt and harm enormously.
Social events are hard for Julie still. She has to do hard thinking in most every encounter – not just run. Our goal was simple: reduce 70% of the curse caused by irrational beliefs and then see what happens. Life happens.