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Clivecare ‒ Keep Your Thoughts Close ‒ But Actions Closer

Written by: Clive Rooney, Executive Contributor

Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.

 

Over the next few months, I will be delighted to share with you some common presenting mental health issues that typically befall us all by virtue of the fact our brains have been designed for us, not by us through evolution and how our earliest experiences have shaped our day to day struggles in relationships, work, life, and functioning. I will provide a typical case vignette that will depict how an amalgam of childhood experiences, early learning, internalization processes, and current unhealthy perceptual appraisals of normal psychological and neural brain mechanisms serve to perpetuate interpersonal, relational, and emotional distress. I will use a pseudonym to protect the confidentiality of the clients, the principal emphasis will be placed on the commonality of human experiences, normalizing the 'abnormal' and learning, to help us all understand, grow and develop self-compassion for ourselves and those that matter for us. So now let us begin with a short vignette and the CliveCare feedback and response.

November Care time Problem:


Peter is 45 years old and works as a mechanical engineer. he has two small daughters and a wife of 15 years. Peter has no history of mental health problems and was very encouraged to find out more about the particular worry that had been perturbing him for the last year. Peter's wife, Vicky, worked as a sales representative for a multinational company. As part of Vicky's work schedule, she gets to travel to various countries. On one such occasion, Vicky was on a work assignment in Saudi Arabia. Peter had described in sessions that he had spent a lot of time by himself when his children were in school during the day pursuing his own interests and recreational pursuits. In a session, Peter had informed me of a burgeoning, and to him, unsettling emotional feeling that he had been experiencing since Vicky had left. Peter had disclosed that he was having 'unusual' urges, and fantasies, both sexual and deviant impulses to 'hook up' with other women whom he had observed n the local bar which he had been frequenting a lot with Vicky for dinner and casual socializing. Peter had described himself as a stoical and religious man, a man who had good values and ethical principles which had led him to pursue interests and goals congruent with his value system in life. Peter had difficulties, and subsequent physical and emotional stress with reconciling what he coined ' abnormal, deviant desires' with his core value principle and ethics about being a good, faithful, and nurturing husband and caring devoted father. Peter would spend hours every day ruminating on why such 'blasphemous' desires and thoughts were occupying and residing in his mental real estate. Such rumination led to social withdrawal, resulting in avoidance of previously enjoyed activities and interaction with friends whom he felt 'bad ' about and 'unworthy' of being in their company as he perceives them as sharing the same value-based goals and principles as himself. " I don't like myself anymore". " Why am I like this", and " How could I betray Vicki like this" were typical chants from Peter as he having considerable difficulty not just in understanding himself and his thought processes but also in the concomitant resulting social emotions of embarrassment, shame, and despondency.


Clivecare Feedback and Therapeutic Response


1. Normalizing the Abnormal:


Peter was engaged in a common human tendency called Emotional Perfectionism outlined by Leahy (2015). This is a rigid self-representation of always being good, pure, and nice and striving for decency, morality, and thinking and acting in a 'proper' way. Unfortunately, striving for such a univalent ideal would be akin to expecting yourself to turn base metal into gold! Every one of us by virtue of the fact that we are part of the human race and exist has contradictory or ambivalent thoughts and feelings. Evolution has bestowed onto us a genetic code, a brain that contains millions of electo events passing through our neural pathways. Our minds have their own neural activity that is very noisy, chaotic, and imperfect. Due to this imperfection, our brains can shift us in a moment from nice, pleasant thoughts or images to distasteful, perturbing, and often bizarre thoughts or images that pass like an immediate electro current in the blink of an eye. This neural automatic process will also produce in all a panoply of momentary urges, desires, resentments, and impulses for retaliation, discomfort and disappointment that none of us are alive are so good that we will not experience even in close intimate relationships. In therapy, we replaced this misguided and unattainable Emotional Perfectionism with the more realistic and authentic emotional flexibility in mindfully tolerating these brief, moment-by-moment internal events without judgment or self-devaluation. If you are alive, this is the given, allow yourself to 'be' with them as part of you.


2. Owning your emotions


In therapy, through Mindful Observation of these natural inner events as what Plato described as 'The Fluttering of the Soul" I assisted Peter in owing and using these temporary, passing givens of human nature and putting them into the perspective of his whole life and his valued based self-direction. Several value-based exercises where we focused more on what was really important, meaningful, and worthwhile allowed Peter to build a life that was big enough to take in these temporary human flutterings and choose to respond with greater flexibility with the notion that he cannot be defined by moments that come and go but by choosing to pursue a complete life that can expand on them with enough experiences based on his values in life.


3. Thought-Action Fusion


Another human psychological process that Leahy (2015) describes is Thought-Action Fusion. This is a tendency for us to fuse our inner psychological events with our behavior and the fear that we will automatically act on these neural-driven events. One of Peter's fears was that he was going to 'inevitably' one of the days 'act' on his sexual impulses and have an extramarital encounter. Therapy focused on separating once again the phenomenon of thoughts of such infidelity which is beyond the scope of human control to choosing NOT to act on this thought given that we all can control our behavior and our actions. When such urges, images or thoughts come into Peter's mind we used metacognitive mindful detachment to see this normal phenomenon as passing pebbles that were skimmed along the lake until eventually dropping. This created a psychological mind space to gently focus his attention on receiving and welcoming other emotional experiences from rewarding activities. This process allowed Peter to function more effectively in parallel with this ' mental/neural noise' and use acceptance of the human condition as his motivation, and not to be caught up or entangled in his thoughts and urges. Once again Peter was guided to see himself as part of the human universe which is complex, contradictory, and capable of experiencing everything.


4. Value-added choice


Therapy allowed Peter to see his urges and sexual fantasies of other women to enrich and improve his closeness and marital bond with Vicki. The process of differentiating and separating the urge/thought/impulse from choosing not to act on it underscored for Peter his value system of exercising self-control and self-discipline in the service of resisting the passing temporary neural induced moments that is part of living a healthy richer and complete life. When we consider morality and living according to your values in life, then we must consider that having the urge, impulse, fantasy, or sensation is NOT an immoral act, as what Peter was guided to consider, but that a conscious moral choice to not engage or act on the temptation represents the moral character, and it is this which all of us have a choice over. In Peter's case, these 'tests' can be welcomed, embraced, tolerated, and even appreciated instead of employing problematic experiential avoidance strategies that lead to greater suffering. When we accept the existence and ubiquity of such temptations, then we can willingly pursue in life what really matters to us.


Spend some time this month to care for yourself.


Feel free to visit my website for more info!


 

Clive Rooney, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Clive Rooney is a leading mental health psychotherapist, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy practitioner, and owner of CliveCare. Clive's philosophy of positive mental health maintenance has been influenced by his time spent with courageous and inspiring people who overcame mental health suffering. From his earliest beginnings, he was driven by an insatiable desire to remove the obstacles that prevent sufferers from achieving inner contentment and peace in their minds and hearts. Currently working for the Health Service Executive In Rep of Ireland and owner of CliveCare Psychotherapy mental health services, Clive is a member of the IACP ( Irish Association of Counselling & Psychotherapy) ‒ Build a Compassionate Mind.

 

Reference:

  • Leahy, R, L. (2015) Emotional Schema Therapy. The Guilford Press.

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