The Ups and Downs of Self-Analysis: Behavioural Mastery, Part 3
Okay, I know. The past few posts might be less popular than usual. The comments have been kind of quiet.
The focus of the recent posts have been on “going deeper”, in finding the core beliefs and faulty conclusions that underlie our painful emotions and self-defeating behaviours. Future posts will continue these investigations. This is very different from the typical personal development material available, and many readers might avoid this series, for it involves too much soul-searching, or too much work.
This post is slightly different – it provides some background, supporting arguments and pitfalls for the current series. Please read on, for it might be the tipping point for you to make some serious changes in your life.
Why Go Deeper?
Serious change requires serious work. I feel I can’t compromise this series, even though there is a risk of losing subscribers and traffic. There has been an influx of new readers from Guy K’s blog (thanks Guy!), and articles of this sort might turn them off.
If this article doesn’t turn you to my point of view, please stick around anyway, as I will be mixing in guest posts and lighter posts to keep things lively.
It is normal that deeper personal growth turns many readers off. I understand perfectly, for I was like that for a long time. I simply refused to go deeper, and instead decided to stick with the superficial stuff. This kept me treading water, making some great changes, but I reached a point where I was completely stuck. For months nothing happened – but when I finally started this deeper work, everything began to fall into place. It was a domino effect – other self-defeating habits, addictions, and negative emotions fell away on their own.
In Feeling Good, David Burns splits his book into two broad sections. The first section deals with alleviating the symptoms of one’s psychological suffering – for example, lifting oneself out of depression. The second section deals with the root causes.
Burns warns that while it is a major milestone to be out of suffering, the causes of one’s unskilful behaviour and sadness are often still there. This has been true in my experience – unless the causes are dealt with, there is a high risk of relapse.
A minor example: Jessica silently believes that if someone she loves rejects her, it must mean she is unlovable. This core belief is subconscious, so she doesn’t know why she is crushed when Raymond breaks up with her. After a while, she begins to feel better about Raymond. Then she meets another man, but he is not interested in her romantically. Unless she has dealt with the core belief, she will be crushed yet again.
Burns further makes a distinction between feeling better and getting better. Feeling better simply means the suffering has temporarily disappeared. Getting better means:
- Understanding why you were upset.
- Knowing why and how you got better.
- Locating the deeper causes.
That was the focus of the previous post in this series: Finding and Challenging the Causes. It dealt with finding the faulty conclusions and core beliefs that were underneath our surface unhappiness and behaviours.
True recovery and real change, I believe, needs work on such deeper issues.
So why is there so much resistance to this kind of work? The first, of course, is that it seems like too much work.
There is no way around it. This stuff can be time-consuming. At the end of a long day, we would much rather kick back and enjoy some well-deserved rest instead of taking out pen and paper.
However, please keep a few things in mind:
- You are the one you have to be with for the rest of your life. Improving your happiness, changing self-defeating behaviours, and so on – the payoff for such work lasts for a lifetime, and results can be seen within weeks. Would you rather watch television instead?
- Work is often associated with “hard”, and with good reason. Not all readers will be very unhappy, or struggling with overwhelming compulsions, but if you are, it takes a lot of courage to change. Growth might seem like a desperate quest for survival – reaching for air while you are drowning. But trust me – after a while, this will be fun. Once you have “reached air”, continued growth is one of the most fun and rewarding activities you can do – in my experience, even more so than my usual rest and relaxation activities.
The second reason: the fears involved in self-analysis. Self-Defeating Behaviours mentions a particularly relevant one – when we analyse ourselves, there is an irrational fear that we will find something horrible.
There are too many examples of this. I used to have major anger issues – screaming and shouting, and doing whatever I could to verbally “get back” at someone who hurt me was my specialty. There was a strong aversion to sitting down and looking at this tendency – for I was afraid of what I might find. What if underneath everything, I was just a sad, angry, weak and pathetic little man? And because I refused to look at it, this tendency continued. Wasn’t this the most terrible cycle? It kept me in a vicious loop.
Another example might be someone who denies his sexuality. He might be afraid that if he acknowledges and examines his sexuality, he will be overcome by his appetites, and turn into a pervert. Another might be a doormat – exceedingly nice and sweet to others, afraid to assert herself. She might be afraid to find that deep down inside, she is actually a pushy, hateful, and self-centred person.
In my experience, without facing these fears, we cannot grow. Please take a moment to look into your own situation – what are you afraid of? What do you think you are avoiding by continuing to behave in ways that hurt you?
When you find these fears – and you will find they are numerous, if you are open to the process – you can use the techniques detailed in the series so far on them. The first is letting go of your fears; the second is challenging them with CBT. Upcoming posts will also detail inquiring into them, and owning them.
Blame and Hiding
There were some great comments at the end of the post on Finding and Challenging the Causes. They revolved around the common pitfalls of doing such work.
The first to look out for is blame and hiding. After self-analysis, one might simply feel satisfied and leave it at that, without then doing the work required. The fruits of self-understanding then become a reason to continue their destructive emotions and behaviours.
For instance, when I was depressed a few years ago, I thought there was something wrong with me. Why was I getting so upset over things that wouldn’t bother other people? One day I read The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine Aron. She provided a lot of information and research on being sensitive – and when I found out there was nothing wrong with me, that I wasn’t the only one, it was a tremendous weight off my shoulders. With understanding came courage, and the drive to end my depression.
However, I have recommended the book to a few of my friends, and some have begun to use this label as a hide-behind. “You can’t blame me for doing this and that,” they say. “I’m a highly sensitive person!” And so they use it as a means of escaping from their problems, of justifying their pain.
This tendency can apply to almost everything. “I am an alcoholic because this and that happened in my childhood” becomes an escape and a reason to continue drinking, rather than a starting point for healing and understanding.
While this blog has never delved into labels and professional diagnoses, there is still the possibility that readers begin labelling themselves based on what they’ve read elsewhere.
When you are looking at yourself, it is hard to be objective. This creates a tendency to exaggerate, or to begin seeing connections and core beliefs that are simply not there.
Medical and psychological students are often warned of medical student’s syndrome – sometimes known as “disease of the week”. Whatever disorder we happen to be studying, we start thinking we have!
(At this point, a practicality: if you truly feel you suffer from a mental disorder, please visit a mental health professional – in general, disorders cannot be fixed by reading up on the internet. There is no shame whatsoever in seeking help.)
Another disadvantage of labelling and misdiagnosis is the self-fulfilling prophecy. It is possible (although unlikely) to label a healthy person as depressed, and after a period of time, have them start behaving that way!
Further, labels are sticky. It becomes hard, both for the individual and those around them, to shake off the label even after they have recovered. And this leads them right back into the self-fulfilling prophecy. Professionals avoid labelling clients. They might prefer to say “an individual with depression”, rather than “a depressed person”, for example. It might feel like wordplay, but labelling can be an obstacle to recovery.
The last disadvantage of self-analysis is called the illusion of explanation. Think about it.
“Kate’s a pyromaniac.”
“She likes setting fires to things.”
Why does she do that?
“Isn’t it obvious? She’s a pyromaniac!”
Have any of these ever happened to you?
So there you have it, the ups and downs of deeper work. I hope this has convinced a few more readers to take on such self-exploration, and also highlighted some of the obstacles along the way. Please let me know what you think!