Feelings can be helpful or unhelpful. Helpful
feelings are meant to guide us like a compass. Unhelpful feelings overwhelm us and are often
fueled by “the stories we tell ourselves.” Here are six common stories we tell ourselves
that, like gasoline, ignite the embers of helpful feelings into bonfires of unhelpful
feelings that fuel depression, anxiety, and rage.
STORY #1: SELF-LOATHING, which is also called shame, is the belief that I’m inadequate,
unworthy, unlovable, or bad, which is a prime cause of depression. If I don’t like you,
I can avoid you, but if I don’t like me…well, as the great Bob Marley once said, “You can’t
run from yourself!” So, there’s nowhere to hide from the misery of self-loathing. I often
tell my clients that the most important relationship they’ll change in therapy is with themselves
because transforming self-loathing into self-love is essential for good mental health.
STORY #2: HOPELESSNESS is the second “story we tell ourselves” that fuels depression.
Believing that life is hopeless leads to loss of motivation, loss of interest in positive
activities, social isolation, and, ultimately, to clinical depression. Hopelessness is always
a distortion of reality because we humans have a remarkable ability to heal and grow.
Thus, the problem isn’t that my life is hopeless, but rather that I haven’t found the path to
recovery, which is where therapy can help. STORY #3: CATASTROPHIZING is when my thinking
gravitates toward disastrous outcomes. For example, if the doctor hasn’t called with
my lab results, it’s not because he hasn’t received them yet. Rather, I tell myself it’s
because I have cancer and he’s procrastinating telling me. Similarly, if my spouse is late
coming home from work, it’s not because she’s caught in traffic , but because she’s been
killed in an accident or run off with another man. Chronic catastrophizers live in a nightmarish
world where disaster exists at every turn, so they feel constantly unsafe, even when
they are safe, which is the essence of an anxiety disorder.
STORY #4: VICTIMIZATION is when my thinking persistently declares that others are intentionally
trying to hurt me. For example, if a bad driver cuts me off, it’s not because he’s a bad driver.
Rather, I tell myself that he was intentionally trying to harm me. Similarly, if my wife tells
me I hung the picture off center, it’s not because she’s trying to help me get it right,
but because she likes to criticize me to make me feel bad about myself. Chronic victimizers
live in an angry world where they constantly feel persecuted, which leaves them emotionally
isolated because they push everyone away with their habitual blaming.
STORY #5: FEELING OVER-RESPONSIBLE is when I tell myself that I’m responsible for the
problems and happiness of others as if I’m the only adult in the room. Thus I treat other
adults as children who need parenting. People who chronically feel over-responsible for
others put the world on their shoulders because they see fixing others as their full-time
job. This leads to depression, anxiety, resentment, and feeling stressed out because such persons
ignore than own self-care in lieu of caring for others due to mistaken beliefs about what
they can and can’t control and what they are and are not responsible for.
STORY #6: MUSTURBATION is a humorous word coined by the great psychotherapist Albert
Ellis to describe how we upset ourselves by insisting that things we cannot control MUST
be a certain way for us to be happy. According to Ellis, there are three main musturbating
stories we tell ourselves that cause most of our emotional upset: “I MUST be perfect.
People MUST act the way I want them to act. And life MUST go the way I want it to go.”
Demanding that things we can’t control be other than how they are is a sure-fire recipe
for unhappiness. Thus, good mental health requires the wisdom to accept what we cannot
control and the courage to change what we can control, which often means changing ourselves.
If you recognize any of these unhelpful stories, then you probably have uncovered a source
of your unhappiness. If you want to change the way you feel, you must change the stories
you tell yourself. In fact, all of these unhelpful stories are distortions of reality, so you
must work to see and accept things as they are, so you can focus your energies on what
you can control, such as the stories you tell yourself. If you would like help uncovering
and changing these unhelpful stories, then visit my website, serenityonlinetherapy.com,
to learn more about me and the online services I provide.
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video every other weekend. And finally, keep paying attention to your
life! Until next time!