I know that by this time I should be pretty good at catching, stopping, and becoming rational when ANTs come. But, even though I try to become rational and calm, the ANTs find a way to come back even stronger even though I prove them wrong and tell my brain they are wrong. It’s like when I try to become rational after something triggered my anxiety, it just decides to stay and not go away no matter how hard I try. Not sure what to do.
First, well done to make it to Session 22. You’ve almost completed the series for your first time, and that is something extremely awesome. I think a daily habit of doing anything is hard to do, even one like this which helps, which I find calming and helpful daily, which is a good choice for your present and future. But still, doing anything daily is tough - good or bad for us - it’s tough. And you will know yourself how consistently you’ve been doing the therapy and doing your best to apply it. We do need to apply it, as best we can.
Secondly, I think you can allow yourself to at least think that you do not need to say “should” about your progress. Okay, I agree with you that the whole point of this is to move towards overcoming social anxiety. You would not be here if you did not want an outcome, a change. Yes. But, I bet you rationally have done a lot to change yourself and your thinking in better ways since starting. I bet you are now able to continue on in the right direction. I bet there are good things that have changed within you, and we still will tend to focus on our feelings of what is “not good”. Should is a pressure word. It’s very hard, and very subtle to let go, but I suggest you stay away from “shoulds”, as much as you can.
I don’t know how extreme your anxiety was when you first started. It could have been more extreme than some, less extreme than others. Nonetheless, you are here now. It would be more logical to expect that you are getting out of the therapy what you put into it, and that if one is to start from a, perhaps, more extreme point, then there is still much more progress to be made ahead with the same review and repetition.
For example, in our last international group, we had people of all ages. The ages don’t matter so much for my point here, but let’s say that in general the longer one might suffer with social anxiety, and thus we’ll assume they older they might be, the more time they have had to develop socially anxious habits and more depression which all, in turn, feed into more self-rejection. The younger the person might be, just in general, or a person from a supportive household vs a negative living situation - that person may not have developed some deeper self-rejection issues related to a life of social anxiety. Both people are suffering from social anxiety and both feel the pain of this anxiety, but in one case, in my example, one of these is dealing with more aspects of what social anxiety can do to someone. For the one person, it may take longer. For the other, it may be faster to see more progress and to learn these habits. But, still, for BOTH people, the progress is made possible by that consistent repetition of daily therapy.
Maybe by this time you have become a lot better than when you started. Maybe you are not where you hope to be, and that’s okay. This is the process of therapy - it takes each person a different amount of time and depends highly on so many different factors and on the basics of the daily habit and application of the therapy.
Session 25 does not mark the finish line for anyone I know here. Unfortunately, I worry that most don’t even do the daily habit and therefore most don’t even reach the end. And the concepts in the end are just as important and take more time to sink in even. I wonder if people are never reaching the end of the series, …how much they are missing. Some of the strongest bits from the therapy for me, the parts that help me most, those are the principles in the last 4 sessions - exactly where you are now. But also those principles and feelings from them took the longest to sink into my belief system.
What everyone I’ve met ought to do when reaching the end of the series is to start it again. I mean that in the best way possible. It is not a prison sentence. When we repeat the series, we see things we didn’t see the first time, hear things we didn’t hear the first time, feel and believe things we didn’t the first time. This, again, makes sense according to how our brains work, and thus how we go about changing our brains. And when you go back through the series, always slow down, don’t pressure yourself, don’t expect that you should be at some level which you aren’t. I don’t know who is making such rules - no one. This is you and your place and your therapy. For me, dedicated to the therapy and the groups here, roughly speaking, I focused on this for 2 years. And you may think - that doesn’t sound good. I think it was very good. Therapy changes, life changes, and my life got better. It wasn’t the same each time. When you review the therapy, you are now customizing it to your life and what you need. Now you have more of a perspective on it, but you still need to repeat and review it.
I don’t do a daily habit of therapy anymore like I used to - with book in hand, reading my notes in Slow Talk. I don’t do that daily now, but what I DO do every day is have a rational talk with myself, in Slow Talk, every day - sometimes in the morning, sometimes in the car, sometimes when I’m feeling overwhelmed. And when I do this, it touches upon all the therapy from the series. And this idea of having a rational self talk doesn’t come into the therapy until Session 21. Session 21. And that is the biggest thing I do in my life now which really and truly helps me. And the ideas of self-acceptance are also hugely important in my life and keeping me mentally healthy, especially during times of higher stress and some confusion about the future. And although self-acceptance is stressed throughout the whole series in indirect and sometimes direct ways, it really isn’t until Session 23 that we talk more on that subject. “Acceptance is an Active Experience”.
Those two “concepts” if you will call them that, are the biggest things that help me stay rational. But they were also made possible only by doing all the therapy before that, to lead up to it, to make that possible. I don’t know when things started to work better for me, it isn’t linear, it’s more like a spiral, going up and progressing, but not just straight up and up. Ideas need time to circle around and then to come together finally to work when you least expect, because you are doing the therapy.
And so I hope you find some sense of achievement for what you are doing and have done. And I hope you see that continuing on is what most/all of us have to do. I hope you don’t keep pressuring yourself that you should be perfect even by the end of this series. One good thing here is that instead of pressuring yourself about this, you’ve identified what you can now work on. There is no “trying to be rational and calm”, but rather when you go through next time, just tell yourself you have the right to be rational and calm. You have the right to be stressed, but also you can choose to also have the right just to allow rationality and calmness to happen. And you can focus on calming down, slowing down more often. And you’ve identified that you have now been able to identify ANTs. Some people can never admit that an ANT is an ANT, and yet you have. That is progress. Now you still allow yourself to apply stopping techniques and then neutral and then rational and then turning towards a better place.
But do make sure you are DOING the therapy while you are doing it. It’s an active process of calming down first. Using Slow Talk out loud - OUT LOUD in your own voice speaking to yourself. These things make a difference. And do take the initiative with the one-step at a time process of behavioral activities. DO tell your mind out loud “STOP. I do not want to listen to lying ANTs. Instead I choose to listen to my rational thoughts. I choose to keep open the possibility that maybe…” You know the rest - it depends on what you’re facing. And you fill that in with your sentence. DO THAT. SAY THAT. And then keep doing that. None of us are above the fundamentals of therapy. We don’t get to a place where if we have an ANT there is a different way of dealing with it. It’s the same strategies. We do get to a place where we deal with this less and less, though - so don’t worry that this struggle will be forever. It won’t - as long as you continue.
I admire your efforts - sticking with the therapy. I admire you making so much progress when you are doing this on your own - I am assuming you have no group there, perhaps no support. And yet, you’ve made it this far and will keep going.
Mateo, thank you for that response. While I read your response I found out things that were right in front of me, like the ANTs, that I completely missed because little did I realize that I shouldn’t worry about when I finish the therapy to be cured. But , rather to just accept myself and take it easy next time while applying the methods and strategies. Perhaps I might not be cured of social anxiety when I get done with the therapy, but like you said, I can repeat it and start all over and see if I missed any important details and apply them next time. Well, I know for sure that I have made progress and I am very happy about that. So, thank you so very much for explaining that to me that I should keep going and not give in to ANTs. I hope you have a really good week. Thank You again Mateo.
What you have said is a great example for all of us.
Again, we always have a choice. That choice might not be one we know how to make in the beginning. We might not have the mental muscles developed yet to be able to make choices. But we start the therapy, just following the steps, and even by doing that we are making a choice. And as we continue, our ability to choose becomes stronger. And still we will always have a choice then to allow social anxiety tendencies to persist or to encourage and use these strategies to make the choice to move away from anxiety, gradually and then permanently.
We can choose to see where we are, or we can choose to see where we are not. We can choose pressure, or we can choose to relax. We can choose to focus on what we have not yet been able to do without feeling anxiety, or we can choose to see all that we are able to now do with less anxiety because of our efforts.
We can even choose to get angry at the person telling you it’s a choice. Or we can choose to allow the possibility that it could be a choice, that it could be possible to become a choice for me, given time and persistence with the therapy.
An ANT starts - and we have a choice. We can choose to let it take hold and take over. We can also choose to say yet again - no thanks. We can choose not to fight it, we can choose not to pressure ourselves. Every time we make such rational choices, we are adding to the new way of thinking.
Look for yourself - take a random sampling of any of the many posts in this community. Naturally there is a desire to get better, to be “cured”. With so many posts you will read an element of pressure, of resistance, of false expectations, of worry and self-doubt, but especially like you described - that pressure to be somewhere we aren’t, at least not yet. And we know from “The Fighting Pardox” in Session 7 that none of these negative emotions will help us with overcoming social anxiety. All solutions are paradoxical. It’s a simple thing to say, and not so natural to do. We’re all human. We want results. And to get these results we are doing what doesn’t come naturally - slowing down instead of speeding up, being patient instead of expecting more, pushing less instead of pushing more. It’s a choice - one that we all can make, not always one that comes easily or naturally at first.
I’m happy to be the one here today to help you see the things right in front of you. It could have been another person helping you see those things in front of you. Often I need my younger sister to show me those things that are right in front of me. We all need that in life, and we all need that here in this community for sure.
Sometimes when I speak of this daily habit of therapy, I speak of it in a way which seems like just effort or “work”, but also I feel a benefit from that. And another group member has discussed how he makes the therapy habit fun for himself. Something to look forward to, not something that “has to be done”. Perhaps we will hear his comments on that, too. Because I realize that people my not want to hear that we all need to repeat the therapy. But in my mind now, with this shift in perspective, I do not feel this as a bad thing at all. It’s a good thing. And this group member has said this about his therapy habit, too. Perhaps if he reads this thread, or if anyone out there has ways they make this a habit they look forward to, if you need to change your attitude towards this habit, then please speak up and add to our discussion here.
Hi Mateo, your posts are helpful. I haven’t finished the second one in this thread but I read the first one and it felt like fresh air. I have a question about the therapy. You referred to not pushing in the post above but I’ve also read or heard at points in the therapy that we should try our best. At least I think I’ve read or heard that. I find the concept of trying my best all the time stressful although I do try to do that. Could you talk about the difference between trying your best versus pushing/pressuring yourself?
Thank you ~
Well, others may have opinions on this and please speak up if you do!
There is a natural amount of “pressure” for lack of a better word that comes when expecting and wanting an outcome. Here we want to get better. When we have unrealistic expectations, and thus don’t reach those expectations (no one could anyway, remind yourself), we get down. We pressure ourselves in that way.
This process of therapy takes time and patience, and yes we will lapse back and forth into our old habits and our new habits, gradually over time the new ones becoming stronger. But still the brain works that we have these competing neural pathways in the brain, as you know from the therapy. We’re building this new one, and the old one is still there for a while. We don’t want that old one. It’s one thing to just say, I don’t want it, but apply no anger or pressure. It’s another to say, I don’t want it, and I know it will take time and patience, and I’m doing the best I can do now, despite not always feeling great, and that’s all I can do.
It’s like being satisfied with what you have done and are doing even though it’s not where we would like to be yet. For most people, in any situation involving something like this, then yes… that pressure or other sort of negative emotion would come into play there. But here, especially with this CBT therapy we know that negative emotions will only turn us back to ANTs, so it’s subtle, but we just want to be aware to remind ourselves that I’m doing the therapy, and the victory and progress is in the doing. It won’t always be in the feeling of it, because that takes time. The feeling will come, but again, we won’t get to the feeling by demanding or pressuring it to be there. We get there by being okay with the doing, and I view the doing as the best we can do at any given time. We won’t always feel that, but we can remind ourselves of this.
I play soccer, and for most of my life it was a thing that I wanted to do, to compete at well, and there was a tremendous amount of pressure involved back when I was younger. Of course I had social anxiety then too and didn’t know what all that meant, so that was a part of my life for sure - you can’t enjoy much with social anxiety. But soccer was something I had done all my life, the few years I had before social anxiety took over, and all the years since, even now, after I’m no longer suffering from social anxiety disorder. I NEVER enjoyed playing soccer back then. NEVER. I imagine this is like most kids really who do some hobby or forced to do something. I wasn’t forced to play soccer. It was the sport I loved and the sport I dreamed of being good at. But there was a tremendous amount of worry and nervousness for me surrounding all of it, thinking I must be perfect and wanting to make no mistake, and really just pressure that, if we want to be honest - that pressure was coming from me. My coaches were generally supportive and positive. Yes it was competitive, but it wasn’t some dramatic film plot. They were just coaches. My teammates generally were playing for the fun of it. My parents would have assumed I was enjoying it. Why else would I be doing it if I didn’t enjoy it? They never expected anything out of it from me or demanded that I be the best. All this pressure coming from me alone, and fear and worry. All that to just… do my best? Well really I never even considered the question back then of just doing my best. My best would have been not good enough, I think. Never good enough. Pressure.
I had years away from soccer and then picked up the sport again in grad school, and I remember kind of being worried at first and thinking, wow, it’s been so long, and I’m not going to be good enough. But at that moment I decided, very focused deliberate decision - that I would just finally play to enjoy playing, and screw the rest of it. I mean, it’s not like I’m going pro now. It’s not like I ever was. It’s not like anyone on that field cares. I wanted to play because I liked the sport, and I deliberately told myself, who the hell cares. I took that attitude, and it was only then, in my mid thirties that I truly enjoyed playing this sport that I’ve played all my life. I guess you could say I remember enjoying it when I was 6, before anxiety took over, before certain events. Didn’t enjoy it again for another 30 years. But then I did. And something weird then happens - I’m not saying I’m a great soccer player, but with that switch of how I deliberately thought about why I wanted to play, not only did I really start enjoying this game again, I actually play better. I actually DO do my best. It’s not THE BEST or someone else’s best, it’s just my best. And I love every minute of it now. It’s one of the big things I look forward to each week is playing pick-up soccer with some friends. We just played tonight - currently every Thursdays. For some reason tonight was a really good stride for all of us. No pressure. Just play, just do your best.
I don’t know if this answers your question at all. Perhaps some people thrive under a certain kind of pressure, like amazingly talented high level athletes. Maybe they feed off that but I bet it’s because they also LOVE what they’re doing. It doesn’t become negative pressure. I just read some article that Serena Williams … well she said she never played tennis for the money. She’s always played it for the love of the game. She loves that game. Her greatness comes out of a place of positive emotion, and a whole lot of hard work, for sure. She isn’t going to get there without the work, but she loves it. Maybe it’s the love of the sport that is her “pressure”.
That could be a good kind of pressure, described above. I don’t tend to see good kind of pressure being applied to therapy and overcoming social anxiety. When we talk about pressure, it’s always kind of like the person is not happy with the progress, not happy with the outcome, not happy with the now as it is. Negative pressure. I would say, you’re doing the best you can right now with the tools that you have available (yourself and your brain). You might say, but that’s not the best! I’m not “there” yet. I would reply, no, you’re “here” and right here you’re doing the best that you can do here, with the body and mind you have here in the state that it is in right now.
I am doing the best that I can. I did the best that I could then, and that’s all I could do, and that’s all anyone can ask of me. The rest, I choose to let go.
Your post completely answers my question and is sooooo helpful. It’s something I’ve stressed about, doing my best and what that means in terms of how hard I should push myself. I come from a background of pushing myself way too hard past having any buffer of rationality and calmness. As a result, doing my best can feel intense for me, especially when I’m trying to be gentle with and take it easy on myself. Anyhoo, your post is awesome in a bunch of ways and I want to save it somewhere to remind myself when I need to. Thank you Mateo.