Therapy was a weird experience for me. Not that people don’t have a weird experience with therapy. Mine was for a very short time due to which the therapist kept repeating that ‘ we might not be able to dig deep into the problem’. I wasn’t able to properly comprehend in the beginning as to what this ‘digging deeper’ constituted. Was there going to be a revelation of some ‘unconscious’, ‘repressed’, ‘sexual’ source of utter incapability of submitting assignments on time? Or some ‘oedipal’ attraction towards my professor because of which I had to push myself out of bed to attend their lectures? Or the disclosure of some unfulfilled urges during my oral stage of development which would explain my love-hate with cigarettes? (Wait, the last one actually might be true). Anyway, due to logistical reasons, Goal oriented, short-term Cognitive Behaviour Therapy was considered as the best option.
The process of therapy before personally experiencing it was kind of a mystery to me. It was all the more ironic because, I have been formally studying some kind of psychology since the eleventh grade and have, in more than one occasions, vehemently defended the importance and the effectiveness of psychological counseling and therapy. The idea seemed a little absurd that simply ‘talking’, which I seem to do every day and quite a lot of it, would help me with the utter despair I feel when I see two weeks’ worth of mess in my room or when I realise that people of mere 18 years of age with formal education are capable of making anonymous rape threats to your dear friend. However, it is kind of that. Only that you keep track of what you talk about and what you do with what you say.
“While REBT theory stresses the role played by cognitive factors in human functioning, cognition, emotion, and behavior are not viewed as separate psychological processes but rather as highly interdependent and interactive processes. Thus, the statement “Cognition leads to emotion” tends to accentuate a false picture of psychological separatism. In the famous “ABCs” of REBT, A has traditionally stood for an “activating” event (i.e., the aspect of the situation that activates the person’s beliefs); B for the beliefs the person holds about this aspect; and C for the emotional, behavioral, and cognitive consequences that stem from B (Ellis, 1985a, 1994). Yet the adherence to a particular set of beliefs tends to influence the inferences humans make and the environments they seek out. While beliefs do affect our emotion and behavior, the way we feel and act has a profound reciprocal effect on our beliefs. Our emotional and behavioral reactions can help to create environments and skew our perceptions of these environments, which in turn constrain our emotional and behavioral repertoires (as in the self-fulfilling prophecy effect). Thus, REBT theory sees the person as having overlapping intrapsychic processes, in constant interaction with his or her social and material environment. Having said that, we emphasize that the relation between A and C is almost always mediated by B, be it conscious and/or unconscious information processing/computation;” (from the Handbook of Cognitive Behavioural Therapies, edited by Keith Dobson)
Activating Event 1: ‘Miss GujjuCatLover was being clingy towards the end. For the last one month, every once in a few days, she’ll message me saying that we are no longer as close as we were a few months ago and always indicate that she thinks she is at fault of this and that I should tell her if she has made any mistake.’
Beliefs and First thoughts for the event: Miss GujjuCatLover was making me feel answerable for situations that I didn’t feel comfortable in. I acknowledge that we were more distant than what we used to be a few months ago, but that, on my part was because of other overbearing commitments, which I knew she had too. On top of that, she and I are different when it comes to socializing. She is, at a very fundamental level, an introvert. I am, at a very fundamental level, not. So, I did have some other people with whom I had started interacting towards the end and with whom I would like spending time. I never dismissed Miss GujjuCatLover from my life and gave her as much time as I could, but at that point of time I was not capable enough to allay her emotional woes regarding our friendship.
Consequent Feeling: I felt like a bitch. I felt like I was emotionally abusing Miss GujjuCatLover. There were times when I genuinely did not feel enthusiastic enough to spend time with her. Those moments made me feel immensely guilty.
Rethinking the event: This whole situation (and the time and the place where it has happened) was a mess. Miss GujjuCatLover needed emotional help; and unfortunately I was utterly incapable of providing that to her during that time. I had my own short term coping mechanisms, which were absolutely toxic, but somehow employing those mechanisms helped me survive for that time. Maybe she had those too and the being clingy was a part of those mechanisms which somehow made her survive (because she did survive).
Consequent feelings from rethinking: I still feel conflicted about the whole episode. Mainly because right now I feel at peace for not confronting Miss GujjuCatLover at that point of time. Even though we did spend significant amount of time together before the last few months, I still wasn’t that emotionally close to her to open up to her completely. And emotionally opening up to her then could have been a disaster.
Activating Event 2: ‘Miss DeviantOutspoken has been dismissive of my inputs for quite some time now on the whatsapp group for The Club. Most questions that I ask her about the events and suggestions given by her are just swept off and further suggestions are not enthusiastically discussed. The time difference between where she is and where I am is also leading to a lot of discussions happening at times when I am unable to participate.’
Beliefs and First Thoughts for the event: Now that I no longer have physical proximity to The Club and Miss DeviantOutspoken, I have much less control as to what is going on. The time difference is definitely not helping the situation. She wants to take up as much control as she can since the events are her ideas.
Consequent Feelings: Hurt. Miss DeviantOutspoken is simply making me feel stupid by being dismissive. I feel left out of The Club, something which is an integral part of me right now.
Rethinking about the event: Miss DeviantOutspoken is in many ways right now the best person to handle the activities of the club because of her location and the contacts she has made. I am also in a disadvantage, location wise. However, if I am feeling left out I should be expressing that to The Club members without hesitation. Put it out there. And I should not be discouraged with the dismissal that I think she is giving my questions and suggestions. Keep them flowing. At the same time, try to take up more work for The Club. The reason why she might not be reacting to me so positively is because she is sensing that I might not be as involved as before I left. Communication is important.
Consequent feelings due to rethinking the situation: Acceptance of my own views and ideologies in a particular event. Dismissal by another person should not alter my own thoughts of a situation, if I know that they are important. Taking up more work and proper communication also goes a long way in increasing your sense of belonging to the group.
Activating Event 3: ‘Mr. GoodGuyATown accompanied me to the public washroom which had a long queue. The conversation was filled with awkward silences. I insisted that he could go back to sit with the group since he did his business in the bushes, like the other North Americans in the queue, but he didn’t leave.’
Beliefs and First Thoughts for the event: He refused to leave merely as a formality. The awkward silences are, of course, my doing, because scintillating conversation with a stranger has never been my forte.
Consequent feelings: Irritated with myself and with Mr. GoodGuyATown for not leaving. Confusion regarding how to rectify the situation and how to not let the conversation die down completely for the next 40 minutes.
Rethinking about the event: Even if he were giving me company as a formality, that does not change the fact that there was a flow of conversation. If a conversation is a two way street, in which all the participants are responsible, so are the silences which are a part of it. Yes, I know the hypocrites who post memes about being socially awkward to look ‘cool’ and turn out to be completely alright with interacting with all kinds of people but GGATown might have been genuinely feeling awkward with me. Share the responsibility with him. There was nothing to be ‘rectified’ about the silences.
Consequent feelings from rethinking the event: There is more clarity regarding the experience of conversations. There is also a lessening of self-loath which arises due to situations where in I tend to take up unnecessary responsibility. The need to be a ‘better’ version of myself when I like someone will always happen. However, I should try as much as I can, to keep that ‘better’ version as true to myself. I am not doing myself any favor by making needless assumptions about another person and altering myself to that.
Therapy is not THE solution. The main reason being your capability of choice. Just like you chose to look at a situation in a particular way, you chose to go to therapy and you chose to adopt what comes out of it. I don’t feel much different as a person from before going to therapy. My perspective in any situation largely remains the same as before. But for me choosing the methods of therapy is slowly making me go one step further than my usual perspective and try to see a situation differently. Most of the times the step further happens in retrospect, especially when I write about any particular event that has happened. My feelings regarding those events are different than previously and also different from those events for which I have not been able to take a different perspective. None of this actually changes what happened at that moment, but the memory of it feels different, and that has to count for something, doesn’t it?
Written by Anaan, Art by Shaunak Phadnis
Anaan is currently pursuing her master’s degree in cognitive science and is glad to discover every day that she is becoming more and more okay with who she is. She has recently learnt how to cook a proper meal from scratch which has significantly eased her fears of dying of hunger.