Week 5: Write a history of your emotion, part 3
Hopefully, you have been busy in the past week, exploring your thoughts during negative emotions, in order to discover your cognitive distortions and your core beliefs. Getting to read your own mind may have been one of the most subtle tasks on this part of your journey, and it may take some time to get it right.
If you need more support in this, get some useful tips and some more guiding worksheet materials in the BrainPerpetuum Homework Workbook Week 4.
Now you have come to the final part of gathering the key elements to write the history of your emotion.
Have in mind that today's element may be emotionally challenging - we will be dealing with some sensitive memories of your past experiences associated with your core beliefs.
Getting to know the roots of your distorted thinking about yourself, others, the world, and the future is important since some "voices of the past" may still be ongoing in your mind, fueling your negative beliefs. For example, your father's voice that only weak men show their feelings publicly. Or your peers telling you you don't belong to your peer group. Or an image of your mother always being afraid of everything and engaging in avoidance behaviors in order to cope with the fear, sending you a message that life is full of uncontrollable uncertainties.
If you feel that confronting the memories may be stressful for you at this time, we suggest that you skip the Part A of today's post, for now, practice the last week's tasks some more, and then go to the Part B of the post. This means that you will be writing the history map of your emotion with the elements that you already have, leaving space for the origins of your negative core beliefs to fill in later, when you are more ready to confront them.
If there are some very distressing negative memories from your past, contact your mental health provider since it's better to deal with them with one-on-one live support from a mental health professional.
If you are, on the other hand, enthusiastic to explore your past experiences and get to know how your core beliefs were shaped, continue to the Part A of this post.
The child is the father of the man
Growing up is a complex task. Your young brain is like a sponge, absorbing the stimuli around it, and then using them as instructions to wire itself in a unique way.
Right from birth and on, the young mind seeks to find comfort and to learn to interpret the surrounding world, throughout the "platforms" of the relationships with other people.
The first platform is the relationship with your parents or other primary caregivers. Then there are other family members, peers, teachers, or other significant figures of your childhood. Later, there are partners, friends, colleagues, and others. All of these relationships send your mind important messages to learn about yourself, yourself in the eyes of others, and yourself in the context of events - producing core beliefs.
Most of the core beliefs are formed in early life. The primary caregivers are the ones we rely on to fulfill our needs and protect us. Therefore, they are someone we trust unconditionally and look up to as role models. These first relationship experiences are setting the ground for how we will be seeing ourselves and ourselves in the eyes of others, in the future. No wonder that the messages we get in these relationships get so engraved in our minds. The child is the father of the man - as wisely said by William Wordsworth (1802).
Unfortunately, the messages and experiences in early relationships can sometimes be negative. And when they are frequently negative - they shape the core beliefs in a negative way.
And then the relationships with other people get into the picture and reinforce or modify these patterns of perceiving ourselves, and ourselves in the context of others. So even when you are an adult, specifically stressful experiences can also affect your deep beliefs about yourself, others, the world, the future.
Now, your history of relationships with other people and powerful events may be very rich. In order to get control over unhealthy emotions, you need to target the most relevant ones for shaping your negative beliefs and keeping them alive even today. You need to track down the memories of the voices and images coming from these relationships.
The memories of voices and images
Imagine a man who is anxious every time he needs to speak at business meetings. He gets to think that his hands will shake, that everyone will see that, that everyone will think he is utterly weird and weak because of that. Each time he thinks that, there's a memory of a voice in his head. His father's voice, telling him that showing emotions publicly is wrong, that it is a sign of weakness, leaving bad impressions on other people, giving him fewer opportunities in life. He does not question his father's voice, but rather takes it as the ultimate truth.
Since he can't control his hands shaking, he feels exposed and eventually - weak. He jumps to conclusions, reading the mind of other people, thinking they must be seeing him as a weird, weak man. He also foresees the future with the uncontrollable lack of opportunities. He believes he is HELPLESS.
But this man had not always been feeling or thinking like this. He actually remembers an event that triggered the memory of his father's voice to occur frequently. During college, he heard a colleague saying that another colleague is silly for blushing while speaking publicly. At that time, the man has already been self conscious about his hands shaking and suddenly started to think "my dad was right, people will think low of me, I will have no future". After this event, the memories of father's voice were there every time he had to speak in front of a group of people.
So, his negative core belief of helplessness has probably been shaped over the years by the messages from the early relationship figure (father), but still inactive and well hidden in his mind for a while. And then, this belief (along with the memory of father's voice) was "awakened" by the activating event that fitted it well and "confirmed" it's true. In fact, it continued to be activated by each relevant situation, producing the negative automatic thoughts, anxiety, and avoidance.
Now, think of the last situation and a negative emotion episode - when your automatic thoughts occurred, meaning that your core belief was activated (you may take a look at the Emotion Monitor from last week, to get reminded).
Do you suddenly remember a voice telling you something that confirms that belief?
Or an image?
Whose voice is it?
Who or what is in the image?
What does the voice or the image say exactly?
And then, think of the times when you were NOT thinking the negative thoughts you now have about yourself, the others, the world, the future.
Can you associate a specific event, or circumstances, with the first occurrence of such thoughts (activating event)?
Does this situation involve a person sending some messages to you (verbally, or by behavior), about yourself, and yourself in the context of others, the world, and the future?
Did some other situations, persons, and messages somehow confirm your negative beliefs?
To sum up, what are the REASONS for you to believe what you believe?
Use the above questions to explore that, and fill in the "Where Do My Beliefs Come From?" chart below.
So, we can see that negative dysfunctional thoughts and beliefs do not come from nowhere.
But why we do we tend to believe those voices and images in the first place?
There may have been a moment in the past when believing them had a context and a purpose.
For example, a man who is anxious about his hands shaking may have, when he was young, believed his father was right, trying to protect his child from failure. Children and adolescents tend to trust their parents' opinions unconditionally since parents are there to protect them.
As pioneer authors in CBT notice, there's a grain of truth if every dysfunctional belief. It's no wonder that you believe what you believe, when something that happened to you made you think that way. In other words, these conclusions made sense at some point. But they don't have a constructive function anymore - they are now unhelpful, triggering dysfunctional thoughts, unhealthy emotions, and dysfunctional behaviors.
This is why you should NOT feel bad (guilty, ashamed, etc.) for having a dysfunctional belief. There's no personal responsibility in creating these beliefs and there's always some reason why they had been activated.
However, you do have a responsibility in trying to catch and modify these beliefs, in order to live a functional, tasteful life. Always remember that you DESERVE A FUNCTIONAL LIFE, and that you should do your best to get there. It may take some time, and it may take different pathways for different people (self-help, one-on-one therapy, CBT or other types of psychotherapy), but as long as you are committed to getting there - you eventually will.
In some of the incoming posts, you will learn more about how to test the accuracy and the helpfulness of negative beliefs in the present, the future, and the past.
Until then, it is important that you master catching your thoughts and recognizing your cognitive distortions and beliefs, as well as the messages from the past that keep fueling your beliefs. This will help you get ready for a deeper change.
If you followed the plan, you may have gathered some very important elements to make a history map of your emotions. Congratulations on getting there! It is not easy to divide your mind into pieces, and then looking at the pieces under a microscope. It takes a lot of mental effort and persistence.
And now the fun part - connecting all the pieces together!
Making a history map of your negative emotion
Take a look at the emotion history maps below (one for each type of unhealthy emotion you may have), and fill in the green rectangles. In order to do that, you will need to get reminded of all the elements by browsing through your homework results from Weeks 3, 4, and 5 (Part A).
In case you couldn't do this week's Part A, that's completely ok.
Leave a blank space for this element and get back to it when you feel more ready.
After you fill in the map, write a history of your negative emotion as a narrative story, in your own words, taking into account all the elements of the map. Do it for each unhealthy negative emotion you have. This will help you understand more deeply how your unhealthy emotion developed, bringing you closer to changing it.
Negative automatic thoughts are a product of negative core beliefs that are shaped earlier in life and then get activated by an activating event that "confirms" the belief.
Most of the beliefs get formed early in life, but they can also be formed later, in some very stressful circumstances.
Relationships with others (especially the early relationships) are important. We perceive the messages (verbal, or as a model behavior) from others as important stimuli that may shape our beliefs. After the dysfunctional belief is activated, we may remember these voices and images from the past, each time something relevant happens.
Connecting all the important elements of emotion development into a united story may help us understand where we should go next, in order to make a positive change.
For your homework …
In the following week:
discover the origins of your negative beliefs, use Where Do My Beliefs Come From? chart (for those who decide to engage with the Part A of this post).
fill in the emotion history map for each of your unhealthy emotions, and then write a comprehensive history of your emotion as a narrative story, using your own words.
keep filling in the Emotion Monitor (with the additional cognitive distortion & core belief column) from Week 4.
remember to practice the breathing exercise for 5 minutes, 3 times per day or whenever you feel stressed.
do not forget the 9 rules to follow this blog in the most useful way.
Get more detailed tips, printable worksheets, and additional materials, to help you with your homework tasks.
Good luck at writing a history of your emotion!
NOTICE: Please note that this self-help blog program is for informational purposes, and cannot replace mental health treatment. Research has shown more potential in CBT self-help if using such a program is guided by a mental health professional throughout the process.
If you have been experiencing significant distress, mood challenges, behavioral dyscontrol, or similar mental health dysfunction, please contact your mental health service provider without delay. Mental health diagnosis and treatment can only be done after conducting a one-on-one clinical examination of the client by a mental health professional. The owners of this website and the writers of the content provided do not take any responsibility for the mental health outcomes of readers.