Its My Birthday and I’ll Cry If I Want To; An Intro to Cognitive Therapy

I guess I let the cat out of the bag, today is my birthday. My anxiety spikes as I type this. The thought that someone is going to read this and wish me a “Happy Birthday” makes my stomach knot. These are not typical feelings associated with birthdays and I am working on changing them, but change doesn’t happen over night.

When I was accepted into the graduate program to become a mental health counselor there were no owls or magic wands, wait who am I kidding there are always owls in my life, but I was not told to buy a book on potions or spells. Counselors do not have the ability to magically dissolve whatever ails you however we do have numerous ways in which we can teach you to make positive changes to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that reduce your distress. While you will start to see positive change during the counseling process if you have deep rooted weeds like me, it takes time and continued effort to get them under control. One of the theories that we often use to help people untangle these weeds is Aaron Beck’s Cognitive Therapy.

Cognitive Therapy believes that maladaptive thoughts are the root of distress and by working to modify these thoughts we can reduce the distress. When I try to explain my brain to others I often say that my wiring was wrong and that messages and emotions get twisted, as I am fixing the wiring it happens less often but from time to time I still get a scrambled signal. Cognitive Therapy helps to untangling these twisted wires. In this post we are just going to just skim the surface of how this theory works and look at the main wiring or schema which Aaron Beck defined as “the rule that governs information processing and behavior”. To uncover the schema we start at the surface by looking at automatic thoughts and then deep diver to discover the intermediate beliefs and then core beliefs that we hold that bubble up through those automatic thoughts. Lets look at mine today as an example…

Its my birthday and my distressing automatic thought is I do not deserve to be celebrated.

The intermediate beliefs might cite “rules” about what we except. My intermediate beliefs related to this automatic thought are:
A person worth celebrating has strong social connections with close friends which I lack. I have a few close acquittances and maybe one of two friends.
By 35 I should have a family of my own and an established career.

Which boiled down lead to my core beliefs. Core beliefs are more global and likely are the related to other intermediate beliefs and automatic thoughts as well. Here are mine:
I am unlovable.
I am a failure.

Altogether these build my schema (my faulty wiring).
I am worthless. No matter how hard I try I will always be less then what I should be and therefore am not worthy of praise. Anyone who praises me is doing it out of pity because no one would actually care about a failure like me.

You may have noticed that my thought process and beliefs are riddled with cognitive distortions which we will explore in my next post. In many areas of my life I have already been able to challenge and start to untangle these twisted wires but like I said, change takes time. I started by working on accepting gratitude and am working my way through praise and then someday I will reach a point where I am comfortable being celebrated. As for today I will be practicing mindfulness and challenging these distorted thoughts, but I may still cry not because I want to but because I am struggling to keep my wires from crossing.

If you struggle with depression, anxiety, or other mental health ailments know that you are not alone. These conditions can feel very isolating but do not need to be. My hope is that by being transparent with my story it helps others to feel less alone. There is no shame in seeking support!


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