Continuing on with last week’s theme of “Topics of Concern to Clients,” we’d like to do a short review of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Assertiveness Training.
Originally developed as a treatment for depression and later for anxiety, CBT is a technique for achieving control over our emotions.
Most of us believe that our emotions drive our thoughts and behaviors. I’m angry so I yell; I’m sad so I cry; I’m anxious so I ruminate; I’m depressed so I’m immobile.
Eventually this evolves into I’m sad so I drink; I’m depressed so I drink; I’m angry so I drink; I’m anxious so I drink; I’m lonely so I drink and so on.
Somewhere along the line we also added I’m happy so I drink; I’m out with friends so I drink; I’m going out to dinner so I drink; we’re having sex so I drink; and a dozen other “I had to, what else could I have done” variations on why I seem to be drinking all the time.
I’m sure many of these, and several more in your own personal collection, will sound familiar.
But CBT defuses all of these and derails the progression from particular feelings to excessive alcohol consumption.
CBT notes that the idea that emotions drive thoughts and behaviors is utterly wrong. Indeed, it is our thoughts and behaviors which create our emotions!
Imagine that. Learn to manage what you do and how you think and the emotions that supposedly caused your drinking will no longer ignite a chain of events and circumstances that end up with you drunk yet again.
It is also interesting to note that this is not a new concept. At least as far back as 100 A.D. Epictetus noted that “What upsets people is not things themselves but their judgments about the things.
Roughly 1800 years later, Abraham Lincoln noted that, “Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” This from a man who, if anyone, had more than ample reason to be unhappy.
More recently Albert Ellis refined many of these concepts into a structured approach to learning to modify our thinking, our behaviors, and, hence, our emotions in ways that return control of our lives to us.
Not surprisingly, we spend a lot of time helping you to learn the skills necessary to change your erroneous thought habits, change negative habit patterns into positive ones, and escape being “driven to drink.”
And, no, it doesn’t take years of therapy. It takes a bit of foundation work, which is part of the 5 days program here, and another 6 weeks of guided practice which is incorporated in the follow-up we do with you.
It’s not magic, but, really, how hard is that?
Frequently our clients are medicating unbalanced personal relationships. As usual, it doesn’t much matter how this imbalance developed, but it frequently starts with a controlling spouse vs. a passive spouse.
This progresses over time, predictably, with the controller – who is just as apt to be a woman as a man, despite stereotypes to the contrary – becoming ever more aggressive in attempts to manage the drinker’s behavior. Of course the drinker retaliates by upping their consumption in a passive aggressive FU directed at the controller.
By the time we enter the picture the relationship has been reduced to a crossfire of passivity, aggression, and passive-aggression.
I doubt if any of you are surprised by how unhappy everyone involved is – and “everyone” frequently includes children, extended family, friends, and assorted others who take sides or otherwise contribute to the general chaos.
Welcome to dysfunction junction.
Notice that the one behavior no one is exhibiting is assertiveness?
That’s mostly because the passive person, when sober, is afraid to step-up to being assertive, and the aggressor usually equates moving from aggression to assertion as “wimping out.”
We address this mess by starting with the drinker. That’s not because the drinker is solely at fault, but, fairly or not, by abusing alcohol you have guaranteed that you are the one who’s going to need to go first.
With that established we can institute the CBT discussed above so that you can begin to overcome your passivity and inch up towards being assertive. It’s a slow progression because you have to establish, or re-establish, your position of equality with your spouse or significant other.
But the aggressor is not going to fall all over themselves to give you back your vote.
That’s why this all takes some time – roughly a year – to create a new “normal” within your relationship(s). Otherwise, pushing too hard and too fast simply results in the other one sabotaging your progress in order to maintain their power and “I’m not the problem” position.
Sound like a challenge? It is. But with careful pacing, and a degree of good will and good humor on both your parts, amazing changes, increased intimacy, reduced stress, and greatly enhanced self-esteem (well-earned I might add) are the result.
Yes, anxiety can be reduced, depression lifted (especially when you are no longer consuming massive amounts of a depressant), boredom and loneliness reduced if not banished, and the childishness of drinking alone replaced by the childlike positive regressions or enjoying each other in playful ways.
If that sounds better than what you’re now living, we suggest you think about learning to manage your life to your own satisfaction and, ultimately, to the increased happiness of those around you.