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Caring for Caregivers, Part 4. A Guide to Rational Thinking

In the last three blogs, we discussed where irrational beliefs may have came so you would have some context as to why some caregivers end up having tremendous anxiety and the need to medicate the anxiety away or react to stress in an unhealthy manner. Now let's look at ways to deal with changing this belief system using a simple ABC method.


We have goals. We want to accomplish them. We want to succeed. Be it in a job, a relationship, caregiving, school, etc. But for some, an irrational belief system can block them from achieving their goals. Make no mistake about it, these beliefs are entrenched and difficult to replace but we can begin to change the way we look process and respond to things. But, it takes practice, practice, practice.

The understanding of how our beliefs create problems for us is nothing new. We humans are fallible and always have been. In fact, this was understood dating back to the early Greek philosophers. Central to understanding this is the ancient psychological insight of Epictetus, a Greek Stoic philosopher who said, “What disturbs men's minds is not events but their judgments on events.”


Think about that for a second (or two, remember to respond and not react).


As we discussed earlier, we have learned things in our lives that are ingrained within our psyche. Every experience we now have is run through those filters we have put into place. As a result, we have a set of beliefs that govern our lives. Although most of these beliefs are rational and based in reality, others are irrational and self defeating.


Mostly subconscious, these beliefs determine how we respond, and in some react, to life. When an event triggers off a train of thought, what we consciously think depends on the general beliefs we subconsciously apply to the situation.


Let us say that you hold the general belief: "To be worthwhile, I must succeed at everything I do." You happen to fail at a relationship or you have a bad day with the person you are taking care of, this event, when coupled with an underlying irrational belief system, leads you to the conclusion: "I’m not worthwhile" leading to feelings of being "less than", meaning you will accept being treated as if you are "less than".

Underlying beliefs are general, meaning one belief can apply to many situations. If you believe, for example: "I can’t stand discomfort and pain and must avoid them at all costs", you might apply this to relationships, and to life events in general. How do you respond? You avoid anything that can create discomfort for you which leads to levels of stress and anxiety because you are either unable or unwilling to communicate your needs because you think you are not worth it.

One of the criticisms of using a rational thought process is that it “lacks emotion”, however just the opposite is true. Rational thought is an emotional regulator. Rational thinking leads to rational or realistic emotions.


The reality is that not all negative emotions are bad for you, but neither are all positive feelings. Feeling happy when someone disappoints you could keep you from communicating your feelings appropriately. Similarly, not feeling anxious when presented with a dangerous situation could threaten your very survival. What we are aiming for is to avoid exaggerations of both negative and positive emotions.


The entire point of learning to regulate your emotions and apply rational thought process to events is to accomplish our goals and to live a good life. It also helps us from overreacting to stress by accepting that some things are out of our control. What we want to understand is that a major stumbling block in reaching our goals is how we think (beliefs) and not events themselves. In the ABC model, we can see how beliefs cause emotional and behavioral responses.


The A is the activating event. It is what sets off the whole process of irrational thinking. A situation occurs, and you begin to assign value to that situation.


The B is your belief system. You now take A and run it through those filters in your brain. If those filters are irrational, you will respond with:


The C is what you feel. The C are the emotions that arise as a result of your belief system. Here is this model in picture form:

But here's the thing. It's not the event that causes the emotions, it's what you believe about the event that creates your emotions. And if your belief system is not rational, your emotions will not be rational.

Let’s look at an example of this: Amanda just had a discussion with her sister, Sue, about helping with her father who has early onset dementia. Sue said she would be there to relieve her at 2:00 pm, it is now 2:30 pm and Sue is has not shown up yet. Amanda tries to call Sue but no answer. On the first day after their discussion, she is late. So Amanda begins the process of irrational thought:



Let’s look at this from another belief that Amanda might have about what is happening:



So let’s explore these two examples. Again, one thing that is evident in looking at this is that A (the event) does not cause C (the behavior or emotion), rather it is B (the belief) that creates the emotion.


In example one, it is Amanda’s belief that her sister is “not coming and lying” results in anger. In example two, it is her belief that she “needs” someone in her life and without someone, it “would be absolutely horrible”, the result, anxiety.


GETTING THERE

The goal of changing your thinking is simple, helping you recognize your irrational beliefs and changing them into rational ones. As a result, your irrational reactions will become rational actions and outcomes will be much different. This is accomplished through a technique known as “Disputing” (we will now add a D to the table). When you dispute, you are challenging your irrational beliefs and this is the beginning of change. Let’s return to the earlier examples with Amanda.


Remember that Amanda had a discussion with her sister, Sue, who agreed to help. Sue is late arriving. And the process has started.


So what belief does Amanda have here --- Others must treat me with fairness, kindness and with consideration and in exactly the way I want them to treat me. If they don’t, they are no good and deserve to be punished!


As a result of this belief, we see anger and rage. When her sister does show up late, because maybe she had a flat tire or was held up in traffic, Amanda may be in a rage or display passive aggressive behaviors. Either way, her first plan of relief with her sister may end up being the last one.


But if Amanda learned to dispute her irrational belief, things could turn out much better for her and for her sister. Amanda could say, “Where is it written that people must treat me fairly?” or “Even if she doesn't come, does she deserve to be punished...do I deserve to feel this way?”



And now let’s take Amanda’s issue one step further. She has learned to dispute her irrational belief and once she is successful at this, she can now replace this belief with E, Effective ways to think, feel and behave.


So let’s return to Amanda one more time and look at effective replacement thoughts:



MY RATIONAL LIFE

So, does having these tools mean life will be great from this point on and you will never be upset? No, because rational thinking states that we are human and therefore, imperfect and we will all think irrationally from time to time. The goal, however is to reduce how often this occurs, how long it lasts, and how intense these beliefs are that lead us to poor choices and outcomes.


Reducing these events are the result of developing three basic insights:

  1. We don’t get upset, we upset ourselves by being inflexible in the beliefs that we hold.

  2. No matter when and how we start upsetting ourselves, we continue to feel upset because we refuse to let go of our irrational beliefs.

  3. The only way to get better is to work hard at changing these beliefs. This means you have to practice, practice, practice.


ACCEPTING REALITY

Although we reviewed this in an earlier blog, let's do it again. To be emotionally healthy, it is important to begin accepting reality, even when reality is hard, and even at times unpleasant and sad.


There are three kinds of acceptance that will serve you well if you learn them: (a) unconditional self acceptance - USA; (b) unconditional other acceptance – UOA; and (c) unconditional life acceptance – ULA.


Each of these acceptances have three core beliefs:




REPLACEMENT THINKING

All of us struggle with irrational filters in our heads. But by challenging ourselves with more rational thoughts, we can break through the filters and develop a healthier way to view life. Here are some ways you can do that. This is self talk that you can use to dispute the irrational thought processes.

  • What is past is all said and done.

  • What remains to be seen is what I can bring to my present and future.

  • Better for me to concentrate on what I'm doing today rather than on what I did or didn't do yesteryear.

  • The past isn't going to get any better!

  • Poor decisions made in the past do not have to be repeated in the present.

  • Because something once happened doesn't mean that it has to continue to happen.

  • No matter how bad any event was, I do not have to allow it to continue to have a negative influence on my life.

  • I cannot rewrite history and change what has already happened.

  • I don't have to be the one person in the universe to have been treated with total fairness and kindness - and I don't have to moan and groan about the fact that I wasn't.

  • Having been treated unfairly in the past is all the more reason to treat myself fairly in the present.

  • Now that I have been shown how not to treat people, I can have a better start on how to treat them.

  • Being demeaned is a state of mind that only I can give myself, and I've got better things to do than rake myself over the coals.

  • Feeling sorry for myself, angry toward others, guilty, or ashamed for getting the short end of the stick in the past will only continue to keep me from achieving happiness in the present and future.

  • Past experiences do not represent me. Rather, they represent things I have experienced; they do not make me into a better or worse person.

  • The enemy is not my past; the enemy is my way of thinking about my past.

  • What has happened to me is not nearly as important as what I decide to do with it.

  • I will try to be successful in putting my past behind me by changing my thoughts and feelings about it, but I don't have to put myself down if I fall short of the put-it-behind-me mark.

KEEP EVENTS and SITUATIONS in PERSPECTIVE

In earlier blogs, we talked about perceptions. When we have negative perceptions, these fuel our irrational thought processes and as a result, exaggerate everything from events to our emotions, leading to stress, anxiety and ultimately, illness. Here is some self talk on keeping events and life in perspective:

  • Don’t blame others for making you unhappy. Take responsibility for making yourself happy.

  • Give yourself permission to make yourself happy — even if in so doing, others make themselves unhappy.

  • Make time for yourself to do things which bring you pleasure and enjoyment in the short-term.

  • When you do things for others, don't expect anything back in return.

  • Sacrifice short-term pleasures and put up with short-term discomforts in order to achieve longer-term gains.

  • Accept the fallibility of others and yourself.

  • Don’t take things personally.

  • Take a chance even when you might fail at things at work or in your personal relationships.

  • It doesn’t matter so much what people think about you and what you are doing.

  • See uncertainty as a challenge - do not be afraid of it.

When something turns out bad for you, examine why. What bad choices did you make? Were they made as a result of a thought out response or were they made as a result of an emotional reaction? Use the tools here to help move towards a more rational thought process. It does work.


And remember one other thing, even if you become quite good at this, you will still have stress in your life. What we are trying to do is eliminate the excessive and unnecessary stress caused by irrational thinking.


If you can do this, you will have an emotional reservoir that you can go to in order to deal with the everyday stress associated with being a caregiver. If you would like the workbook we developed on this subject, click on the cover below and you can download it and print it.



Don Drake oversees Connelly Law's Community Education Programming. He is a retired licensed clinician in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with over three decades of experience working with older adults diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, substance abuse disorders, chronic homeless and mental illness. Prior to his retirement, he was the director of a unique treatment program for older adults with histories of mental illness, cognitive disabilities, and addiction at Shattuck Hospital in Boston. He was also a director at Steppingstone, Inc. in Fall River, Massachusetts where he was the clinical trainer, program and curriculum developer for the agency and oversaw treatment programming for older adults. He has over 40 years of human service and law enforcement experience and has worked as an administrator at programs in Boston, Hartford, Providence and Philadelphia, helping to structure, hire and train staff in providing behavioral and addictions treatments to adolescent and adult clients. Drake also worked as a trainer for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health presenting training on QPR, a suicide prevention curriculum for the general public, the Massachusetts Council for Problem Gambling and the Crisis Prevention Institute, an international training organization that specializes in the safe management of disruptive and assaultive behaviors. He is also a retired professional wrestler who is in the New England Professional Wrestling Hall of Fame. Drake can be reached at Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. at ddrake@connellylaw.com



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