The Huddle Blog

Sharing thoughts on cognitive-based therapy and how online group therapy can help us get better, together.

Emotional Avoidance

By maggie

Over the last several we’ve discussed all the ways that we experientially avoid, including escape strategies and reassurance seeking, situational avoidance, somatic avoidance, cognitive avoidance, and emotion-driven behaviors. The last form of avoidance is emotional avoidance. Emotions are evolutionarily adaptive states that motivate behavior. Every emotion has or has had some utility in the evolutionary past. The sensations and thoughts associated with an emotion will peak and pass within 90 seconds if we don’t add anything to them. After the initial surge of emotion, you can choose whether you want to keep the thoughts associated with that feeling going. Your thoughts will retrigger the sensations to keep that emotion going. You only have the opportunity to choose whether you want to keep the emotion going if you are able to identify what’s happening. Many people do not have awareness of what’s happening to them when they are experiencing an emotion. The emotion feels like reality and the act to urge feels like the only option. It’s worth it to observe your emotional states and your urges to act in the presence of emotions so that you have the chance at more flexible behaviors. The opposite of emotional avoidance is staying with …

Emotional AvoidanceRead More »

Emotion-driven behaviors

By maggie

Emotion-driven behaviors are behaviors that increase the intensity of an emotion, despite their intention to decrease the emotion. Think anger and addiction and ineffective interpersonal strategies. As I mentioned last week, sensitive individuals are often less able to identify and allow their emotions because of the intensity of their emotions and because of the way other people respond to them. If you felt very strong, confusing feelings while growing up, due to trauma or your biological vulnerabilities, it was unlikely that you had the cognitive skills to understand what was happening and the emotional intelligence to regulate yourself. Many adults also don’t know how to regulate strong emotions effectively. The adults in your life may have tried to make your feelings go away by ignoring you or yelling at you. The urge to either over-control or under-control your feelings under these conditions is very common. Many people have a combination of both. Over-control of emotion includes suppression, withdrawal, compulsions, and perfectionistic control behaviors of your thoughts, feelings, and body (examples: compulsive exercise or restrictive diets). Under-control of emotion includes anger outbursts, self-medicating with alcohol and drug use, and problematic interpersonal strategies like passive aggression. For the last several weeks, we’ve been …

Emotion-driven behaviorsRead More »

Somatic Avoidance

By maggie

Last week in Community time, we focused on noticing, labeling, and staying with the emotions in your body rather than shooting up into your head and engaging in cognitive avoidance. When you shoot up into your head to figure something out or you distract or numb yourself out from what is happening in your body, you are engaging in somatic avoidance. (The  word somatic means relating to the body, especially as distinct from the mind.) You may have noticed that even if you identify as a person who is sensitive to emotions or someone who has been in psychotherapy for a long time, you still have trouble identifying and staying with your emotions. You might still be distant from your moment-by-moment bodily experience, your somatic experience. Two patterns are common here: 1) Individuals who are sensitive to emotions often learn and then reinforce behavioral patterns that make them experience their emotions more intensely. Sensitive individuals are often less able to identify and allow their emotions because of the intensity of their emotions and because of the way other people respond to them. We will discuss this theme in greater depth next week when we discuss emotion-driven behaviors. 2) Typical psychotherapy …

Somatic AvoidanceRead More »

Cognitive Avoidance

By maggie

Cognitive avoidance occurs when you use problematic thinking to avoid feeling or to avoid effective thinking. I’m not referring to avoiding thinking altogether. In fact, your mind might be racing when you are engaged in cognitive avoidance. I’m referring to the types of problematic thinking (that is, unproductive worry, mental compulsions, and rumination) that create distance from feelings and prevents you from effective thinking (that is, problem-solving). Worry can occur when you have the feeling of uncertainty about an unanswerable question and you try to make the uncertainty dissipate by answering the question. Worry is productive when the question is answerable and the attempts to answer it result in problem-solving. Worry is unproductive when the question is unanswerable and the attempts to answer it create more questions, plus worry about worry (that is, “what if I can’t stop worrying?”). We’ll discuss this type of unproductive worry, called process-driven worry, as well as process-driven rumination and mental compulsions in greater detail during the weeks that focus on repetitive negative thinking. Functional cognitive avoidance (including unproductive worry, rumination, and mental compulsions) starts out as an attempt to answer uncertainty, to problem solve, or to understand something from the past when you experience uncomfortable feelings. Then, you get …

Cognitive AvoidanceRead More »

Situational Avoidance

By maggie

Last week, we focused on how avoidance not only reinforces anxiety, but it also undermines your potential. As you commit to moving towards anxiety, uncertainty, and discomfort, there are several patterns that can undermine your best attempts at avoiding avoidance. Situational avoidance reinforces fear and creates demoralization. Experiential avoidance during situational anxiety creates habitual distance from the present moment and burnout. Cognitive avoidance creates habitual worry and rumination that reinforces catastrophic thinking and pervasive negative beliefs. Somatic avoidance creates habitual distance from the present moment and difficulty maintaining self-care. Emotional avoidance creates habitual distance from the present moment and difficulty experiencing intimacy and vulnerability. Emotion-driven behaviors are problematic avoidance behaviors such as addiction and fighting that create a new cycle of suffering. All of these options sound like a recipe for suffering to me! We’ll discuss these in detail through 2018. Let’s start with situational avoidance and experiential avoidance during situational anxiety. Situational avoidance If you don’t drive or fly because of the possibility of a panic attack or if you don’t eat a certain food or engage in certain activities because of OCD, you’re suffering from situational avoidance. If you could “just do it,” you wouldn’t be seeking help from …

Situational AvoidanceRead More »

Avoidance and Escape Strategies

By maggie

We all know at this point that avoidance creates, maintains, and intensifies anxiety. You have an uncomfortable thought, feeling, or sensation. It feels likes a threat of danger. You do something to make it go away. What you do to make thoughts, feelings or sensations go away are compulsions, avoidances, escape strategies, safety behaviors, and reassurance seeking. These are functionally synonymous. Great job, Mind! For a second or two, that avoidance gave you relief. If your thought, feeling, or sensation was actually a threat to you, you’d be in the clear from danger. You also just taught your consciousness to watch out for that thought, feeling, or sensation so that next time it can do something to make it go away even faster. What an amazing process! Compulsions, reassurance seeking, and safety behaviors are the dirty words in the psychology world for what we, humans, do to maintain anxiety disorders. I obviously use these words too, but I don’t think they are dirty. Rather than evidence of weakness or a limitation, I think it’s an incredible process. I have nothing but the utmost respect for what your mind comes up with to try to alleviate your suffering. I strongly believe you should …

Avoidance and Escape StrategiesRead More »

An overview of Experiential Avoidance

By maggie

We use the term experiential avoidance rather than simply avoidance to remind ourselves of how we avoid both ourselves and the world around us. Situational avoidance is usually easy to identify. Also, many anxiety sufferers don’t avoid situations. Still, anxiety is always maintained by avoidance. We all avoid thoughts, feelings, sensations, memories, and urges with varying degrees of intensity and rigidity. This month we’ll discuss the subtleties of experiential avoidances and help you try out more flexible responses. Any good discussion of avoidance should start with action. Tell me what you want to move towards and I can help you stop moving away. Every week in Community Time and in Group, you make commitments to behaviors that enhance your functioning and/or improve your relationship with your anxiety. By making public commitments to behavior, you are taking the philosophical stance that you can change. You believe that attempting to change in an intentional way is a worthy goal. The commitments that you make are process commitments, not outcome commitments. You commit to studying, not acing a test. You commit to showing up to work, not performing perfectly at work. You commit to initiating a conversation, not having the best conversation of your life. …

An overview of Experiential AvoidanceRead More »

Pervasive negative beliefs – who made you feel worthless and why do you believe them?

By maggie

Pervasive Negative Beliefs Pervasive negative beliefs are deeply held core ideas that influence thinking patterns, interpretations of events, and behavioral responses. When activated, these ideas trigger unhelpful response mechanisms and mood or anxiety symptoms. One type of pervasive beliefs that occur in anxiety and depressive disorders is negative core beliefs. Think about these beliefs like goggles. They are filters through which you interpret reality. Negative core beliefs typically fall into three broad categories: Helplessness (“There’s nothing I can do to make this better.”) Hopelessness (“This is never going to get better.”) Worthlessness (“I am unworthy of love or acceptance. I am bad.”) Content typically includes: Beliefs about self (“I am unloveable and unworthy.”) Beliefs about others (“People are uncaring and judgmental.”) Beliefs about the world (“The world is a dangerous place.”) Beliefs about the future (“Things will not get better.”) Negative Core Beliefs are to Depression like Second Fear is to Anxiety Disorders.  Second fear turns an anxiety state into an anxiety disorders because the fear of the fear creates resistance that creates more fear (and more resistance and more fear). Negative Core Beliefs turn a feeling into a depressive state because the interpretation of that feeling is that it means you …

Pervasive negative beliefs – who made you feel worthless and why do you believe them?Read More »

Inflated responsibility – I think, therefore… nothing. Thinking it doesn’t make it true.

By maggie

An excessive or inflated sense of responsibility occurs when you interpret your thoughts in terms of whether they can cause distress or harm to yourself or others. That is, having the thought in and of itself gives you a sense of guilt or responsibility. Examples include: I have the thought that I could have cancer or an STI. Does that mean I do?!? And, I feel anxious and uncertain. What does that mean?!? I had the thought that I don’t love my partner. Does that mean I don’t?!? And, I feel anxious and uncertain. What does that mean?!? I had the thought that I might have hurt, murdered, assaulted, offended someone in the past. Does that mean I did?!? And, I feel anxious and uncertain. What does that mean?!? I had the thought that I could have done more to help someone. Does that mean I should have?!? Am I bad because I didn’t act on that thought?!? And, I feel anxious and uncertain. What does that mean?!? I had the thought that I could work harder at something that I value. Does that mean I must?!? And, I feel anxious and uncertain. What does that mean?!? I had the thought …

Inflated responsibility – I think, therefore… nothing. Thinking it doesn’t make it true.Read More »

Fear of negative evaluation and relearning how to play

By maggie

As we discussed last week, imposter syndrome occurs when there is a discrepancy between your performance and your beliefs about your performance. I differentiate between two types of imposter syndrome: anxiety-driven imposter syndrome and developmental imposter syndrome. Anxiety-driven imposter syndrome occurs when you have the skills to perform at the level that is expected of you, but you feel anxious about your skills anyway. Developmental imposter syndrome occurs when you have the potential to perform at the level that is expected of you, and you feel anxious about the process of reaching that potential. Developmental imposter syndrome Developmental imposter syndrome shows up in any area of life where there is an opportunity for learning. It is the opposite of playing. In the process of learning, there is a discrepancy between what you know and do and what you have the potential to know and do. If you experienced a relatively safe childhood educational environment, this truth was so fundamental to your growth process that you didn’t notice. Each day that you showed up to second grade, for example, you assumed that you would engage in some activity that you may or may have ever heard of before. If your teachers and …

Fear of negative evaluation and relearning how to playRead More »