Inflated responsibility in the present and past

You’ve noticed that the thoughts that you’re stuck in are related to your sense of responsibility. Great! Good noticing! Here’s your plan: 

Start with the Huddle 5. The Huddle 5 is a break when you’re stuck. Huddle 5 when you notice that you’re in your head, rather than in your life. Huddle 5 when you have urgent, anxious sensations that you are afraid of, you want to neutralize, or that are causing you to avoid something you care about. Take a Huddle 5, meaning a 5 minute break. There’s nothing magical about 5 minutes. Just break long enough to pay attention to yourself, make a values-based decision, and then take action. We’ll continue our conversation about your options for how you can relate to yourself during the Huddle 5 in group.
Are my thoughts about the present or the past? 
Over-responsibility intrusions in the present: 

  • Is this thought-action fusion?Individuals with anxiety sensitivity get sticky, catastrophic thoughts when they are sensitized. Thoughts feel like they are true, regardless of if they are rational or irrational and regardless of their truth. Thought-action fusion is when having a thought feels like its the same thing as behavior. Thoughts and behavior are not the same thing. Our minds can have thoughts that we don’t act on and those thoughts don’t mean anything about our character. One example is having the thought that I’m going to stab my puppy. If I have this thought while sensitized, it could feel like a possibility and a threat. I love my puppy, so if this thought happened a lot and I don’t know what’s happening, I’d probably feel afraid of my mind and wonder why I have these thoughts. I might get reassurance from myself or others or stop touching knives. The avoidance would make the thought more likely and then I’d really start to suffer. You can step out of the vicious cycle of intrusions, avoidance, intrusions, avoidance at any point. One opportunity to prevent an obsession-compulsion spiral or step out of one that is already occurring is to notice that your body is sensitized. Take a Huddle 5. Your self-talk is “What feelings am I feeling and what sensations are occurring in my body? My body is sensitized, so the stickiness of this thought might be due to thought-action fusion, not a problem.”
  • What would my conscientious model do?Pick a person you respect in the domain of life that your intrusive content occurs. If you have intrusions about accidentally hitting people or animals with your car while driving, pick someone you know who is good at driving. If you have intrusions about making mistakes at work, pick someone you respect at work. When you have an intrusion and then the urge to act to make the thought stop, slow down. Feeling urgency doesn’t require an urgent response. Your self-talk is“I’m noticing that I have the feeling of urgency but that doesn’t mean I have to do something immediately. What would my conscientious model do right not? Would he go back and check that intersection? Would she write an apology email?” If you actually can’t tell, take a guess and use it as an opportunity to learn. Refrain from the urge to try to figure out whether or not that was the right answer and instead stay in the present moment and let yourself learn from the decision you just made. 

Over-responsibility intrusions in the past: 

The two common types of over-responsibility intrusions that people have about the past are:

  • “How do I know with certainty that I didn’t do something that I’m afraid I did?” 
  • “I actually did something that was against my values in the past. I cannot have compassion and forgive myself for that behavior.”

Let’s split these up. 

  • If you’re stuck in “how do I know with certainty that I didn’t do something that I’m afraid I did in the past?,” it’s likely that you replay the situation in your mind, searching for details about the situation either in your own memory, through asking other people, or through compulsive internet research. See above regarding thought-action fusion. You’re up against the same uncertainty that you would have if the thoughts were about something in the present. Perhaps you’ve already worked with intrusions that give you the feeling of uncertainty in the present and you are relating to them well. Your anxiety is as smart as you are. It might be tricking you with the feeling of uncertainty about the past because you are doing so well with uncertainty about the present. Notice that it’s the same thing. If you have the sense that you are stuck on uncertainty about the past, because there’s something specific to your past that confuses you or causes you suffering, let’s talk more. Rather than replaying the details of the situation that you replay in your head to me, in an effort to see if I can reassure you, I’m interested in hearing why you think this particular thought content is stuck for you. I’m interested in the meaning your mind is giving it.
  • If you’re stuck in “I actually did something that was against my values in the past. I cannot have compassion and forgive myself for that behavior,”let’s discuss. I have so many questions for you. In what way is self-criticism helpful to you? Will you become lazy, complacent, and a bad person if you show yourself compassion? In what way have you grown since that time? What contextual factors occurred that contributed to your behavior and what contextual factors are similar or different in your life now? 

Common examples of this are: 

  • “I’ve actually made a mistake at work that had devastating consequences, so now I have to check.”
  • “I’ve lost friends, family, or romantic relationships that I cared about, so now I need to check to make sure I don’t lose relationships that are important to me.” 
  • “Me or my child have actually been very sick, so I need to make sure I/we don’t get contaminated.” 
  • “I was in a car accident, so now I need to be very careful.” 
  • “I did drugs or sexual stuff that I don’t do anymore and now I have memories I don’t like and/or I need to make sure that I’m not in similar situations now.” 

These are just common examples that I thought of off the top of my head, but there are so many other versions of this. Let’s discuss what happened, what’s different now, and whether or not forgiveness might be an option for you. Like avoidance, compassion and forgiveness are moment to moment decisions. You don’t forgive yourself once and then live with compassion forever. You can always try forgiving yourself for a few moments and then go back to beating yourself up if you don’t like it. Or, you can try forgiving yourself about one thing in one context and then expand on it, if you like it.

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