Saturday, April 16, 2011

CBT- When the Adaptive Becomes Maladaptive

As I've said before, there is an experiential factor for my anxiety disorder. Many of my behaviors and beliefs* and attitudes were born as coping mechanisms and defenses against my father's behavior. At the time, those things were adaptive. They were necessary. I did need to be hyperaware of other people's emotions, it kept me safe from my father's ever shifting moods. I did need to be cynical at best about other people's promises and motives. My father's promises- and by extension, my mother's**- were meaningless and often manipulative, and his motives were base at best. Knowing and being aware of these facts helped me cope. I needed to keep things inside, letting them out would have resulted in harm.

The problem is, these adaptive behaviors become maladaptive as time went on. They crushed me under their weight.

And there's more.

I obsessively take notes and make lists. This is necessary to a degree. My illnesses have destroyed my short term memory and in order to keep up with the normals, I have to write things down. I don't have to write down everything that will happen when- when- I get fired. (That list starts with "homeless" btw.)

Again, adaptive behaviors becoming maladaptive.

For the first time, I grok the struggle of people with ED. Alcoholism has one advantage: you don't need alcohol. If you can manage to stop drinking it, you don't have to go back to survive. Not so much with ED. You have to eat to live. There's no getting around that.

My therapist told me to stop taking notes and making lists. For people with normal memory function, this would be good advice. I don't have normal memory function. Even on a good day, I will walk into the copy room with the document to be copied in my hand and not be able to remember why I'm in that room. Then I get back to my desk, see the document in my hand and remember.

So, adaptive behavior that is also maladaptive, and I can't stop doing it.

So, we compromised, the therapist and I. Before I make a list, I have to ask myself what this list will accomplish, or rather whether it will accomplish. Lists that will actually accomplish something- helping me buy the right food at the store, reminding me of chores to do, reminding me of tasks to do at work- are acceptable. Lists that simply codify panic- what will happen when I get fired- are not acceptable. I must put down the pen, the ipod, whatever, and walk away. Literally walk away.

But, but, but . . . I can deal with it if it's written down. It's just words. Words I can control. All the words are mine and they must obey me! . . . um, yeah, I'm obsessing. I can't control the world. I really want to, I really need to, I cannot just let things happen because who knows what will happen, but it will be bad, I promise you that. Here, I'll make a list of all the bad things that will happen if I loosen my grip just the tiniest bit.

Yeah, well, it can be done. I'm going to do it. It's just hard. I wonder if my knuckles are just permanently white at this point?

*Not the atheism, my beliefs about myself and other people and relationships.

**There is a reason I do not advocate "staying together for the kids". Speaking for at least some of the kids, no, we're not better off that way.


  1. I'm reading through Hitch 22 and towards the end of the book he answers questions from "The Questionnaire". One of the questions reworded (in a more eloquent manner) "What is your greatest fear?" Mine would be losing control. If one grew up in a chaotic environment the thought of losing control opens up all the pent up anxiety.

  2. I just wanted to say that this is really, really brave of you. I mean, I don't think I'd have the guts to tell anyone about this kind of thing, and you're telling us.
    And hopefully, we won't let you down.
    Here's to PF!

  3. CBT is "cognitive behavioral therapy" right?

    in general, how is it working? EMDR got me past the point of hitting people who moved in a way that made me think they were going to hit me - and then nothing. no further progress.
    and frankly, the PTSD is heterodyning with all this pain [as in: PTSD reacts to the pain, thinking i'm BEING hurt [by someone/thing] so i'm having nightmares and flinching at everything, both of which make me hurt more, which sets off the PTSD more... it's a downward spiral.]
    i'm in "talk therapy", and my therapist has recommend CBT, but i don't know much about it [ordered some books from the library; now just waiting for them] and don't know anyone, other than you, who's tried it.

    or, you could email me about it [if you're willing to talk about it, i mean]

    just FYI: it's YOUR "fault" i'm back in therapy at ALL! :) since you decided it'd be good for you, i decided to stop trying to tough it out on my own [i have no clue why i continue to buy the notion that "strong" people wouldn't get help they needed... sigh]
    so THANK YOU for being as open and public as you have been - it was really horrendously bad, worse than i thought it was - but i said [to Pete] "hey, if my online-hetero-girlcrush can do it, so can i!" [then he made fun of me for saying "hetero", cuz why did i need to say it? which was another good point lol]

  4. My dad has the "must be in control" problem, of which I've inherited a bit, but in our case it's limited to ourselves. I never have more than a drink or two, because not being in control of my actions is a problem for me (even though, by all accounts, I just get happier and a little more talkative when drunk. In other words: being drunk makes me normal, and this scares me).

    Hmmm... an amateur psych distinction I've seen before and found useful in categorising behaviours is the four-colour/quadrant system, which (supposedly) correlates somewhat with your favorite colours as a kid. (WARNING: slightly horoscopy language used ahead)

    Top left is Blue: which is Analytical. Blue thinkers tend to focus on big, deep questions and problems: they make good physicists, mathematicians and geeky-nerd people.
    Top right is Green, which is Organisational. Green thinkers tend to focus on micromanaging things in detail, and usually have high standards of perfection: they are accountants, detailers and OCD sufferers.
    Bottom left is Yellow, which is Creative. Yellow thinkers write stories, draw, paint, design and generally have a lot of creative potential: they go on to become artists, architects and fan-fiction writers.
    Bottom right is Red, which is Social. Red thinkers focus on other people, on relationships and behaviors and how best to interact with them: they become trainers, teachers and self-help guru's.

    I'm mainly a blue, with a fairly good yellow score. I suck in green and red.
    From PF's listmaking and need for control, I'd guess she's a strong green.

  5. "[then he made fun of me for saying "hetero", cuz why did i need to say it? which was another good point lol] "

    There's actually a perfectly valid and extremely sensible reason for saying it:

    ... because it adds more syllables to your descriptor.

    There has been no circumstance in the entire life of the universe, nor will there ever be, in which more syllables is a bad thing. The total awesomeness of any statement is directly correlated with the number of syllables. It is a well known fact that people with low IQ's are incapable of pronouncing more than 20 syllables per sentence. Ancient monks in Tibet practice the martial art of syllable-fu, in which they use high-density rapid-fire syllables to make people's heads explode. When God spoke the world into existance, it took him years to pronounce the sentence, and it only had 42 words in it.


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