Imagine life as an hourglass. Straddling the narrow stem, looking down toward the bottom we think of what we should have done. Turning and peering into the top we fret what is coming or imagine perfection. When the bottom upwells and flows back through the narrow throat we experience severe reactions. Trauma and ‘milder’ experiences shape our brains which show up in brain chemistry, structure, behaviors, thoughts and feelings.
We have our personal anxiety consisting of rampant thoughts about yesterday and tomorrow. Like we have tapes of “what ifs” and “why did you’s” playing non-stop. And we seem to not be able to silence them.
These tapes often support and are supported by feelings of shame, blame and fear. When our response to those normal feelings is deemed exaggerated, or out of proportion to any event near the present, they pose a problem in our personal and relational lives. Professionals might bestow on us a diagnosis.
CBT is often offered to help us learn to hear and see our thinking. It can then be evaluated for truth and usefulness. Sometimes that alone can calm the soundtrack. Often it is not enough. An exploration of the nature of the events and the thoughts and feelings we experienced during their formation is necessary. These interpretive thoughts might then be reframed, amended with new meaning, practiced over and over until they drown out the old meaning. We might also reveal that parts of us hold on to the old habitual thinking because it serves a purpose. Even though it hurts us in general, it helps a part of us. In that case we grow close to those parts, identify them, understand them and work with them to relax their hold.
Similarly anxiety and depression are manifested in the family. For example, a father who rages in disgust at his wife and/or kids doesn’t know he is using his rage to create a target for the others’ attention that is not his wounded self, but the protective angry rager. Then the kids, each unique, develop fear or connivance in order to cope with the scary raging. They become withdrawn or angry themselves. And never have a rested mind. Recognizing and supporting healthier patterns —and tools for coping— can offer relief and hope.