|>>|| No. 24911
Here's the state of the art of psychotherapy, as I understand it:
The idea of self-esteem is inherently damaging. It teaches us to evaluate ourselves like we're interviewing someone for a job, weighing up our pluses and minuses and deciding if we're worthy. The problem is that the human mind is inherently pessimistic, for vital evolutionary reasons. In our hunter-gatherer past, failing to identify a threat or being rejected by the tribe could easily result in death. The laid-back tribesmen died off, while their paranoid peers lived to pass on their paranoid genes. You'll always come up short against your own standards, because you evolved to be unrealistically harsh and fearful.
The alternative is self-acceptance. You might be weird and meek and aimless, you might not be. Either way, you're basically OK. There are plenty of people in the world who are meek and weird and aimless who still live happy and fulfilled lives. You might want to work towards changing those traits, but beating yourself up about them isn't going to help. Shame and self-loathing isn't very motivating.
If you have a negative thought, you don't have to believe in it, nor do you have to dispute it. You can recognise the thought for what it is - just a thought. It's just some electrical impulses firing in your brain. You can recognise that you're having a thought without taking it seriously. True or false, it's just some stuff that's happening in your brain.
The weird catch-22 is that trying to repress those negative thoughts is entirely counterproductive. It's like someone constantly saying "don't think of a pink elephant, don't think of a pink elephant". Whatever we refuse to think, that's what we'll think. Whatever we refuse to feel, that's what we'll feel. Trying to avoid painful thoughts and feelings only gives them more power. We create vicious cycles in our mind based on fear and avoidance. This is particularly pronounced in anxiety-related disorders, but applies to a broad range of psychological problems.
The latest generation of psychotherapies aren't interested in getting rid of your negative thoughts or feelings, because that rarely works in practice. Instead, they offer tools and techniques for learning to tolerate those negative thoughts and feelings. Instead of trying to suppress those thoughts and feelings, we let them come and go. Instead of living in spite of our negative thoughts and feelings, we live with them. As we learn to tolerate these thoughts and feelings without trying to repress them, they lose all their sting. Paradoxically, our negative thoughts and feelings will start to occur less often, but only because we're willing to tolerate them when they do occur.
This process is accelerated by learning to be mindful of the present moment, rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. The source of our misery is rarely about what's happening right now. Learning to focus on the present moment helps us to see that we aren't defined by our history. It helps us to put our worries and fears in perspective.
In recent years, western psychotherapy has been gleefully pillaging and refining Buddhist mindfulness techniques. We've started to separate out the useful practices from the superstitious mumbo-jumbo. It's like the discovery of aspirin - ancient people chewed willow bark to reduce pain, but it took us until the 19th century to figure out the useful molecule. We have approaches to mindfulness that originated in traditional Buddhist practice, but are now supported by clinical evidence.
Message too long. Click here
to view the full text.