This week I said good-bye to a client because she took a new job out of state. When I first met this young woman (lets call her Sue) she was new to Sacramento, lonely, frightened, extremely depressed and very anxious. Sue was convinced that at age 28 she was doomed to be alone forever and that she had made a disastrous mistake in moving to CA. She had moved here for a new job and for a blossoming romance. Shortly after her arrival to CA the romance ended and she found herself alone and feeling very lonely. The sadder she felt the more trapped Sue got in a brain feedback loop which went something like this "if your feeling sad, its all your fault, you made the decision to move - clearly it was a bad decision" the sadder she got the louder the loop in her brain got, telling her that she was a poor decision maker, that she could not trust herself and that if she was sad that that was evidence of what a bad decision she had made.
Gently, Sue and I worked on separating feelings from thoughts and helping Sue to see that her thinking loop was adding struggle to the sadness. Of course she was feeling lonely and sad, she was brand new to the city and needed time to meet people and readjust to her surroundings. She also needed to grieve the break-up as well. Things were all ready painful and tough and the feedback loop was making things so much worse. The brain loop was creating the anxiety and depression and beating up on her, making it hard to go out and make friends.
We've all been caught up in these loops. Its an interesting part of the brain that can actually have thoughts about our thoughts so when Sue observed her sadness she started having thoughts that said it was not OK to feel sad. We have a culture that is forever giving people messages of you always have to feel happy or else something is wrong and therefore you are somehow wrong and defective if you are having uncomfortable feelings. So poor Sue got caught up in the if I'm sad I did something wrong loop and then felt bad about herself for feeling sad which started an entire cycle of beating up on herself which just made her feel worse.
If your reading this your human and therefore I know you know the loop. Its a hard one to break and the work is to become the watcher of the loop and of the thoughts. Mark Manson writes about this in his book THE SUBTLE ART OF NOT GIVING A F**K (p. 5) - I highly recommend this self-help book. The more we step back from our thoughts and observe them with curiosity and without judgement the more clarity we have in our own lives.
True mental health is allowing ourselves to feel everything - not just happiness or joy but the whole range of emotions.
At our final session, Sue was filled with lots of gratitude for her new found ability to allow for tough emotions like sadness, loneliness, and anxiety. She had learned to break the minds' feedback loop and to recognized that she had the tools to make decisions on her own behalf and that if the decisions didn't work she could make new ones. Sue learned to be gentle with herself and to stop beating up on herself. Sue said, "Rosemary, it was in treating myself with kindness and gentleness that I was finally able to break the feedback loop".
Its sad to say good-bye to clients who I have grown to like and respect. I learn so much from their courage and ability to change things. I will miss seeing Sue and am very glad she came into my life. Next time I get caught up in a feedback loop I will remind myself of Sue's words - its about kindness and gentleness!!!!!!