Recently, an overwhelming number of you my readers said they would love to read a series about things I’ve learned in therapy. So, with the blessing of some catchy alliteration and my faithful readers, I’m diving into this series.
“Lessons Learned in Therapy” aims to unpack brief mental health insights that I’ve gleaned from counseling and therapy. Not all are biblical, but they are all in alignment with my Christian worldview.
One of the most helpful things I have learned in the past year is to separate myself from my thoughts. For years, I conflated thoughts and feeling I had with my very being. So, if I had a thought that I should wear sandals, for example, I wore sandals. There was no in-between; just thought and action.
Now, I am (on a good day) two steps removed from that chaos. Step one was realizing I was having a thought–putting space between yourself and a thought is called thought defusion. Step two was breaking down the power the unhealthy thoughts seemed to have. One of the key ways I did that was through (1) focusing on my goals as they relate to my core values and (2) reframing the negative thoughts.
In fact, I have a good friend who is incredibly helpful at shouting, “reframe!” when someone says something that’s steeped in eating disorder lies or other lies about themselves. Once I got the hang of the whole reframing thing, I was able to start doing it for myself. Some examples of reframing are:
- “I can’t handle this.” → “This is hard, and I am strong and capable, in Christ, to meet these challenges.”
- “I am a failure.” → “I am sad I didn’t handle this better, and it is a chance to learn.”
- “No one likes me.” → “Even though I feel lonely, I know that I am loved; This is a chance to express my need for connection.”
- “I am going to hate this event. I refuse to go!” → “It makes sense I feel scared of something new. I can validate those feelings while also stretching my comfort zone.”
Get the gist? As you may have noticed, a lot of reframes involve what I call the “golden and.” It’s a key component of DBT (dialectic behavioral therapy). What these fancy words mean, in a nutshell, is that we can look at things from different perspectives and possibilities. DBT asserts that two realities can be true at the same time when it comes to cognitive processing. For instance, I can feel sad that my friend is going on vacation for a while. At the same time, I can feel excited that she will have time to rest and explore. I can be both happy and sad.
Dialectics (those both/and statements) have helped me validate my experience while simultaneously seeing that things might not be as bad as I think. The validation is just as important as the positive truth or “what if” that follows. I am not asserting that there we all have “our own truth” as many believe. Nope. In fact, I can look to Christ as the ultimate truth that underpins all the other mashups of emotions I have. My God who is fully just and fully loving; who is fully God and fully man; who is unfathomably holy and personally knowable.
I can’t quite explain how God is God, and (see what I did there) I can reframe lies in light of who He is. I can use dialectics to consider other possibilities–consider how the Holy Spirit might be working in something I initially thought was horrible.
Interested in reframing some thoughts of your own? Here are a few tips:
- Utilize “maybe” statements instead of absolutes. Thus, “No one likes me,” can be restated as: “Maybe no one likes me. Maybe they do like me.”
- Bring everything back to Scripture. That is the easiest way to reframe, particularly because we can carry notecards of verses with us that reframe thoughts when we don’t have the strength to do so on our own. For instance, sometimes I think that I am only capable of hurting others. Yet, God’s Word says I am fearfully and wonderfully made (Ps. 139:14) and that He will finish the work He (the good, loving Father) has started in me (Phil. 1:6).
- Tell yourself: “reframe!” and practice self-compassion. Use self-assertiveness to remind yourself, “No. I had that thought, however, that’s not true and it’s not helpful for me. I’m going to reframe it!”
Want to know the secret to reframing? Me too.
It’s not easy, and (did you catch that one?) it gets easier with practice. I am now able to catch myself speaking harmfully to myself–internally or externally. What comes next is self-compassion, which I’ll cover more in a forthcoming article!