You can't believe everything you think

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Pic: Flat Icon

I'm working with a client at the moment who has experienced childhood trauma. Whilst my role is not to work therapeutically with her, instead to work with her in a work-related context, it is a particularly interesting story I think you will find useful. Before we go there however, a quick reminder for you about trauma. Trauma is where an event or experience occurs that profoundly 'shocks' our nervous system. In doing so, our bodies have switched to fight or flight and our brains are operating primarily from their base, our earliest center of intelligence. Trauma is a deeply distressing or disturbing experience and leaves a 'splinter' in our memory, whereby when we think about it, the memory is still jagged unless it has been worked through in therapy. We have talked before about the difference between trauma with a capital T (sexual abuse, loss of a primary care-giver, domestic violence, emotional and physical negligence are all examples) and trauma with a lower case t (these are perception based and come from such experiences as being humiliated, hearing parents fighting, or having a friend move away). Anyway, back to the story.

Kerry and I were talking about her commitments at work. She is a successful 30 something, who juggles a family and a part time career. Her work requires her to travel interstate and sometimes that travel is a burden she seems to struggle with, more than others. We were talking about her emotions and cognitions surrounding travel and identified some interesting thought processes:

  1. "I don't recover well from travelling"
  2. "There's nothing for it, I'll have to find somewhere else to work"
  3. "I don't like the feelings in my body when I get tired, it feels as though I won't recover"
  4. "When I travel, I get so tired it hurts"

Kerry and I started talking and together we realised that some of her beliefs, ones that she had formed to protect herself during childhood, were not up to the task of running a mid 30's type life. Put simply, they were old beliefs that no longer fit her real life. Kerry has a stable and loving family and a stable and kind work life. Her problem stemmed from her perception of being under great(er) stress from travelling. This invoked an old belief that she wasn't strong enough to handle her (busy) life and add a stressor (travel).

This was a protective belief formed when she needed it most, during a childhood were adults making good decisions for her were in scarce supply. However, it was time to retire this belief and allow 30 something Kerry (a very capable adult) to be in charge.

The first step to changing a belief is to notice it and challenge it. This is where Kerry and I started.

How do you notice any thought patterns that don't work for you anymore?