It all started with a worry. A niggling unease in my mind, that trickled and tumbled around inside, until I felt a tremor in my heart. That tremor grew into a quiet uncertainty, then a subtle anxiety, until suddenly, it was as if the Trojans had invaded my inner sanctum and my world was overwhelmed.
Have you ever noticed that certain themes turn up in your weeks and months? I find this is frequently the case for me, particularly in the problems that present themselves to me, in the form of clients and their entanglements. Years ago, a learned practitioner said to me that for the first ten years of working in therapy, he discovered that he found out more about himself, through his clients, than he ever thought possible.
My theme this month? Missing the forest for the trees.
I’ve been using the term “internal landscape” a lot in therapy lately.
A few years ago, when undertaking my training in EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing), primarily used to treat PTSD, the practitioner talked about teaching clients to view their thoughts as they would the passing landscape seen from a train. This imagery really struck me. How often we allow thoughts to taunt or haunt us, to take over our emotions and perceptual system… The idea of taking a step back, noticing one’s thoughts, but not necessarily “getting off at the station”, per se, was a powerful one. Thoughts will occur, he said, but what we think about those thoughts and how we react to them will colour how much they affect us.
While this is often a premise taught when working with someone who has experienced trauma, I believe that this strategy has value for everyone (not least psychologists!), particularly when it comes to worry.
I often tell my clients that “worrying is the most useless form of thought that exists”. Worrying focuses on changing something that has happened, or on exerting change in the present over something that may or may not happen in the future, which is impossible (not to mention mentally exhausting!).
Worry is paradoxical. It presents itself as a problem-solving form of thought. It’s not unusual to have positive beliefs about worry: that it helps you to avoid or prevent bad situations from occurring; that it motivates you to get things done, or that it helps to prepare you for the worst. The reality is that worry is like that awful colleague who likes to take credit for your own hard work!
So, you coped with a terrible situation or solved a big problem? Worry comes dashing in, saying “See! I told you so! My hard work paid off!”
The reality – one I was reminded of so vividly in the past few weeks – is that worry is not only exhausting, painful and pointless, it is also incredibly dangerous, because it introduces a sneaky little virus into our brain. A virus called Doubt. And with one little Doubt, comes a squadron of others; not unlike a single cell dividing and multiplying, until it numbers into the thousands.
Josephine Hart wrote, “there is an internal landscape, a geography of the soul; we search for its outlines all our lives.”
I have learned that not only does it pay to embark on a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement throughout a lifetime; but that it pays to pay attention to what’s going on in our landscape.
Like the King or Queen of a Kingdom, we need to protect our borders from invading armies; defend our lands from attack and invasion, rather than waiting to be conquered.
Corrie ten Boom wrote, “worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength – carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
It is essential to challenge our worries and doubts as they arise, dismissing them from your mental kingdom. Stand up to those doubts. Rather than allowing worry to take over, sit down with a piece of paper and pen and write down the options you have, work out the pros and cons, make a decision, and relay it to the worry. “I’ve already solved that problem and made a decision,” you can say. And you won’t be lying.
And the nice thing about decisions is that you’ll rarely make one that can’t be changed or reversed, if needed, by a future decision anyway!
You know… in case you were worried.
[Image – Art print available from Lovely Sweet William on Etsy]