How a Poor Self-Image Builds Anxiety
Somehow Maltz’s description of the way we distort reality with the vision that we hold of ourselves rang a bell with me. Everyone was always telling me how successful I was. But I didn’t see myself that way. I saw myself as a failure, an incompetent, who had six jobs in seven years, who now should be making a lot more money than I was. I viewed myself as a failure as a son who should be able to make his mother feel better than she did. Were these thoughts really valid, or was I, like Maltz’s patients, perceiving myself as worse off than I really was? June said that by conjuring up visions of danger in my mind I was causing my body to produce panic attacks. My desire to overcome my panic made me willing to admit that I needed to work on creating a better self-image.
I began to realize that even though I bad never thought of myself as a negative person, I always did seem to foresee everything that could possibly go wrong. I also spent a lot of time berating myself whenever! didn’t finish things I started or do things exactly as I had wished. I now saw that my mind was constantly churning over my limitations and adding more stress to my rain barrel. No wonder it had overflowed!
Another insight I discovered in my study is that our minds don’t always know the difference between reality and what we tell ourselves is happening. If we tell ourselves we always get the short end of the stick, we will act as if we do, even if the actual facts of the situation would prove otherwise. We are the ones who unwittingly tell ourselves to fail when we are actually in a, position to win.
I thought about how I needed to improve my self-image and to script myself for success rather than failure. I started working on that, but I also started trying to desensitize myself. Actually, I had already been trying to go to my office from time to time from dire necessity. I would fill myself full of tranquilizers. When I was completely numb, I would rush to the office, do what I had to do quickly, and then race home. So at Jim’s suggestion, I decided I would work on making short trips outside, such as driving myself to a supermarket. Jim told me that if a panic attack came, I was simply to sit quietly in the car until jt passed, reassuring myself with the knowledge that I was not going to die. If I sat quietly until the symptoms passed, I could go on with the trip. After each successful trip, I was supposed to go a little farther the next day. I would start out just by driving to the supermarket. Next I would park the car in the supermarket lot and get out. Then I would progress to going to the supermarket door and immediately walking back to the car. Eventually I would go in and fill a shopping basket with groceries. And finally I would be able to shop, wait in line, and pay for the groceries.
Jim also told me I needed to receive lots of positive feedback from my attempts to desensitize myself. He gave me a list of names of other patients who were desensitizing themselves to anxiety. With this list and his words of advice, I planned my first trip.
I was surprised to discover that I really could drive the car four blocks, park in the supermarket lot, and immediately drive home. Of course, I bad to fill myself with tranquilizers to do it. My hands became sweaty at the end of the first block. As I went on, my heart began to race, and by the time I arrived, I felt on the verge of blacking out. But I did not get a full-fledged panic attack. I sat quietly in the parking lot and reminded myself I wasn’t going to die, that I was just experiencing some bodily arousal, and that at worst I would feel a fight or flight response. I drove back home, walked shakily into my house, and collapsed into a chair. As soon as I was calm, I called one of my fellow-sufferers and reported what I had felt.
"You did great!" he told me. "You’re domg just fine." And that was heady praise!
The next day I repeated my trip. I reminded myself that I had done it yesterday, and I could do it today. I was going to be okay. This time I drove a little farther before my heart began to race.
My progress in desensitizing myself was slow but steady. I was determined that I was going to get over my panic. I was thoroughly committed to the idea, even though I was still very much afraid and I found desensitization hard work.
The Five Basic Principles
Now I know that I could have progressed much faster if I had known and used the Five Basic Principles on which my Five-Point Program is based. They are as follows:
1. Use the creative powers of your unconscious mind to help you change yourself.
2. Use visualizations and affirmations to change your self-image so that you feel confidence rather than fear.
3. Use rational and positive thinking to see yourself and events as they really are and also to visualize how you want them to be.
4. Act as if you are already the way you want to be.
5. Set goals to become the person you want to be.
- Handly, Robert & Pauline Neff; Anxiety & Panic Attacks: Their Cause and Cure; Ballantine Books, New York, 1985.
Reflection Exercise #11
The preceding section contained information
about how getting desensitized and a poor self-image can cause anxiety. Write
three case study examples regarding how you might use the content of this section
in your practice.
What addictive behavior did the author develop in order overcome her panic of going to the office? Record the letter of the correct answer