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Our Thoughts Create Our Reality: A CBT Approach

I was first introduced to evidence based Cognitive-Behavioral therapy (CBT) in grad school, around the same time I had my first panic attack.  Because the attack occurred in a car, my brain perceived the car as the threat so it generalized” and began to happen every time I got into a car.   My thoughts during these events looked like “I’m going to crash” and “I’m not in control”.  CBT teaches us that our thoughts and behaviors create our feelings.  These catastrophic thoughts I would have in the car actually were generating more cortisol and adrenaline in my body, increasing the panic symptoms.  When we challenge these thoughts and replace them with positive realistic alternatives, we can reverse course and reduce the anxiety. I began to say things like “I am safe” and “I can pull over if I need to”.  I also added stress reduction (therapy and exercise) which is the behavioral component of CBT to influence feelings.  As promised, my anxiety subsided and I no longer become panicky in a car. 

I shared this example to illustrate how powerful our thoughts and actions can be in changing how we feel. This tool can be used in everyday life, can be done relatively quickly, and significantly influence our life experience and overall satisfaction.  Addiction is a disease of perception, in that we often do not perceive things as they are.  If we get an email from our boss, we can notice a thought like “I’m in trouble” which likely creates anxiety and fear or shame, and substitute this with “I can handle whatever will be brought to my attention”, which creates peace and contentment.  If we are depressed, we may have thoughts like “I am a burden” or “no one wants to hear what I have to say”, and can change these to something more realistic like “If my best friend was depressed I would have compassion for them” and “I am working on having compassion for myself”. 

CBT helps us to understand how we feel after a certain event.  Sometimes people will say they will feel awful after a family get together and not sure what was bothering them.  When we dig deeper and recall that mom said something about all the money that was spent on treatment, we discover the automatic belief that pops up “I’m a burden to my family” which then creates the feeling of shame.  This creates an opportunity to share those feelings so family can learn how to support them. 

We can take CBT further to Cognitive Processing Therapy for trauma by changing the beliefs we have around events. Often times we interpret traumatic events as being our fault, but can learn to challenge this belief and come to understand we did the best we could.  If we were fired from our dream job, instead of hanging on to the belief that we are a failure, we can come to believe that we learned from the experience and have grown into a better version of ourselves.  Even thinking about the shame that results from the pain of addiction, we move from “I’m permanently damaged” to “I can help people similar to me” and “my compassion has grown out of my challenges”. 

And lastly, we look at the law of attraction.  We know in science and energy that like attracts like.  When we use CBT and create positive thoughts, we have a powerful tool for manifestation.  People with addiction are often inherently creative and intuitive.  When we tap into this wealth from which we were formerly cut off, and radiate the new positive beliefs we have learned to accept, there really are no limitations holding us back from living a life of your dreams.  If you are reading this and disagree, I invite you to try CBT!

“Whether you think you can or you can’t, you’re right.”  -Henry Ford

Written By: Julie Jones, LPC-S, LCDC, CES-1