Self-Care Using CBT and Mindfulness
First, we start by changing the way we talk to ourselves. And this begins with mindfulness and CBT.
CBT, or Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, is the current favourite approach in clinical psychology and it is going to be one of the
most important tools in this book for transforming the way we view ourselves.
Where once every counsellor you went to was using psychodynamic principles to treat patients, today they are all using CBT (or an integrative approach). While it’s probably only a matter of time before a new school comes along and knocks CBT off the top spot, it still represents a powerful tool that The UK and many others have used to quickly and cheaply improve the lives of millions of patients. The ‘quickly and cheaply’ parts are also crucial as they mean that anyone can apply the principles and see an immediate benefit, improving their self-esteem with no need to spend tonnes of money and time on counselling.
Obviously, if your symptoms persist you should seek professional help, but until then you can try some DIY to see if CBT is what you need to improve your self-concept.
A Brief History and Explanation
Essentially, CBT is composed of two concepts – behaviourism and cognitive psychology (as the name might suggest).
Behaviourism is the old school of thought that states how we learn to associate an event with an outcome to such a degree that we can begin treating the event as the outcome.
For example, in Pavlov’s famous experiment using dogs, he taught his canine subjects to salivate at the sound of the bell by getting them used to hearing the bell while they ate.
This applies to your self-esteem, in that you can end up having physical reactions to conditions where you’re put under pressure.
For example, you might find that in social situations you find yourself trembling or sweating as through your perception you’ve learned to associate them with leading to embarrassment or humiliation.
Alternatively, you might find yourself feeling depressed or lethargic when you’re attempting something new if you’ve failed several times in the past. Here the bad outcomes act as ‘reinforcement’, instructing you that your ambitions are doomed to failure. This is a learning mechanism that we’ve evolved that normally helps us to avoid making mistakes and which is generally adaptive in most situations. In modern society however, there are times when it’s misplaced and can be psychologically damaging.
Behavioural therapy to cure such associations involves ‘reassociation’. This would mean teaching yourself to learn that putting yourself out on a limb can lead to positive outcomes too. You might achieve this by going to lots of social settings that you know you’ll enjoy, or by trying lots of new things that you think you’ll be good at.
You should also make sure you surround yourself with positive people who will complement and encourage you rather than put you down. This way you will also be getting constant reinforcement that you’re a worthwhile and capable person.
Since behaviourism though, psychology has moved on realising that there is a conscious aspect in many of our problems. This is
the crucial contribution that CBT makes by introducing a cognitive aspect to our brain and to our anxieties.
In the case of problems like low self-esteem, the cognitive aspect could be negative ruminations where you think about how everything will go wrong, negative self-talk or talking yourself out
of doing things.
In the next chapter, we’ll look at how you can use this important added component in order to silence the “inner critic” for greater
peace and happiness.