Posted by David
on Feb 15, 2005 in Upside-down Hippo
| 0 comments
Excuse me, but did I tell you I got a new therapist? My old one was in Manhattan and didn’t do much besides sit there and wait for me to tell her things. Sometimes she waited a long time. This Baltimore one has been more proactive. He tells me what he thinks even when I don’t ask. This, dear reader, is a blessing and a curse.
Today, my therapist gave me a suggestion for coping when my mind shifts into hyperdrive and I start thinking things about people. For example, if someone with an unfortunate hair-do comes walking down the street toward me, I will think, “Jesus God, she looks like she was struck by lightning!” I don’t like to do this because it is very negative; that poor woman has enough to worry about.
For a while, when my brain thought this sort of thing of its own volition, I would force it to think two nice things about the same person. “Yes,” I would think, “her hair is a disaster, but she has done a good job of matching her purse to her shoes . . . and I would kill for those cheekbones!”
My therapist thinks this approach is grasping at straws, and I have reluctantly agreed.
Instead, he suggested today, I should rate the veracity of the initial thought and then replace it with a more rational one. For example, “Jesus God, she looks like she was struck by lightning!” does not rate high on the truthfulness scale. If she had actually been struck by lightning, it’s unlikely she would be walking down the street. If nothing else, one would expect scorch marks. Then comes the replacement thought: “She appears to have an unflattering hairstyle, but that has no impact on my own life.*
There are two problems with this, dear reader. The first is that it is only marginally different from my enforced positive thinking. My therapist says that it is very different because my way was artificial and this way is simply stating a fact. Perhaps so, but thinking is thinking in my book, and it takes a lot of thinking indeed to overcome an impulsive emotional judgement.
The second problem is that if I neglect my critical duties, there are plenty of people waiting in the wings to snatch up the mantle. Cara, for example, has brought my attention to one in my own neighborhood. On our online bulletin board, someone posted a message about witnessing “a white Mercury Grand Marquis parked across the street with a white frumpy woman and a black man engaged in oral sex. . . . [The man] was wearing blue jeans and a green military-style jacket and matching cap. . . . I didn’t get a good enough look at the woman to get a description but the impression I remember was that she looked extremely frumpy.”
Really now. Frumpy? Is that the best you can do? Jesus God, she looked like she had been struck by lightning!**
* Strictly speaking, this isn’t true. I’m very sensitive to unflattering hairstyles.
** This statement is only ten percent true. In reality, she appeared to have put on slightly unflattering clothes that day, but that has no impact on my life.