Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Brainspace: Strategies for Coping with Negative Thoughts

 


Brainspace

Opening exercise: Start by thinking for a few minutes about some of the things that occupy your mind nowadays. List as many as you can think of by putting them in the brain picture below. Try to put neutral, positive or helpful thoughts next to the black numbers 1-5. If you have negative or harmful thoughts that occupy your mind, then put those next to the red letters A-E

When everyone has had time to fill out the diagram, 

then as a group discuss some of the thoughts that occupy space

 in your mind in your life today.






The R’s of Managing Difficult Thoughts


Read First – Some people have a chronic mental health condition called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). OCD involves recurring obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors that can be extremely difficult to control. OCD is biological in nature and often requires a psychiatric evaluation with a qualified professional who can prescribe medication as needed.

 The strategies discussed here may help someone with OCD but alone they may not be enough dependent upon the severity of OCD


Keep in mind, different strategies listed below work better for various kinds of problems so it may require using a variety or even a combination of these coping skills to manage negative thoughts.


Resolve – Ask yourself: Can I lessen or remove these difficult thoughts if I take care of the source problem?

Example: “My obsessive thoughts about money decreased significantly when I finally resolved the stress by making a budget and started sticking to it for a while”


Root Out – This is like the Resolve strategy just mentioned but this could involve deeper problems in life. Things like trauma, fears, and chronic anxieties can trigger negative thoughts so getting to the root of these issues (which can take time and therapy) can help a great deal.

Example: “I was driving myself out of my mind thinking critically about my looks until I finally got help and processed my childhood experiences where my mother was always putting me down about how I looked while I was growing up. Now that I have worked on this, my mind is much freer and clearer”


Redirect and Replace – Some thoughts are simply better dealt with by distracting ourselves or changing the channel. This is not always easy but when it works it can be extremely effective

Example – “Every time I started thinking about my Ex, I just remembered what a waste of time it is to think about the past and instead I focused on positive goals that I hoped to achieve in my new life since the relationship ended. Since I shifted focus my career has really advanced!”


Reason – Some thoughts are just irrational or unrealistic, and therefore they can be reduced or even removed by thinking things through in a reasonable and rational way. This can take practice.

Example – “Sometimes I wake up in the morning and start obsessing about how things could go wrong in the day ahead. I have learned to reduce those thoughts by reasoning that the odds are my day will have some basic ups and downs but if I make safe decisions, I am going to be just fine, so worrying about what might happen each morning is a waste of time”


Recognize – Finally, sometimes we need to recognize and accept that some things are what they are and therefore, thinking about them is not going to change anything. It can be important to remind ourselves that thinking about the same thing over and over is not going to make it any better

Example – I used to find myself obsessing about my receding hairline until finally I accepted that some men just go bald and as much as it can be uncomfortable to adapt to, it just is what it is. I then gave in and changed my hairstyle to adapt and I am so much more at peace mentally.

 

Pick a problem in your life from the opening exercise and discuss how you can practice these strategies to manage the negative thoughts

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Thursday, May 5, 2022

Self Esteem Word Challenge

 


Self Esteem Word Challenge

Directions: This is an insight and self-awareness building exercise specific to self-esteem and self-image. In this exercise everyone in the group will consider different descriptive words and then discuss how they feel personally about these word descriptions. As a group go through the list of words provided below, one at a time. Group members are encouraged to share and discuss their personal comfort level with each of the items of the list below, based on their own self-assessment, using the following 1-5 scale as a guideline

 

5 – I have a high level of comfort with owning this word or phrase in my life today

4 – I have a moderate level of comfort with owning this word or phrase in my life today

3 – I am somewhat comfortable with this today, but I am still working on it

2 – I am not yet comfortable with this

1 – I feel very uncomfortable or awkward with this description

 

The counselor should carefully guide group discussion, allowing group members to share freely without judgement. It can be helpful to discuss why people have different feelings, thoughts, and reactions. Group members are encouraged to be supportive of one another to help make this easier for others to share their personal strengths and challenges both openly and honestly

Descriptive Word/Phrase List

Strong

Beautiful

Capable 

Talented

Intelligent

Resilient

Responsible

Loyal 

Honest 

Grateful 

Successful

Valuable

Creative

Funny

Lovable

*

Start with: “I have… (Add words below)

Courage

Potential

Opportunities 

Purpose 

Confidence

Hope

 *

Start: “I am a good… (Add words below)”

Parent

Child

Friend

Worker

Listener

Relationship Partner

Role Model

Person

*

Optional – Come up with and try some of your own?

_______


Some Self Esteem Builders:

Engage in Change – It may take time drop a bad habit or work out a deep-rooted personality issue but if we are working to change it, we can start to feel better about ourselves. Making an effort counts

 

Positive Affirmations – Writing down and saying positive things about ourselves on a daily basis can build self-esteem. Choose words that are realistic rather than overly lofty. For example, “I can do this” or “I am capable” may be better for someone who may be struggling with self-esteem than “I am the greatest” or “I can do anything!”

 

Positive Self Talk – This is similar to affirmations but a little different in the delivery. Positive self-talk needs to happen in the moment, either before or during a time of challenge. The positive self-talk message we tell ourselves should be specific to that challenge and also reasonable and believable. A good example of positive self-talk would be when faced with a difficult task ahead, saying to oneself “If I give it my all and don’t give up, I will make this work”

 

Journaling – This is one of those “try it and you may just like it” ideas. People are often resistant to keeping a journal but often when people really give it a try, they find journaling to be extremely helpful. Writing down things that you did well and goals accomplished each day, no matter how small, can be a huge self-esteem builder

 

Goal Setting – Speaking of goals, they are essential for self esteem building. Choosing achievable goals each day and then conquering them builds momentum and belief in oneself and our abilities. Every time we reach a goal it can build more and more motivation and hope, both of which contribute to improved self esteem

 

Regular Physical Activity – Exercise, sports, walking, running, hiking, biking, etc. – These all can not only make us stronger and healthier physically, but the increased activity can also make us feel better about ourselves. Try it for a while and you will see!

 

Insight and Self Awareness – When we look inside ourselves with a mind toward self-improvement, we can find strength, ability, and potential for positive growth. Living in denial is a recipe for poor self-esteem in the long run. Learning to face our fears can be scary at first but incredibly empowering over the long term. Asking ourselves searching questions like “how can I do this better?” or “what reasonable changes can I make to start to improve?” can provide the building blocks for self-improvement and improved self-image

 

Media reboot – Are you spending a lot of time either watching shows, surfing the net or on social media? These things can rob us of joy especially if they take too much of our precious time and attention. For example, let’s say you spend a lot of time on a social media platform: Ask yourself questions like: “Is this bringing me more joy or frustration?” or “Am I reading material or comments that are making me angry and making me want to argue?” Many individuals have improved their lives by ditching various forms of media.


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Thursday, April 28, 2022

The Grind Part 8: The Why Trap – Why Asking Why Can Be a Lie

The Why Trap – Why Asking Why Can Be a Lie


First, it is important to mention that there are times when asking “Why” can be useful and even beneficial. There are some journeys we take into deeper exploration of ourselves, the world around us and beyond (aka spiritual journeys) where asking "why?", is an essential part of the quest. Asking why can be like a doorway leading us into these deeper expeditions into the unknown.

However, this brief discussion is focused on the pitfalls of asking “why” in the day-to-day grind when asking why about less important things can derail the flow of our progress. If we spend too much and energy on the mundane “why” questions in life we can easily find ourselves stuck in the “Why trap” – 

Consider some examples of “why” questions that can be harmful and unproductive to ruminate on:


Ø Why didn’t that person say hello to me?

Ø Why did my aunt buy my sister's kid a nicer graduation present than she did for my kid?

Ø Why did my boss blame me for what went wrong today at work when a lot of other people made the same mistake before?

(These examples are revisited below)


Knowing the why answers can be helpful when distinct answers are available but sadly in life, many “why” answers are either beyond our reach or simply “unknowable” at least in the short run. When our progress gets derailed by getting caught up in repetitious “why” thinking and questioning, then we are stuck in “The Why Trap”. We are officially caught in the Why Trap when we cannot move on or move forward because we are looking for an answer we may never get or to a question that is not even worth asking.



Escaping the Why Trap – The following are some introspective coping questions we can ask ourselves to try to get out of a Why Trap:


1. Am I missing information? – If I knew all the facts, would I feel differently and be able to move on?

 

Ø     For example – Why didn’t that person say hello to me?

COPING THOUGHTS - Am I missing information? Maybe that person who didn’t say hello to me is going through something difficult that has nothing to do with me.


  2. Does it even matter? Do I really need to care about this? Is there a chance I could just drop it and move on? (Acceptance: It is what it is and that’s all it is)

 

Ø  For example - Why did my aunt buy my sisters kid a nicer graduation present than she did for my kid?

COPING THOUGHTS - Does it even matter? She bought my kid a gift, the rest is not my concern: a gift is a gift and I am grateful


3. Can I practice the important process of just letting go, even if its little by little?

 

Ø For example - Why did my boss blame me for what went wrong today at work when a lot of other people made the same mistake before?

 

COPING THOUGHTS - Can I work on letting go? This is stressful but there is no point dwelling on it, I am just going to do my best to look forward and forget about it and not let one bad day ruin my week – With some problems in life, the best you can hope for is to just think about them less

 

Closing question: What are some situations in your life where you may find yourself getting caught up in the Why Trap? ‘

Ø How are you going to cope?



 

Friday, April 22, 2022

Life's Education: Breaking the Pattern of Repeated Mistakes

 Life's Education

Breaking the pattern of repeated mistakes


INTRO – As a group briefly discuss the above quote as a form of introduction to this topic. Then answer the following two questions:

1.     Why is it so important to learn from our mistakes? (What happens when we do not learn from them?)

 

2.     How is learning from past mistakes essential to recovery and progress with substance use and mental health issues?

 

Next, discuss some lessons that members in the group have learned. Provide some true examples of life lessons learned from personal experiences in these areas listed below. Take turns sharing group wisdom by going around the group, allowing group members to speak on this topic. You do not have to go in order, so group members can share on any topic below when it is their turn:  

 

·        Relationships (Example: “If they start lying when you first meet them then it only gets worse from there)

·        Feelings/Emotions

·        Habits

·        Attitude

·        Work/School

·        Friends

·        Social Situations/Gatherings

·        Communication

·        Health/Exercise

·        Time

·        Money

·        Family

·        Raising Kids

·        Love

 

Closing Discussion: How to Stop Repeating Mistakes. Discuss the following:


Things that don’t work too well

Vowing and Promising – “I will never ever do it again” These types of promises may feel good but alone are not enough


All or Nothing Thinking – Thinking that you will make one decision and change drastically is nice if you can do it, but most change doesn’t work that way


Things that work

Strategizing and Planning – You’ll get farther with avoiding repeating mistakes by doing what you can to avoid following the same path toward that mistake


Allow for Gradual Change and Minimize Harm Along the Way – Most lasting change happens over time. Give yourself the time you need and if you are struggling make safety a priority


What is one thing from today that you want to change 

and how are you going to do that?


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Thursday, April 14, 2022

The Table of Trust



Opening Exercise: SECRETS and TRUST

Directions: Everyone in the group should have something to write with (a pen) and some paper. Also, everyone in this group should be clearly instructed of the following rule about this exercise:

 

Ø  You will not be asked to share any of the secrets you identify during this group exercise. Please keep this in mind. The secrets you list for this exercise are for your eyes only.

 

Everyone in the group is going to be asked to think about (but not share) three secrets. This is an exercise about building trust, not sharing secrets. Identify the following three types of secrets and discuss the questions

 

Level 1 Basic Secret - Think of something in your life or your past that is somewhat uncomfortable or awkward to talk about or it can be something you are just embarrassed (but not humiliated) by. This would be something that you would tend to share with people whom you know and trust – Write it down

 

Discuss:

 

What are some situations where you are comfortable sharing basic secrets about yourself?

 

Some people are by nature more trusting and open, and others are more guarded and cautious when it comes to basic secrets. Is it easy or difficult (or somewhere in between) for you to share basic secrets with others?

 

 

Level 2 Moderate Secret – Now think of a secret that is more than a little uncomfortable, awkward or embarrassing. Perhaps it is something you feel guilty about, or you are afraid you might have consequences for if the wrong person found out about it. This type of secret you might only be inclined to share with your inner circle of close family members and friends, or with others whom you have built firm trust. – Write it down

 

Discuss:

 

Do you have at least one person in your life who knows some of your level 2 moderate secrets?

If so, why are you comfortable sharing these secrets with that person?

 

How so you feel about sharing level 2 secrets in this group as appropriate?

 What is needed in this group for people to be able to open up and take risks?

 

 

Level 3 Deep SecretNow think of a secret that you really do not want others to know. Perhaps you are the only person who knows about this or maybe only the most trusted person in your life. It would require a really high level of trust for you to share this secret – Write it down if you can. Or if you are unable to, just think about your secret for now

 

Discuss:


Without sharing it, how does it feel when you think of a personal deep secret?

 (Try to use feeling words)

What is it like to have it written down (Or why were you afraid to write it down?) –

You can throw your paper away at the end

 

Why might it be necessary to share some secrets in group therapy when working on substance use and mental health recovery? How can opening up about some secrets be part of the healing process?

 

 

The Trust Table

Trust is required to truly open up about who we really are which again can be part of the positive change and healing process. Building trust consists of four main factors working together like legs of a table. The four qualities are:

 

Honesty – Truthfulness, freedom from deceit or fraud

Loyalty – Faithfulness to commitments, allegiance, devotion

Consistency – Sticking with principles and patterns of behavior and performance

Communication – The open interchange of thoughts, feelings and opinions by speech or writing



Consider how all four qualities are needed to build trust. For example:

 

It is impossible (and foolish) to trust someone who is not honest

 

If someone is honest, consistent, and a good communicator but not loyal, they would still be difficult to trust

 

If someone was honest, loyal and a good communicator however if you never could depend on them or if they kept treating you differently or if they were in and out of your life unpredictably (all examples of inconsistency) then trust would be hard. Consistency is needed

 

Finally, someone may be honest, loyal & consistent, but if they do not communicate, we would never know it

 

How to use the Table of Trust:

 

If you are trying to build trust in a relationship, discuss these four qualities with your partner and share with one another how you can build on those qualities

 

If building trust in group therapy discuss how the group can increase consistency, loyalty, honesty and communication








Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Self-Sabotage

 


Self-sabotage is exactly what it sounds like:

Self-sabotage happens when a person does something to hinder their own success. These actions may be destructive and negatively impact many life areas including substance use or mental health recovery as well as other related areas including relationships, education/career, finances, or any other important life ambitions. Simply put, self-sabotage happens when we get in the way of our own goals (either knowingly or subconsciously)

 

*WarningThis can be a challenging topic to discuss. Because there are often unconscious factors at play in the process of self-sabotage, to learn to stop this destructive process a degree of insight and self-awareness is needed. We need to be able to honestly look at ourselves and our own patterns of behaviors and decision-making to start to break patterns of self-sabotage



Part 1 – Dissecting Self SabotageThe following is a list of ways that people may sabotage their own progress. Some of these ways are direct and others can be subtle. As a group, come up with real life examples of each one below:

 

Accidents – Some accidents are just accidents, but others can be self-sabotage. It depends on the person and the situation. Read and discuss these examples then continue to do this for all of these aspects of self-sabotage that follow:

 

·        “I accidentally took one of my aunt’s prescription pain pills right before my court date and tested positive on my drug test”

 

·        “I accidentally called my ex for the first time in months, who then proceeded to come over with drugs and we got high and blew through all the money I had been saving for a down payment to finally move out on my own”

 

 

Procrastination – Waiting until it is too late to take care of something important can be a form of self-sabotage as demonstrated in these examples.

 

·        “I didn’t get into the educational program I was hoping for because I waited too long to put in an application, and I missed the deadline

 

·        I kept waiting and waiting to make an appointment for the psychiatrist and then my mental health declined pretty rapidly, so I had to go to the ER, and I got admitted to the inpatient psych unit and missed my job interview”

 

 

Failing to take the opportunity – Similar to procrastination. sometimes we just don’t take advantage of a favorable circumstance that comes our way then realize it later when it is too late

 

·        “I could have had that good job working with my cousin, but I turned it down for months and now my brother has the job, and he is doing well, making great money and I am still broke”

 

Doing the wrong thing without thinking – Failure to think without acting can be a form of self-destruction

 

·        “I was a week away from graduating this substance use program as I had made excellent progress for several months then suddenly, I just impulsively used and failed my last drug test!”

 

·        “I stayed away from the neighborhood where I used to get drugs for weeks then the day of my job interview, I just took the exit on the highway without thinking and next thing I knew it I was buying stuff, using and I missed the appointment”

 


“Amnesia” (Forgetting what we have learned when we know it was working) – Self-sabotage may involve forgetting to do what we know works and helps us cope and make progress, as in this example:

 

·        “I was practicing relaxation and stress management skills that I learned in treatment, every morning before work to manage my anger on the job, then over time I just started forgetting to do this and one day shortly after that I went to work and got fired for yelling at an annoying customer”

 

 

Perfectionism – Waiting for the perfect moment or having standards that are just too high can actually be a form of self-sabotage as in these examples:

 

·        “Opportunities to better my life have come and gone because I keep waiting for the ideal or “perfect” situation that never seems to come because my standards are unreasonable and unrealistic”

 

·        “I never went to art school as I had dreamed of doing for years because whenever I try to put together a portfolio I keep on throwing my work away after its done because I never feel like its good enough”

 

 

Purposely doing the wrong thing – This may be the most blatant form of self-sabotage; when we consciously do the wrong thing full-knowing it is going to be destructive at some point

 

·        “I finally had the relationship I was waiting for and what did I do? I cheated and now it’s over”

 

·        “After a year of grinding it out and staying out of trouble, probation was set to be over in three weeks. Then I just went out and got high because I just felt like it and I didn’t give a crap about the consequences. I got caught and now if I don’t go to jail, probation is going to be extended”

 

Other – Can the group come up with any other examples of self-sabotage?



Part 2 – Reasons for Self-SabotageWhy do people sometimes derail their own progress? Consider a few below and discuss each one as a group:


 “There is stability in self-destruction, in prolonging sadness as a means of escaping abstractions like happiness. Rock bottom is a surprisingly comfortable place to lay your head. Looking up from the depths of another low often seems a lot safer than wondering when you'll fall again. Falling feels awful.


I'd rather...fly.” 
― Kris Kidd

Fear of freedom – This may be difficult to admit but sometimes people sabotage their progress because progress is scary. For example, a person can become “comfortable” being watched over or monitored in a mandated situation. The thought of being free to make decisions with no one watching can actually be frightening. Fear of completing a program can feel the same way

 

Fear of progress or responsibility – It can be easy to say “I want that job” or “I want that education” but then actually having to do it can be scary. People can self-sabotage based on a hidden fear of new challenges or responsibilities. Progress brings added pressure. Again, this fear can be difficult to identify and admit

 

Fear of Failure – Similar to the examples already discussed, fear of failure can cause some people to prevent themselves from having to even try. “If I don’t put myself in a position to try, then I don’t have to worry about failing”

 

Comfort in Chaos – People can sustain negative situations based on a form of “comfort” with the lifestyle. An example would be someone reasoning that by staying addicted to substances, at least that was a lifestyle they are used too as compared with having to grind it out and try to compete in the sober world

 

Shame and Insecurity – People can sabotage progress based on an inner lowered sense of self-worth. Unresolved feelings of shame and guilt can cause someone to feel like they don’t deserve to do well. This can be a form of self-inflicted punishment. This can even be rooted in unresolved childhood issues or trauma

 

Anger and resentment – Unresolved anger or resentment toward oneself or others can fuel self-sabotage. For example, a person can sabotage their own life as a form of revenge toward their parents or someone else who may have hurt them. Anger at society can also fuel self-sabotage

 

Negative Associations – Surrounding yourself with people who put you down, discourage you, or consistently disappoint you can be a form of self-sabotage. These people can be like a weight around your ankle as you are trying to successfully swim to the surface.

 

Other – Can the group think of other reasons why someone may sabotage their own progress?

 

Part 3 – Stopping the pattern of self-sabotage Three key aspects:

 

1.   Recognize – This activity up to this point has been focused on gaining insight into patterns of self-sabotage. It can be challenging, but when something goes wrong it is important to ask honest questions of ourselves and give honest answers. For example:

a.   Something just went wrong – Ask:

                                 i.    Is there any chance I allowed that to happen?

                                ii.    Am I afraid of progress or responsibility?

                              iii.    Did I let anger or resentment get in my way of making a good decision?

                              iv.    Do I have any other unresolved issues holding me back (like poor self-esteem or shame)

 

2.   Use Supports – Recognizing these things ourselves can be difficult. Having a support system in place who will honestly speak with us can be extremely helpful. A sponsor, a counselor, or any really close friend or family member who “tells it like it is” when we need to hear it can help to prevent self-sabotage. Being able to talk through fears, resentments and insecurities can also prevent self-sabotage before it happens. Also changing negative peers can help as self-sabotage can be contagious

 

3.   Develop new, healthy habits – Self sabotage can be likened to a bad habit we may need to break. Starting new habits that build self confidence and improve healthy decision-making is essential in stopping patterns of self-sabotage. We can train our minds to learn to make positive decisions with time and practice




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