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What our clients wished they knew long before entering therapy

This post will outlines some of the things that our clients wished they knew before entering psychological therapy in order to have a stronger and more effective start. It will cover basic description of the internal processes, to help you to have a bit more clarity and understanding about how your difficulties might be operating. We'll share some of our clients' learned insights and add a small explanation.

Having anxiety does not make me “an anxious person”

Anxiety is a normal part of human experience and we all have it every moment of our lives.

What we usually refer to as anxiety – is anxiety problems. Anxiety becomes a problem when it reaches very high levels and when it stays high for a prolonged periods of time. This intensity and duration cause us to live in a fearful state, often in an absence of real danger, and resulting in a wide range of psychological and physical symptoms.

Anxiety has a specific physiological experience which can run throughout our whole body, and which, when high, can impact most of our bodily systems in a debilitating way. Depending on the level of anxiety we can feel scared, or tense, or weak, or we can go blank, or feel all of those. Knowing how your anxiety operates in your body, how to down-regulate it, and understanding what it is driven by – so you can address it at its core, are very helpful skills for your psychological and physical health.

When we operate on anxiety we operate on fear of facing the truth of our deeper internal reality, which takes us further away from staying present and being in control.

Anxiety or anger? They often felt together and it creates confusion

The way we generally speak about anxiety is a bit similar to the way people usually talk about emotion of anger. The emotion of anger is a normal part of our lives, as it is a natural reaction to feeling hurt, which is frequently confused with the destructive force it can generate, when not processed properly.

And it is the fear of anger’s destructive force (anxiety) that comes together with a feeling of anger – that makes it harder to process anger constructively. Interestingly, many people do not know that they are feeling both anger and anxiety together. Having anxiety and anger together a conflicting experience because anger is an empowering feeling of self-defense, while anxiety is a fearful reaction to owning that strength.

We do not always experience/feel anxiety or feelings because we can engage in internal behaviours which allow us to avoid it

Behaviors are not only external acts, but they can also be internal, and what we do internally really matters. And it is super helpful to be aware of those internal behaviours, as well as to know the benefit or price we are paying for them, and to have control over them.

In day to day life we get feedback from people around about the things that we do in our lives that they can see. But what about things that we do inside of our-selves? It is often something that we left to figure out on our own and we sometimes learn to think that internal behaviours are not very important. Because of that we naturally are all trying to avoid internal experience of pain without seeing that sometimes it only causes us more suffering.

A thought that internal behaviours are not important is very far from the truth, because internal behaviors are behaviors that determine the quality of our relationship with our-self and are a critical part of self-care.

We can broadly categorise internal behaviours as: helpful and unhelpful/harmful, behaviours which we do knowingly and unknowingly; and behaviours which we do willingly or unwillingly.

Let’s have a quick look at it. Same as external actions – internal behaviours can be driven by our feelings or fears, and they can help us to stay healthy and recover from difficult experiences, or they can hurt and sabotage us.

In a sense, for many people who suffer high anxiety internal behaviours can be as (if not more) harmful as the external ones, but they are also can be much harder to control. In addition, it might be hard to see where our emotional internal boundary is, and which direction feeling-wise is good or not so good for us to go to. It is easy to get lost in a world of disconnection and anxiety.

An example of harmful internal behaviour can be avoiding own experience of externally caused hurt and anger, instead directing anger inside our own body- causing more suffering and harm(which are real), or going into shut down mode of depression and fatigue.

Internal behaviours can also become an internal habit, which if we do it for a long time, we do not even notice, and which is much harder to break. When the habit is strong we might not even see what we do and can automatically engage in unhelpful behaviours unknowingly, that is without realising what we are doing. We call them syntonic behaviours.

When we have the same habit for a long time – our internal behavior can also become an automatic involuntary response, which is not necessarily helpful in the moment when it is occur, but we do not yet have control over changing it.

Not all pain inside is bad

Feeling your genuine pain brings relief and freedom, which you will never get by avoiding or pushing your honest feelings down or away.

Valeria Zoteyeva, Health Psychologist,
This post is an intellectual property of the Melbourne Health Psychology Centre (c) 2020

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