“Fake it until you make it” gets tossed around a lot as a way to deal with overcoming low self-esteem issues. The theory is that our brains believe what we tell them, so by acting as if we’re confident, we’ll eventually become confident. I’ve done it my whole life, but it hasn’t made me any more confident than I already was. If anything, I think it’s hindered me from actually developing more confidence. From the outside (and if you don’t talk to me for very long), it seems as if I have my shit together. I had it ground into me that I was not allowed to show emotions, especially negative ones, and I still have difficulty expressing those emotions out loud.
Side Note: When I was younger, I was a sponge for all the negative emotions around me. I could actually feel them as I walked by people, and it made me physically ill at times. This was before I was able to erect good emotional shields, and it’s one reason I don’t like being in crowds. On occasion, I would flash on why someone was feeling the negativity they were (though, of course, I had no way to confirm it. I was not going to ask a near stranger if they were being abused by their husband, for instance), and it made me profoundly sad. It was exhausting for me to be around people because I would be drained from running the emotional gauntlet.
Cognitive Behavioral Theory (CBT) is all the rage right now, and I hate it. I wasn’t sure why exactly until I read someone explain their distaste for it in an Ask A Manager column (where they are overwhelmingly for it). She explained that it felt like gaslighting to hear the therapist say, “That’s just a feeling. It’s not real.” She was more eloquent and expansive, but that’s the part that really resonated with me. A big part of CBT is focusing on behavior (duh), and dismissing the feelings behind them. I’ve already spent a lifetime dismissing my feelings; I don’t need to pay someone to do that as well.
Side Note II: One thing I really hate about AA and all the groups that have sprung up that are based on AA, well, besides the fact that it’s success rate is no better than any other recovery program, is the insistence on powerlessness. Again, I couldn’t exactly explain why until I was talking about it with my then-therapist. I was participating in a CoDA program (Co-Dependency Anonymous) online, and I just couldn’t get past that (or the god shit. I hate the god shit). My therapist recommended a book to me by Dr. Charlotte Kasl called Many Roads, One Journey: Moving Beyond the 12 Steps. My therapist described the theory in a nutshell–for people who are not Bill W. types (i.e., white male Christian), we spend a lot of time feeling helpless/powerless, anyway. We don’t need to give up the power because we don’t have it. If anything, we need to feel empowered, rather than powerless.
Side Note to Side Note II: I had actually read a few of Dr. Kasl’s books before my therapist recommended this one to me. One, I found useful; the other, I did not. I got a lot out of reading this book, but it didn’t quite resonate with me. Still, I was happy to have the nugget that I didn’t need to feel any less powerful in my life. I needed to hear that.
CBT is not for me, but there is a related practice, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) that blends psychotherapy and CBT. It was originally invented to deal with Borderline Personality Disorder, but it has expanded to cover other issues as well. My point is, I need therapy. I know I do, and I’ve known it for a while, but I am so tired of therapy. I know it’s necessary, and I think DBT would be more useful than just psychotherapy, but I. Don’t. Want. To.
Another issue I have with ‘fake it until you make it’ is that no matter how good a show I put on (and I put on a good one because I was an ACTOR in a former life), it never trickles down to the core. It’s one reason I have an issue with CBT. Yes, I know my feelings are just feelings, but that doesn’t help me get past them. And having my feelings dismissed only makes me feel worse. Look, I can already tell myself that I’m an idiot for feeling the way I do. Or, I could let the feelings come and go in my brain without attaching value to them. Just kidding. I can’t do that. I try, but I can’t truly be value-neutral about them. What I can’t do, however, is say, “They’re just feelings. Ignore them.”
I know CBT is more complicated than that, but as I just did a bit of research, I have even more issues. This article spoke to me about many of the negative feelings I have for CBT. The core theory of CBT is that the patient’s irrational negative thoughts are causing them to have maladaptive behavior. (And, interesting that I substituted feelings for thoughts, which shows you how I value feelings over thinking.) Anyway, CBT is loved by insurance companies because it can, in theory, be done in 6-12 sessions. I say in theory because I highly doubt it can work for more serious issues.
Also! In the article I linked above, CBT is not recommended for people with depression and/or anxiety. Also, not for people who are more sensitive emotionally than the normal. That would be me. Having someone I don’t know tell me my thoughts are irrational would not do anything to make me want to trust them or do as they say. It really feels like putting the cart before the horse (I originally typed storm instead of horse, which is telling) to jump straight to ‘you’re being irrational’.
In addition, that reminds me of the husband saying that to the wife in a heteronormative marriage when she has a list of reasonable grievances. If I was sharing a negative feeling/thought with a therapist I barely knew, and she immediately told me it was irrational, I’d shut right down. One, I already know that. Two, what if it isn’t? Apparently, in CBT, you’re not supposed to use words like ‘horrible’, ‘terrible’, or ‘awful’ for anything. Instead, you’re supposed to say it’s ‘unfortunate’. One of the articles I read said one way CBT fails is if a therapist shares a client’s faulty assumption. So in the case above, it would be if a therapist said, “Well, yes, but what if my client’s experience is terrible?”, that would be a problem on the part of the therapist.
Some things are objectively terrible. Sexual assault, for example. Or murder. If someone’s mother is murdered, that’s not ‘unfortunate’, that’s terrible. I would consider it a fail on the fault of the therapist if they chastised their client for saying it was a terrible thing. Same as if a woman talked about being molested as a child, and a therapist reproved her for saying it was a horrible experience. Actually, I would go even stronger and say I would be appalled by that therapist and make sure everyone I knew should avoid them.
I also disagree with another main tenet of CBT that feelings are always second to thoughts. I will admit that it’s difficult for me to discern my feelings at times because I’d been told repeatedly that my feelings didn’t matter. However, feelings of embarrassment, shame, and guilt are automatic, and as someone who overthinks everything, I can guarantee that there is no thought before the feeling in these cases.
Tangentially, most of the articles I read (skimmed) about when CBT doesn’t work had a strong feeling of ‘CBT cannot fail you–only you can fail CBT’, mostly in the form of the therapist is doing it wrong. That in and of itself causes a lifted eyebrow from me. Anything that isn’t allowed to be criticized is suspicious as nothing is perfect. More to the point, even the best therapy isn’t a fit for everyone. It smacks of snake oil to me to say that CBT works for everyone all the time and the only reason they don’t is because the therapist isn’t doing it correctly.
While I’m at it, negative assumptions are always a fallacy irritates me, too. Sometimes, you are in an environment where everyone is hostile to you, and it’s not negativity on your part to note it. In addition, those of us who are multiple minorities know that we’re viewed differently than others. There are so many cultural assumptions baked into CBT, and it annoys me that the proponents refuse to acknowledge this.
In fact, I’m just making this correlation right now, CBT is the AA of therapies. Maybe not in terms of recovery, but in how it’s viewed and the core beliefs. It’s held as the gold standard despite little evidence that it’s overwhelmingly better than everything else available. It’s very authority-heavy, and there’s a lot of shaming involved. It’s based on the making the person involved feel lesser-than or pointing out all that is wrong with them.
Neither are for me, but that doesn’t excuse me from finding a therapy that actually works for me.