our lives for the worse, e.g. "I will never amount to anything," "no one
will ever love me," "I was born to be a trouble-maker," "I'm not very
smart," "you can't trust anyone," and on and on. These dramatic
general conclusions must be tested out and corrected one small step
at a time. In addition, there are many other specific stress-producing
The obsessive-compulsive disorders think "I have germs on my
hand, I must wash" or "I hate to see the house all messed up"
and the phobic says, "I feel sure this plane will crash before I
get to Kokomo" or "I hate mice--they scare me to death."
The worrier spends hours thinking but he/she creates more
anxiety than solutions; see discussion in the last section of this
chapter about how to control worries.
The self-doubting depressed person has many stressful
"cognitive distortions," such as concluding that everyone will
find you boring just because one person seems uninterested in
what you have to say (see chapter 6).
The person who has panic attacks interprets certain bodily
sensations as being a sure sign of an impending disaster:
getting breathless means he/she is about to stop breathing and
die, a pulsing forehead means he/she is having a stroke, feeling
shaky means he/she is loosing control and going crazy (Clark &
Ehlers, 1993). The shy person thinks everyone sees his/her
sweaty palms, shaking knees, or confused mind; they think
other people don't have these kinds of reactions.
Many of us have misconceptions and unreasonable assumptions
which cause problems, such as "I should be happy like other
people are" (when they aren't happy), "other people think and
feel like me" (when they don't), "I can't change--it is my
nature" (when you can change), "I got it from my dad" (when
you didn't), and so on (Flanagan, 1990).
We humans think in many ways that handicap and disturb
ourselves. Whenever you are upset, go looking for your irrational
thoughts (see methods #3, #4, and #8 in chapter 14). Notice that it
takes careful self-observation and self-awareness to detect these
psychological pitfalls, because the thoughts occur so quickly and
automatically. You need to train yourself to be a good self-observer.
How? For a few days pay attention to the situations that upset you,
your physical symptoms (and what they suggest to you), your inner
dialogue and thoughts about the causes and consequences of your
fears. Do this by keeping a journal and recording your thoughts about
your anxiety and fears on a tape recorder. Then, learn to detect your
self-critical inner voice and uncover your internal mental pictures or
beliefs (schema) about your fears by reviewing your journal and
carefully listening to your recordings. This will take a few hours. Ask
yourself how accurate your self-judgments, your explanations of your
fears, and your views of your situations really are. Ask if these ideas
help or harm you. Write down your negative expectations, your
questionable ideas, and harmful self-judgments. These ideas become
the basis for the next step, namely, testing the validity and reality of