Monday, February 18, 2008

Checking my thought patterns - Part 1

Thank God for seeing me through another day at work. I have 3 more days with this part-time job as it will end on this Friday, 22 Feb. This Thursday, 21 Feb, I am on leave to go for my follow-up with my psychiatrist, Dr Pauline Sim. I look forward to see Dr Sim as she has been very encouraging and helpful in treating my condition.

Today, I thank God for sending some reminders to me on how to manage my condition, through my friend, Grace. Grace has been very prayerful, encouraging, kind and supportive in many ways. Grace helped me to get this part-time job in her office and sometimes we do get to lunch together and have some fellowship. I thank God for that. Grace shared with me about a book she is reading recently on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which talks about the way our thoughts affect our moods and behaviours. I am reminded through my conversation with Grace that I need to constantly be more aware of my thoughts and how they affects my moods and behaviours.

Last year when I began to try to understand depression and how best to manage it, I read about the 10 most common faulty thinking patterns that can either lead to a depressive episode or aggravate an episode. Dr David P Murray did a very excellent analysis of these 10 faulty thinking patterns in his 3rd lecture "The Condition" from the series "Depression and the Christian".

In his 4th lecture "The Causes", Dr David P Murray, said
In Lecture 3 we looked at 10 false thinking patterns which contribute to depression. It cannot be emphasised enough how vital it is to learn to recognise these unhelpful thoughts by prayerful self examination. It is also important and useful to note that some of these habits of thinking may be involuntarily absorbed or learned in early life and so may be deeply ingrained. When we feel down, or when we are stressed, these latent false thinking patterns tend to occur more frequently and tend to dominate. This can often lead to depression, worsen an existing depression, and, if persisted in, make recovery from depression so much harder. Sometimes, the Church can reinforce or add to false thinking patterns by over-emphasis on the negatives in the Bible and in people’s lives, or by setting standards of commitment which may discourage or depress those who are unable to attain them.
I do recognize that I have some of these faulty or unhelpful thinking patterns and they are more prominent during a relapse of depression. I am not sure whether they are the triggering factors or they are a result of the depression. I am still trying to recognize them and change them so that I can think more logically and biblically. I also realized that I have some character traits that may make me more prone to mood swings.

I read that it is important to be more aware or recognize these character traits or faulty/unhelpful thinking patterns, and then challenge and change them with more logical or biblical thoughts/behaviours.

Some of the character traits or faulty/unhelpful thinking patterns that I am learning to recognize are:

1) Perfectionism or Setting Unrealistic Expectations

Quite a number of people in my life have told me that they think I have very high expectations of myself and that I am some kind of a perfectionist. Actually, personally I do not see myself that way most of the time. I just want to do my level best in whatever I do. But sometimes when I think through it, I think that they have a point. I do not have high expectations of myself all the time and in every area. But in certain things, I tend to push myself rather hard without realizing it. Indirectly, I set unrealistic expectations of myself or goals that more unattainable which resulted in my being very stressed up or more prone to fail in my own eyes.

I suspect this is one reason why I felt very stressed for the first 2 days of work recently, as I was trying too hard to do a perfect job! Thank God for Anne who reminded me that I was being too hard on myself and that I should learn to commit my work to the Lord in prayers daily and just do my best. Thank God too for bro Arthur who told me not to be too discouraged over the fact that I made mistakes at time as that is part and parcel of work. So I am learning now to pray for wisdom and strength from God and just do my best, but not expect perfection of myself.

(Thank God also for bro Yew Hoong who reminded me to pace myself slowly and not over-strain, and for Grace who reminded me that I can take time off if I need to as the department is flexible with the hours. Thank God too for bro Hwee Kwan who reminded me to eat! I have to constantly remind myself to drink and get up to stretch myself sometimes as I can be very engrossed in my work and sit for hours without getting up.)

I think due to this perfectionism trait in my character, I am prone to have unhelpful/false "shoulds" thinking pattern which Pastor David P Murray explained as follows:

False “shoulds”

Our lives may be dominated by “shoulds…” or “oughts”, applied to ourselves or others. This heaps pressure on us and others to reach certain unattainable standards and causes frustration and resentment when we or others fail.

Life example: The busy mother who tries to keep as tidy and orderly a house as when there were no children is putting herself under undue pressure to reach unattainable standards.

Spiritual example: The conscientious Christian who feels that despite being responsible for meals and raising children, that she ought to be at every prayer meeting and service of worship, and also reading good books and feeling close to God.

Biblical example: Martha felt deep frustration that Mary was not fulfilling what she felt were her obligations and complained bitterly about it (Luke 10:40-42).

I realized that sometimes I do have a habit of saying "I must", "I have to", "I've got to", "I should"and "I need". Some of these statements may look reasonable as I think of them, but when put into context, they become clearly unreasonable. I read somewhere about the following:
"should" and "must" statements have little practical purpose. They usually remind us of what we are not doing and increase unnecessary guild and disappointment.

Unrealistic expectations occur when you attempt to be perfect and faultless at everything you undertake and in control of all situations.... This thinking style results in you having very little patience and tolerance with your own and other's weaknesses and bad habits. If you make a mistake or hurt someone, you will probably continue to criticise yourself long after everyone else has forgotten about it.
Reversing the habit

It found it helpful when I learn to use "I would prefer" instead of "I must" or "I would like to" instead of "I have to". When I think in terms of preferences instead of vital needs or demands, it remove a lot of pressure. In terms of work, it is helpful when I learn to think of what is reasonable rather than what is ideal. Sometimes the effort to make an 80% job into a 100% job is simply not worth the emotional strain. I need to learn to understand my limitations and to work within it. This way it will be less stressful for me and less disappointments.

This is a lesson that I will probably need to learn and relearn over and over again as the perfectionism trait or faulty "should" thinking pattern is too much a part of me. But I pray that God will enable me to pray and look to Him daily for grace to recognize and overcome these unhelpful thoughts and to learn to depend upon Him and just do my best as He enables me.

To be continued.........

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