Archives for posts with tag: cognitive behavior therapy

Last week I had dream that I was in a car accident and ran over four people with my car. I was horror struck. The dream did not last long. It was interrupted, as my nightmares increasingly are, by a lucid though. “You are dreaming. No one is hurt.” I immediately opened my eyes. My heart was pounding very fast. As I looked around the room, I quickly became calm. It was just a bad dream.

It may have just been a dream but my horror was real. And my horror matched my thoughts. But my thoughts did not match actual concrete actions and events. Yes, I had real feelings. Yes, I had real thoughts. But no, the action I was carrying out was sleeping. My location was my bedroom. I had not been driving or hurt anyone.

Feelings and thoughts do not always align with our actions or external realities. We think about thoughts and feelings as being unreal if they do not align in this way. Feelings and thoughts are real. They have some reality. They have meaning.

A tricky part of life is knowing when to take thoughts and feelings at face value and when I need to interpret them as a communication to do something else like eat if I am irritable because I’ve skipped breakfast or to take better care of myself if I am getting my feelings hurt easily because I am working too many hours.

One of the skills we have been learning when emotions and thoughts seem to be out of synch with other realities is called, “Checking the Facts”. Our instructor prefers the name, “Checking Your Thoughts”. I prefer the latter as well.

I have to say, this is one skill in which I excel. I am typically able to come up with alternative explanations for situations when I sense that I have jumped to conclusions or when a situation is upsetting but the pieces just don’t seem to add up.

Sometimes, in my quest to be restrain myself with thoughtfulness and understanding, I have a different problem. I over explain and over understand. I work too hard to find the whole truth.

We never know the whole truth or the full story. I have been working for many years on this, especially when it is a need to master reality to reduce my own anxiety and I just end up creating more anxiety to myself and others by being a know-it-all. My dear husband of 25 years gets the brunt of this, I’m afraid. We will have some kind of minor misunderstanding based on a different recollection of an agreement. Usually, this is an agreement during which I remember him agreeing to do some kind of chore at home. I’ll ask him about it and he says, “That’s not what I agreed to do. I agreed to do _____.” Then I start feeling guilty because I had been annoyed with him. Then I feel anxious because I stress out about forgetting things and dropping the ball. So I start doing an inventory.

“But John, don’t you remember. You said that you’d stop at the store to pick up ice for the party. You were just finishing a phone call with your mom when we talked about it. You said you’d do it as soon as you got your shoes on. I asked you if you were sure that you could do it. You said yes, I asked you to pick up two bags of cubes, not solid ice. Also, I was wearing a blue dress, that one I picked up on our last vacation to the San Juan’s. You know, it was the time we took the ferry that had a public puzzle set up that was so fun.”

Okay, I am exaggerating and that situation is fictional but representative. Is it really necessary for me to go on in this level of detail?

Is it really helpful?

Is it really that big of a problem that I need it to be acknowledged and fixed immediately?

This brings me to the next skill I am practicing. It is called, “the wave”. Basically, it’s allowing oneself to feel uncomfortable feelings in their entirety without trying to fix them. It is a type of exposure in cognitive behavioral terms. All feelings go down if you let them.

Yikes, this is one of those passive skills. I. Am. A. Problem. Solver. This is one of the hardest things for me to do. To sit with my own distress without trying to fix it. To sit with the distress of my loved ones without trying to fix things for them.

But I am getting better. I am accepting, bit by bit.

In my last post, Orange Alert, I wrote about another chapter in my complicated relationship with orange. Chapter one involved my unsuccessful attempt color my own gray roots before my mastectomy, since I had to cancel my salon appointment due to my surgery. Some how I thought that having cute hair would buffer the negative impact of losing a breast. Perhaps I was right but since my hair turned out a decidedly not cute Oompa Loompa orange, I will never know.

The second chapter involved two surgeries, the first last September (Wonky Wonka Boob) and the second (Orange River Grafting) in October. As I wrote a couple of days ago, As the orange in question was betadine, which was used as an antiseptic to prepare my skin for surgery.

I was mostly jesting about my fear of orange prior to last weekend when my husband swabbed out ground floor deck with a very orange stain. It was a trauma cue for me and hit me out of the blue.

As a psychologist I know that one of the best ways to keep a trauma cue powerful is to avoid it. (Now, sometimes there are little baby steps and skill building that need to be accomplished before facing a trauma cue head on, but this was not the case for this particular situation.) The deck continues to be orange and I look at it every day. This has helped quite a bit.

I was also thinking about betadine and yes, those orange stains on my skin happened in the course of breast cancer. And breast cancer is bad and scary. And yes, they happened during a period of time during which I was feeling particularly low.

Then I realized that one of the advantages of using an antiseptic that stained my skin is that the OR nurse knew that she had swabbed all of the areas she needed because she could see exactly what she had done.

So the orange in the betadine helped protect me from infection. My orange roots gave me a huge laugh and buffered me from some of the fear of having a breast removed. I loved writing that Willy Wonka post.

So orange, you can stay.

This is the phoenix in my garden. The artist made it out of an old pink flamingo. This is a good kind of orange, the orange of transformation.

This is the phoenix in my garden. The artist made it out of an old pink flamingo. This is a good kind of orange, the orange of rebirth and transformation.

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George Lakoff

George Lakoff has retired as Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley. He is now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society (


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