Suggestions on how to forget forgetting?
December 13, 2013 11:48 AM   Subscribe

I have a tendency to automatically dissociate from/"forget" things that are stressful or anxiety-provoking. How can I better focus on these scary things so that I can better address and resolve them?

There are plenty of things that can cause stress in life, and somewhere along the line (in childhood, my therapist reasonably suggests) I learned some coping strategies that are not effective in resolving and thereby reducing said stress. As the short question outlined, when faced with a stressful situation or choice, my default approach seems to be to avoid it. This avoidance often takes the form of just... forgetting about the situation.

As you may imagine, this has wreaked no small amount of havoc in my life, making it difficult to pursue hobbies or my artistic practice (failure is stressful!), has impeded me furthering my career (rejection is scary!), and even disrupts my making important decisions and contributions in my relationship.

Through the aforementioned therapy and related introspection, I've come to understand some things about this strange phenomenon (how it developed, what purpose it served, and perhaps why it is self-perpetuating) but that doesn't provide me with much practical knowledge of how to improve it!

Other than further addressing this with my therapist and trying to keep lists and appointments in my calendar (though those are only useful if I remember to look at them!), does anyone have any suggestions as to how I might learn to put this harmful old strategy aside and thereby be better able to engage with the exciting and challenging parts of my life?
posted by rhooke to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Do you journal?
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:49 AM on December 13, 2013

Best answer: ...but that doesn't provide me with much practical knowledge of how to improve it!

This exact situation is what Cognitive Behavioral Therapy works with: you identify how you're reacting to a stressor, identify why that reaction is unhelpful, and then learn a different reaction to the stressor that is constructive and practice the shit out of it until it is your natural response.

It's quite practical a very different process to analytic tell-me-about-your-mother therapy, and you're only seeing a CBT therapist long enough for you redefine the most harmful reactions (because those tend to require a helping hand) and then you have the toolset for yourself for anything else.

If you can swing the time/money, I'd ask your therapist for a CBT referral. If not, grab a used copy of Feeling Good from Amazon for like three dollars.
posted by griphus at 11:55 AM on December 13, 2013 [2 favorites]

Learning some mindfulness techniques may also be helpful in that you learn how to be conscious of the immediate moment you are experiencing. John Kabat-Zinn's books are a nice introduction, particularly "Full Catastrophe Living" or "Mindfulness for Beginners."
posted by goggie at 12:06 PM on December 13, 2013

I know I am always saying this, but EMDR did that for me.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:12 PM on December 13, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I did a little CBT for this, my therapist said that it is ok to look at insignificant tasks that scare you as Important Challenges requiring Bravery. It helped me get out of the self defeating guilt loop of wondering why I can't just answer an email like a normal person. If your brain is reacting to a text message like its a dragon you have to slay, and you manage to square your shoulders and do it, you should be really proud of yourself. Its certainly good practice for larger scale problems. I've found that the one good thing about learning to operate with day to day anxiety is that things people might find legitimately difficult are not harder, just different.
posted by velebita at 12:58 PM on December 13, 2013 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Do you journal?

Yes, but not nearly enough. I could easily see how even a mundane daily account of what happened could help keep me focused and more aware/accountable to myself.
posted by rhooke at 1:36 PM on December 13, 2013

I used to do this a lot, and it too is a learned coping mechanism from my (traumatic) childhood.

In elementary school, after talking to a "friend," I stole money from my parents so we could buy a Voltron (the metal one, not plastic). I stole $100, gave him half and had the other half in my desk for safe keeping. After telling me he lost the money I gave him (so no Voltron) my buddy's parents found his half in his room, got the story from him and called mine. My folks went to my school and after talking to my teacher ended up searching my desk. I was busted, in for quite a beating, and... well... promptly and completely "forgot" about it until I was walking home from school.

That was the first time I remember actively doing this, but in the years since, bills, other obligations I don't want to fulfill, traffic court dates, breakup conversations, buying people gifts, etc. just "whoosh" and gone.

I will also say that I regularly see a therapist, but the thing I've have personally done which has helped me the best, is to do what I can to remember unpleasant tasks: calendars, text alerts, telling a close friend to remind me, etc.

It's not always successful, I too forget to even look at the calendar, or I see the text alert and put it off for "just a few minutes" and then forget entirely.

But the times it is successful, I really focus on the sense of accomplishment I feel, and the peace of having the stressful thing behind me due to my dealing with it on time and properly. My mindset is usually to focus on the self-deprecating negative stuff, and not want to pat myself on the back for positive steps, but the fact is, I don't do anything more than once if I don't get something out of it. To really focus on the peace of mind and confident gratitude felt from just doing something as small as paying my car insurance on time or having that unpleasant, yet necessary conversation with my boss, it is its own reward, and I keep those close to me.

Over time, I have found that I resort to that defense less and less, and tend to want to deal with things as they come up.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:55 PM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

Also, consider asking your doc if you can up your meds. I moved from some pretty typical anti-anxiety drugs to seroquel, and that mofo has completely changed my life around. I still exhibit all the same behaviors, but they're controllable - I'm in charge, not them.

(Of course, I'm always in charge, but that's how it feels.)
posted by IAmBroom at 3:00 PM on December 13, 2013

Best answer: I use to do this WAY often, from lots of childhood trauma stuff. I do it much less now.

I have others to keep me accountable, especially my wife. Writing things down helps me, but I suck at 1) remembering to write things down 2)remembering to carry an organizer to write things down with and 3) remembering to look at the thing where I write things down on and 4)keeping it organized enough I understand the things I managed to write down.

When I first noticed this happening to me I started repeating the whatever I was trying to remember over and over in my brain. It helped me create a narrative in my head that stuck. It helps even if I create a little narrative for smaller things.

I find if I force myself into situations where I get to uncomfortable, I have a point where I just stop remembering. It helps me to monitor my anxiety and be really mindful (do I need to take a break, do I need to take some deep breaths, do I need to sit down/move around?) Because for me forgetting is directly correlated with my emotional state. Also when necessary addressing this with anxiety medication has helped me get past humps where my anxiety was so great I avoided the activity, and if I ended up having to do the activity I'd just immediately forget. Some of that is because I built up so much stress around it, instead of actively facing it. CBT is useful in this circumstance for me.

In addition, I try and keep track of triggers. Sometimes specific situations bring it up, and I work on it in therapy for that particular situation. It doesn't necessarily fix all of it, but if it is something common enough that I know I'll encounter it once in awhile, I'll address it. For example, a trigger of mine when I feel that others are dependent on a decision I make that the 'other' may have a strong reaction to. (Sometimes even small decisions, like where to go to dinner depending on who I am with and my perception). The real key in the last sentence is my perception. I can change my perception, and I can also reality check my perception. If I'm feeling like someone may get mad at me, I'll ask. It helps me remember and calms my fears.
posted by AlexiaSky at 4:19 PM on December 13, 2013 [4 favorites]

I wonder if mindfulness training might help? "Not going unconscious" is one of the main focuses of practice for the Zen teacher I follow. By that she means staying awake, aware, present, and conscious of what you're experiencing, even if it's difficult, and giving loving, empathetic, non-judgmental support to all the parts of you that are experiencing it, regardless of how they're feeling it. (In other words, there is no "wrong" way to feel or experience things; and you should be even kinder and more patient and more supportive with yourself than you would be with somebody you loved who was experiencing something similar.)
posted by Lexica at 6:01 PM on December 13, 2013

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