217: Ask David: Is human "worthwhileness" worthwhile? Why am I always the the last to find out about anything? A Daily Gratitude Log, Positive Reframing and more!
Today's Ask David features four terrific questions.
* Kevin asks: Why is the concept of worthwhileness and worthlessness so important to people and their emotional health?
* Vallejo asks: Does the statement, "WHY AM I ALWAYS THE LAST ONE TO FIND OUT ABOUT ANYTHING?” correspond to overgeneralization, or self-blame? I’ve been listening to the early podcasts on the ten positive and negative cognitive distortions.
* David P asks: Do you think there is anything to be gained from a daily gratitude log, to go along with the daily mood log?
* Harvey asks: I don’t see how Positive Reframing actually contributes to the therapy.
* Kevin asks: Why are the concepts of worthwhileness and worthlessness so important to people and their emotional health?
I have a quick question about the concept of being a worthwhile human being. Suppose a person believes they are unconditionally worthwhile, what are the implications of this? Why are the concepts of worthwhileness and worthlessness so important to people and their emotional health?
Thanks! That’s a very important question. However, it is abstract and philosophical. I have found that philosophical discussions tend to go on endlessly with resolve. In contrast, when someone asks for help with a specific moment when she or he was upset, then I can usually show that person how to change the way she or he is feeling. And when that happens, the person generally suddenly “sees” the solution to some very profound philosophical or spiritual questions.
All that being said, I’ll take a crack at it. The goal of TEAM therapy is not to go from thinking that you’re a worthless human being to thinking that you’re a worthwhile human being, but to give up these concepts as nonsensical. Specific activities, talents or thoughts can be more or less worthwhile, but a human being cannot be more or less worthwhile. We can judge specific events, actions, and so forth, but not humans. At least I am not aware of how to validly judge a human being, or a group of humans. We can only judge their actions, attitudes, thoughts, and so forth.
Unconditional self-esteem is definitely better than conditional self-esteem, since you don’t have to be perfect or a great achiever or a great anything to be “worthwhile,” but you are still focused on being "worthwhile."
I'm not sure what that means, but there is a downside, to my way of thinking. If you think you are worthwhile because you are a human being, does that mean that you are more worthwhile than animals? Lots of people abuse animals, hunt animals, and so forth, which many people find immensely disturbing. These are some of the consequences of thinking that animals are less worthwhile, for example.
Not sure that helps, but like your line of questioning!
Kevin follows up: What is the implication then of giving up these concepts at all? I assume that thinking that you have unconditional worthwhileness because you are alive or to drop these concepts entirely have the same emotional implications for people. What are these implications? For example, if I think that worthwhileness and worthlessness are meaningless concepts, so what? What’s the point? What do I gain?
Let me start by saying, once again, that I am not an evangelist spreading the “gospel,” so to speak. My goal is simply to help people who are struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety, and self-doubt. So, if your way of thinking about things is working for you, there’s no reason to change.
But my focus is always on someone who is suffering, and that’s where these concepts can sometimes be important.
I can tell you what I gained by giving up the idea that I could be, or needed to be “worthwhile” or “special.” I gained a great deal of joy. It was a lot like escaping from a mental prison. It freed me to find incredible joy in the “ordinary” events of my daily life. It also freed me from fears of “failure” or not being “good enough.”
Depression always results from Overgeneralization--you generalize from failing at something specific to thinking you are a failure as a human being. Without Overgeneralization, I think it is safe to say that it is impossible to be depressed.
For example, if you measure your worthwhileness based on your achievements and success, you may feel excited when you succeed and devastated or anxious when you fail, or when you are in danger of failing. I'm not sure if this addresses your excellent question!
A young woman told herself that she was "unloveable" when she and her boyfriend broke up after two years of going together. Can you see that she thinks she has a "self" that can be "loveable" or "unloveable?" This thought was very disturbing to her, as you might imagine.
Relationships do not break up because someone is "unloveable," but because of specific factors or events that drive people apart. Once you zero in on why the relationship failed, or more correctly, why the two of you broke up, then you can pinpoint the causes and learn and grow so you can make your next relationship even better. There are tons of specific reasons why people break up!
But if you think that you’re “unloveable,” or tell yourself that the relationship was “a failure,” then you may get stuck in a morass of negative feelings. But it’s not even true that the relationship was a failure.” That’s All-or-Nothing Thinking, since all relationships are a mixture of more or less successful aspects. You could even tell yourself that a “failed” relationship was a partial success, since you successfully learned that this isn’t the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with.
What’s in it for you to give up Overgeneralization and All-or-Nothing Thinking, as well as the concepts of being a “worthwhile” or “worthless” human being? That’s a decision each person can make. There are benefits as well as problems with these ways of thinking.
For example, let’s say you’re depressed and think of yourself as “defective.” This is a common negative thought, and it is based on the idea that a human being could be more or less worthwhile, or thinking that your "self" can be judged or rated.
So, you could do two Cost-Benefit Analyses.
* First, you could list the advantages and disadvantages of thinking of yourself as a “defective” human being. Then balance the advantages against the disadvantages on a 100-point scale, assigning the larger number to the list that seems more important or desirable.
* Second, you could list the advantages and disadvantages of thinking of yourself as a human being with defects, and once again balance the list of advantages against the disadvantages on a 100-point scale.
This is just a subtle change in semantics, but the emotional implications can sometimes be pretty powerful.
As I mentioned at the top, philosophical debates are just debates. Fun, perhaps, but not terribly useful.
I’m more interested in magic, or miracles. That’s what happens at the moment of profound change, which can ONLY happen by focusing on one specific moment when you felt upset and needed help. When you do that, everything becomes radically different, and real change can occur. And at that magic moment of change, the solutions to all of the problems of philosophy will often suddenly become crystal clear. Or, to put it differently, the philosophical debates will suddenly become, without meaning to sound harsh, almost a waste of previous time.
Our current semi-feral cat loves my wife, but is only starting to trust me, so I’ve been working at gaining her trust and learning to understand her non-verbal and somewhat complex efforts to communicate. Yesterday she roller over on her back and stretch out her front and back paws to expose her tummy to the max, and she let me pet her tummy for quite a long time, purring loudly the whole time.
I don’t car…