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May 7, 2020

Rhonda begins by reading several brief heart-warming endorsements from listeners like you. We are grateful for all of your kind and thoughtful emails endorsing our efforts!

Announcement: My upcoming one-day workshop with Dr. Jill Levitt on the “Cognitive Distortion Starter Kit” on May 17, 2020 WILL happen. It will be exciting and entirely online so we hope you can join us from wherever you are. See the write-up below.

We are joined in today’s podcast by Michael Simpson, who was among the first to contract the Covid-19 virus in New York. Michael was the star of Feeling Good Podcast #169: More on Social Anxiety. The Case for Vulnerability.

I have repeatedly pointed out that our feelings do NOT result from what happens—but rather, from our thoughts about what’s happening. This idea goes back at least 2,000 years, to the teachings of Epictetus, but people still don’t “get it.” People still think that negative events can have a direct impact on how you feel. But that belief makes you the victim of forces beyond your control, because we cannot, for the most part, change what happens—there’s no way we can snap our fingers and make the Covid-19 virus disappear, but we CAN change the way we think about it.

I have also pointed out that the negative thoughts that upset us when we’re depressed and anxious will nearly always be distorted and illogical—remember, depression and anxiety are the world’s oldest cons!

But is this really true?

Michael explains that when he contracted the Covid-19 virus on March 12, 2020, his first reaction was not fear, but excitement because he thought, “I’m getting it early, and when I recover, I’ll probably have some immunity.”

But he WAS fearful. Of being intubated? Of a long hospital stay? Of death? No! What were his negative thoughts? Michael was telling himself things like this:

People will shun me because I’ve got the virus.

  1. People won’t want to hang out with me any more.
  2. People will judge me as weak and unappealing.
  3. Women won’t be interested in me.
  4. My friends won’t want to talk to me.

These thoughts triggered powerful feelings of shame and anxiety. Can you see any of the familiar cognitive distortions in Michael’s thoughts? Here are a few of the ones I spotted:

  • Mind-Reading: Thinking you know how others are thinking and feeling without any real evidence:
  • Fortune-Telling: Making frightening predictions that aren’t based on any real evidence.
  • Emotional-Reasoning: Reasoning from how you I feel. Michael feels anxious and ashamed, so he thinks others really will judge and reject him.
  • Should Statements: Michael seems to be telling himself that he should be far better than he is to be loved, admired, and accepted by others.
  • Self-Blame: Michael seems to be beating up on himself and telling himself that he’s not good enough.

Michael describes his decision to start posting his symptoms and insecurities on Instagram as a way of testing his fear which he described as intense. To his surprise and relief, he received something like 150 responses that were overwhelmingly loving and supportive.

Michael was so excited by this feedback that he is thinking of starting his own podcast, where his guests will openly discuss vulnerable and personal topics. We look forward to that! I think it could be quite popular because so many people feel lonely and anxious due to hiding how they really feel, and putting up a false front to the world.

Michael also expands a bit on David’s concept of “fractal psychotherapy.” That’s the idea that all of our suffering results from one tiny pattern of irrationality that repeats itself over and over in many different situations, and ever single time you get upset—whether it’s depression, anxiety, anger—it will be that same fractal flaring up again. Michael said that his fractal is “others will judge me and leave me.”

Other fractals might be “I’m defective,” or “I’m not important,” or “I’m inferior to others.” The goal of therapy is to give you specific skills that you can use to blast your own fractal every time it’s causing problems for you.

On a future podcast, (May 25, 2020) we will, in fact, do live therapy with a professional woman you might recognize who had the belief that she wasn’t important. So stayed tuned!