By Mary Hoofnagle
This past week the state of Texas endured another grueling week of annual testing. I knew my students were trying to act normally on the outside while agonizing on the inside. The day before the first test I decided to give my kids a chance to talk out their feelings in an open forum and put my counseling skills to work. I knew these kids were struggling with anxiety, but I was shocked at the intensity of the false statements my students had playing on a loop in their heads. Most of them felt they didn’t have any chance of succeeding. They felt like they had nothing to offer, and no significant amount of intelligence to show off. I was stunned. As I have spent this year with these kids, I have seen nothing but creativity, cleverness, innovative thinking, problem-solving, and intelligence from all of them. But I knew that if they didn’t believe it, they were sunk before they ever ventured out to sea. In that moment, I realized it was time to talk about the committee.
Several years ago, after a severe heartbreak, I sat at my emotional rock bottom. I was lamenting to a dear friend. “I’ll just be alone forever,” I sulked. I explained to her I had nothing to offer: I wasn’t attractive enough, smart enough, thin enough, charming enough, funny enough, and on and on and on and on. This angel looked at me and said, quite frankly, “Oh that’s just the committee. You need to tell them to shut up.” I looked at her quizzically and she explained that the committee is those voices in our heads that tell us all the lies we believe about our situations and ourselves. In psychology we call them irrational thoughts. These irrational thoughts become schemas and root themselves into our behavior patterns. We begin to act as though these beliefs are true. As a result, we don’t put forth much effort and we actually do fail the test, or we stop taking romantic risks and we really do end up alone. Albert Ellis defines this process in his theory and developed Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT) to retrain ourselves to think differently. To best understand how it works, let’s look at Ellis’s ABC format:
A. Something happens. (Oh, crap. So this happened.)
B. You have a mindset about the situation. (The committee starts yapping)
C. You have an emotional reaction to the belief. (Panic! Rage! Hide!)
The trick is to intervene at step B. Often we react without even realizing what we think. To start retraining, you have to stop when you are having a reaction to something and ask yourself, “Why am I having this response?” Eventually, you will uncover whatever lie the committee is telling you. At that moment it’s time to fire that committee member and hire a new one. One who tells you the truth and affirms what is true about you and others and the situation. Is this an easy task? Not exactly. It just takes practice. Sometimes it even takes the help of a counselor. But you can start to retrain your committee today by practicing affirmations even before you encounter an “Oh, crap” moment.
I realize this sounds a lot like our old friend Stewart Smalley, but he did have a point you know. You are good enough. You are smart enough. You have unique and valuable gifts to offer the world and people notice and respect you for it. They just don’t always say so because they’re too busy listening to their own committees tell them they don’t measure up. So for now, get a little help from sweet Jessica. Let her be the first new-hire on your committee and remind you that you, “can do anything good!” If you liked this post, you can also check The Key to Social and Intellectual Growth.
Brought to you by Just Mind, counselors in Austin who are working to provide their clients with the best care possible.