I am the cause of all bad moods. Fact. If someone is snappy, avoidant or generally ‘off,’ it’s my fault. At least, that’s what my anxiety tells me. She’s a bitch like that.
Back when I worked in an office I became a connoisseur of both facial expressions and tone of voice. It was an obsession, one I couldn’t help but feed. Scanning people for signs of disapproval was just part of the daily grind. Did people think I was stupid, boring or worst of all… weird? (This being worst because I am bloody weird)! I can’t have people figuring that out.
If my manager was short with me, I’d automatically think I’d done something terrible… and boy then the floodgates really opened. “She hates you, everybody hates you. You’re going to get fired.” By the end of that day I’d drafted my leaving speech. Better to be prepared.
LOTS of therapy and personal development later, I no longer think this way 24/7. NOT because of that golden piece of advice people usually offer up “they have better things to do then focus on you.” Literally the most INFURIATING thing you can say to someone with anxiety… Rationally speaking, yes, we know that we’re not the center of the universe. However, this doesn’t stop the negative thoughts from circulating.
The CBT Explanation
In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy terms, this behaviour is called ‘personalising,’ – “You assume responsibility for a negative event when there is no basis for doing so. You arbitrarily conclude that what happened was your fault or reflects your inadequacy.”
Basically, the whole thing is a reflection on how shit you are as a person.
My mind immediately goes over our last interaction. Did I say something offensive? Was I rude? Should I send them an apology just in case?
When I get caught in this negative thought cycle I deploy a few tried and tested techniques.
Rationalise it on paper. Bit of an effort, but it works. I adapted a CBT exercise:
- Write down some of the negative thoughts that you’re experiencing. E.g. “She hasn’t replied because she’s angry with me. I’m worried she’ll never speak to me again.” – It’s good to get all that crazy out!
- List any emotions that you’re experiencing. E.g. Worry, fear, frustration.
- Then write this sentence in capital letters – AM I PERSONALISING THIS?
- Do you have any valid evidence to support your negative thought? To be clear, valid evidence CAN’T just be a thought. Neither can dirty looks, or Instagram posts that haven’t been liked by said person. It has to be something in writing or a confession from the person. (I didn’t think so).
- Think of other possible explanations & list them – e.g. Maybe she’s seen the message and got distracted. Maybe she’s tired. Maybe she’s on her period and just wants to be left alone! Maybe she’s just in a bad mood. (Once you get going you’ll see there are lots of things).
Distraction – The worst thing you can do is allow yourself to think about it non stop. As tempting as this is, it won’t help. So don’t torture yourself. Instead engage your brain in another activity. Games are good for this, both video and paper. Read a book, watch something on TV… anything so long as you have to concentrate.
Resist the urge to ask – By this I mean… ask the person in question if you’ve done something wrong. (We’ve all done it). “Can I just check that I haven’t upset you in any way?” We think it’ll bring us comfort, but after the initial reassurance, we feel vulnerable and needy. Also, if we do this continually it marks us out as a punching bag. Someone who will take the blame.
Instead, do the CBT exercise above and try and focus on something else.
Finally, try and remember this.. YOU ARE A GOOD PERSON. Don’t let anxiety convince you otherwise. Negative thoughts are natural, but obsessive ones make us miserable. So be proactive and take action.