This week I wanted to share a quote from a psychologist's manual on
depression; "Our minds effectively trump our direct experience so that
our experience becomes not whatever is being directly contacted in the
present moment but that which our words have built" ("ACT for Depression"; Zettle, 2007). Let's break this quote down a little. All experiences have the potential for eliciting emotions we don't want to feel. So in order to avoid those emotions we store an idea in our head about the particular situations that elicit those feelings. This helps us control what might happen and avoid any potential dangers.
This is a very adaptive process which has helped us become the dominant species on the planet. Unfortunately we get so good at creating such complex ideas that those ideas become as terrifying as the actual situations... and sometimes more so. This is how many mental health issues come into being. Where the castles you build in your mind become more real than what is experienced in front of you.
I often work with people in different ways to overcome this obstacle. In the most simplest form I often spend time scheduling a behavioural experiment that is safe and realistic but counters a behavioural habit they have found themselves in. For instance, a client may have decided they can not bring up a topic of conversation with their mother because "they know how it is going to go". In collaboration with my client I would help break down the issues at play and slowly ease into this conversation. One of the ways I would do this is via the Awareness Wheel which is referenced below.
There are a variety of ways that these language-based creations and obstacles can be more complexly approached, and I would highly recommend the book "Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life" by Steve Hayes. It sets out the basic psychological theory behind the issues above and provides exercises to help.