If you tend towards black-and-white thinking, you may believe that there are only two possibilities in any given situation (it's great or it's terrible; it's working or it isn't; it's right or it's wrong). But this is primitive, emotional thinking which you fall into because anxiety keeps you emotionally aroused. And, as we have mentioned before, when you are emotionally aroused, you don't have full access to your rational mind and all the possible subtleties of thought.
This is why you need to work actively to keep yourself calm.
Then, when you are calm, you can let yourself see the bigger picture, the more optimistic outcome, the creative solution. Taking a more positive, empowering perspective on events in this way is what therapists term 'reframing'. A good therapist will do this quite naturally - and sometimes we do need another, perceptive person to help us see what we were blind to before. But you can also reframe for yourself and learn to make it second nature too. Reframing opens up entirely new possibilities to try out and allows you to explore options instead of rigidly sticking within your own narrow interpretation of events. When you are stuck, reframing can help unstick you.
Reframing is, in effect, a refinement of challenging negative thoughts. So, when you think something negative about yourself or someone else, try, as an exercise, to come up with a few alternative viewpoints. The aim is not to explain away problems or to avoid taking responsibility for certain attitudes or actions but to generate new thoughts that open up possibilities rather than close them down, and that consequently may help you to move forward. For instance:
"Why do I always go and say yes when friends ask to stay the weekend? It is so much work and I get so stressed."
"It takes me out of myself when people stay and we laugh and have a good time. Perhaps we could get a takeaway instead of me having to cook."
"When my boyfriend corrects me, he is showing his contempt for me."
"When my boyfriend corrects me, he is just trying to be helpful." "My boyfriend can't stop himself correcting me. He just has to have things right."
"I was an unwanted child."
"I know what it is like to be unwanted, so it means a great deal to me to know that my partner and my friends have all positively chosen me, and that I matter to them." "Even though my mother was just 17 when she had me and wasn't ready to cope with being a mother, there were plenty of people who gave me love and care and attention in my childhood."
"I find it hard to say no."
"I'm not a selfish person." "I like to be helpful."
"Nothing is ever done well enough for my liking."
"I can really appreciate the effort that has gone into this."
"I should do more exercise."
"I'll find a way to make exercise fun, and then I'll want to do it."
Reframing fear of childbirth
Some women are extremely anxious about the prospect of giving birth for the first time. This is not surprising, as friends or relatives may have given them chapter and verse of their own extremely painful/ protracted or complicated deliveries. Or, if they have been spared that, they may have been scared to death by dramatic depictions of difficult births in films and TV hospital dramas, where the whole process may be accompanied by much screaming and writhing, with nurses and doctors in a desperate race against time to deliver the at-risk baby.
Some women may, of course, be fearful because they have undergone a previous, highly traumatic birth for real. If that is the case for you, the rewind detraumatisation technique (described in Part 3) can resolve this fear.
If you are pregnant for the first time and fearful of child-birth - or so fearful that you daren't even get pregnant - relax yourself by one of the methods described earlier and then read these words:
"This may be your first time having a baby but the part of your brain that is going to be in charge of giving birth to your baby has done it thousands of times. Because it was passed on to you by your mother, who could only have given it to you if she had successfully given birth to you. And her mother passed it to her and her mother's mother before that and so on, right back to the beginning of mammalian life on this planet, 300 million years ago. In all that time, that programme hasn't failed once, or you wouldn't be here. You may be unsure of what to do or what to expect, but your unconscious mind knows all about it."
This is an example of something along these lines that psychologists have said to many clients over the years and they have found it enormously reassuring.
Reframing fear of dying
Naturally enough we fear dying because it is an unknown experience. And the unknown always raises anxiety. But a deep fear of dying, even when young and well, is only likely to arise because other needs are not being met, and these need addressing.
For many elderly and terminally ill people, their fear of dying can increase not only because death is relentlessly approaching but also because dying is so often pushed into the background. It is relegated to the side rooms in hospitals, talked about in hushed voices - or not discussed at all - so people's anxieties are not addressed. However hard it is for you, therefore, try to discuss it, if they want to. Dying is something we must all do, after all. However, it is often fear of pain, rather than fear of dying, which is paramount. Fortunately modem drugs can usually minimise any physical pain involved.
Sometimes it is appropriate to distract people from their fear of dying. Splitting their attention minimises the fear. Get them to focus on whatever else you can: interesting happen- ings in the family or the wider world, happy memories, past achievements, other people's lives, humorous or curious stories. Laughter is a tranquilliser with no side effects, so make them smile and laugh.
If there is a practical problem they are worrying about, perhaps about who will look after their spouse or how their bills will be paid, demonstrate to them that they can be solved, by you or somebody else, so they don't have to worry about it any more. If they have any regrets about things they did or did not do in life, reframe this as part of the human condition. We all have such regrets but wallowing in them is a great waste of time and energy - we all end up having to let everything in this world go eventually, including all those we love. They may like to speculate about 'life after death'. If so, try to join them in such talk in a thoughtful and comforting way. Never scoff. Whatever your own beliefs remember that the vast majority of people in all cultures and at all times have taken comfort and meaning from feeling themselves connected to a greater, eternal, reality.
For some people, the focus of the fear is not dying but being dead. There are two ways to look at this.
Do you (or the person concerned) believe in life after death? If not, there is no point in worrying about how people are getting on in your absence or what is happening to your decomposing body - because you won't have any knowledge of it. It won't matter. If a dying person is concerned about how loved ones will cope without them, the best way to allay the fear is, as mentioned above, to carry out some planning - decide what to leave to whom, arrange who will take care of whom, ensure the will is up to date, etc. If the concern is about being forgotten, it can be helpful to create a memory book or plan the content of a memorial service. Ivan's father, for example, spent a little time each day during the three years before he died, at the age of 95, writing memories of his life, even though it was a struggle and his eyesight by that time was very poor. The resulting memoir is now a much-loved family heirloom.
However, if a person believes in options for reframing. Death can be compared to birth. In the womb, we felt totally secure and all of our needs were met. Yet, when the time was right, we were ready to move on, into another world, the one we live in now. We had no idea what this realm would be like but we had the courage to come here, releasing the hormone that triggered our own birth process. Death, too, is like that. It is the entering of another, unknown realm and crossing a threshold into another level of being. People who have near-death experiences often sense themselves in a tunnel with light and a welcoming presence at the end, and are at first disappointed to 'return' to life, when they realise their 'time' hasn't come. But after the experience, they commonly cease to fear death and become less materialistic. Death, they feel assured, is not an end but another beginning.
In such ways, one can think more creatively and reassuringly about natural life processes.