I started reading The Happiness Trap while I was in inpatient. There are several times that the reader is asked to stop and do exercises, so I’m still in the process of reading it, but I wanted to share some of the exercises. In inpatient I did one that asked me to complete the sentence “The thoughts/feelings I’d most like to get rid of are…” and make a list of ways I’ve tried to do that.
Then for each way, I was supposed to consider whether it worked in the long-term, what it cost me, and whether it brought me closer to a full, meaningful life. I did not write down all the details to those last three questions, but for the first two…
“The thoughts/feelings I’d most like to get rid of are…suicidal ideation.” There are numerous thoughts and feelings that complicate my life, but those thoughts are persistent and creep in even when I’m not feeling particularly depressed.
Ways I’ve tried to get rid of suicidal ideation:
alcohol, painkillers, Benadryl, cutting, overeating, going wandering late at night, shopping for things I don’t need, talking to friends, therapy, inpatient, self-soothing, pacing, reading books, watching television, solving puzzles, assembling LEGOs, playing video games, knitting, snuggling cats, thought diaries, encouragement, Ride the Wave, sitting on the lawn swing, journaling, coloring
The underlined methods are those that have some success, at least in the short-term, without causing additional harm. In the long-term? None of them work, the thoughts keep coming back. This is the reason for ACT’s thought defusion techniques: to accept the thoughts without trying to push them away, and to take away their power. By contrast, DBT has a skill that’s actually called “Pushing Away”. I’ve always found it quite ineffective, despite taking Nadia’s advice and filling that thought’s space with something else.
So far I’ve read about defusion techniques for verbalized thoughts and those for disturbing images. I have a favorite technique in each category. For the verbalized thoughts, I take the negative thought (ie. “I am worthless.”) and repeat it over and over, alternated with “I am a banana!” (or some equally ridiculous statement). I end up giggling over how I’m clearly not a banana and slowly come to realize that I am not the other descriptor either.
For disturbing images, one technique is to superimpose the image in a variety of scenes, such as on a postage stamp on a letter, on the t-shirt of a jogger running by, or on a movie poster. Or, my favorite, on a banner trailing an airplane. Seeing the image out of context tends to separate it from the painful feelings it triggers.