⇢ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Your Pandora’s Box
In a previous article, I noted that much of my failure in communication has ultimately come down to effort. Because I have not put in the time and effort required to build relationships, my overall success in conveying information and having successful relationships has been very low. I will address the value that people put on quality time and how it relates to sincerity in another message. For now, I address this topic because I want to reach a desired destination, and one cannot plot a course to one’s destination without knowing where one presently stands. It is very important to be truthful with oneself. While the truth is a terrible and fearsome thing, falsehood is a destroyer of one’s lifetime and soul.
Cognitive behavioral therapy attempts to ascertain both the point and method by which one’s cognitive processes lead to undesired outcomes. According to the National Institutes of Health, cognitive behavioral therapy has been shown through meta-analyses (multiple studies of studies) to be efficacious in treating a number of deleterious issues, including “substance use disorders, schizophrenia and other psychotic disorders, depression and dysthymia, bipolar disorder[…]etc.”
The NIH concludes that, “In general, the evidence-base of CBT is very strong.“ This is important as it allows people to have more control over their lives through their own, internal mechanisms, and also allows for more positive outcomes. If it can work, there’s really not a better way to fix one’s life.
I have commented before on how meta-analyses have shown that being in nature changes one’s hormone balance and brain activity, and reduces mal-adaptive ruminations about oneself. Effectively, nature helps remove some of the “darkness” that might cloud your mind. (I should note that one friend asked me if I was always in the wilderness because I have a “dark side.”) In my case, not really—I just grew up in the woods, so they’ve always been more home to me than a Starbucks, and as a side-benefit, my mental and spiritual health are improved.
Related to this, cognitive-behavioral therapy is really a term for a number of interventions that “share the basic premise that mental disorders and psychological distress are maintained by cognitive factors.” The National Center for Biotechnology Information remarks,
“The core premise of this treatment approach, as pioneered by Beck (1970) and Ellis (1962), holds that maladaptive cognitions contribute to the maintenance of emotional distress and behavioral problems. According to Beck’s model, these maladaptive cognitions include general beliefs, or schemas, about the world, the self, and the future, giving rise to specific and automatic thoughts in particular situations. The basic model posits that therapeutic strategies to change these maladaptive cognitions lead to changes in emotional distress and problematic behaviors.”
As Homer would say, “Speak English to me, doc!” And then he’d probably ask for it to be dumbed down a shade. In essence, we have perceptual filters (like eyeglasses through which we view the world) that color how we see our lives. Sometimes our shades might be a little too dark, so learning to figure out where we’ve gone astray is important. Otherwise, our maladaptive thought patterns will continue to get us the same results over and over and over—and they say that the definition of crazy is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result!
In my life, by not letting go of some early maladaptive traits from my childhood, I was basically doing just that. “Dang, that relationship tanked. Well let’s try a new one with this person and see how it goes. Dang, that relationship went down like the Titanic. Oh, look, a new person to try it on. Shucks, that one Hindenburged hard…” So I needed to assess where I was taking the wrong fork in the road (every time), and more importantly, what underlying cognitive trait was influencing me to choose the wrong thing…every. Single. Time.
⇢ My Dad, the Secret Agent (Con)Man
There was one thing, upon review, that it was suggested I kept mentioning, but then discarding (a telltale sign) and quickly moving on. My father (God bless him), has been a bit of a miscreant. He chased off my brother with a shotgun (so I never got to grow up with him), claims to have slept with over 600 women, and has been married, I believe 15 or 16 times now. Often these romantic liaisons were to help him feel better about himself, as well as to provide financial gain. For example, my father does not drink, but he does frequent bars. He also works out and is an expert in practical fighting. A popular recreation for him was to go to bars, not drink, get a man to throw a punch at him in anger, and then beat the drunk guy up. Under ideal conditions, he could then take the woman that the man had been with, too.
But perhaps you’d like to know about him a little bit more. When I was young, FBI agents showed up at our house. I still remember the one, tall man, Special Agent in Charge James Cross. Why would the FBI show up to a house in Montana, far off the grid, where the family was carrying their water and had no electricity or telephone?
Well, why would a family live like that?
As it turns out, my father had, in the past, had many dealings with the FBI, working at times for them, and at times getting himself caught up in things that he probably shouldn’t have, which would then end up in him working for them again. God bless America. (This may explain his paranoia, emblematic of which was his refusal to drink any fluid which had left his sight.) And in this case, we had been under surveillance, and he was up to some things they considered to be squirrely. In essence, it involved the fact that we’d been neighbors with the Atlanta Olympic Bomber (Eric Rudolph), that we’d suddenly moved when Eric had gone missing, and that my dad had been taking lots of groceries into the woods and coming back with none. (Cool story: I had noticed a surveillance truck through my telescope earlier in the month but had thought it was just random weirdos, since our county was full of them.)
Now what happened to us? Well, we found out about a secret, and my dad went and…made some money off of the FBI! As one does. Cash, of course. Later on, I talked to one of my many half-siblings and found out that this was not the first time that this had happened. In a previous marriage, my father had run into the house, cursing obscenities, yelling that they had to “get the $%$% out now,” and packed up the family and, as was his wont, moved from the Eastern side of the country to the remote areas of Montana. Apparently he was, at the time, involved with some of the Top-10 folks, some of whom were mysteriously ratted out. Hmmmm…and he was then able to buy a bunch of land, which was unusual given that he has a strong distaste for work.
So that’s one bit of his history. He didn’t go to Vietnam, which is weird, but he claims that he was handing out drugs on college campuses with the CIA. Who knows if that’s true. He lies to “stay in practice.” He once told me that he got a flat when he was going up the road due to it being freshly graded…I then drove up the same road and it wasn’t graded. But, as he notes, you have to practice to be perfect, and you need to get so good at lying that you believe what you’re saying. Incidentally, his favorite character was a man in a John Grisham novel who did just that, and convinced the judge, the jury, and himself.
What sort of things does a father like this enjoy? One of his favorite times was when he slept with a Pan Am pilot’s wife and got caught. He ended up fine, but she lost everything. And as he noted with some smugness, “She had it coming.” He was able to inhabit both the world of a cheater (both as a spouse and a bachelor) and a deliverer of justice concomitantly.
Another favorite recollection of his was when he convinced a school teacher to marry him. One reason he’s done well with the FBI is because he is a chameleon, and has charm that’s on steroids. He can become whatever you’d want, and you’ll believe him over 10 people telling you horror stories about the truth. And so he convinced this woman to marry him. He convinced her to go to Ireland with him, to pack up and go. Well before the internet or cell service, this was a perfect situation for him. Once over there, one day, he told her that he was going on down to the pub. He took her passport. Her ID. Her money. He went and removed all of the money that he could from the bank accounts. He vanished, off to the next woman. For a man with no SSN and who uses fake identities better than a real one, this required little effort, and was a huge boost to his ego.
And so went his life. He was verbally abusive (always) and physically abusive almost never (can’t have the cops sniffing around), and the worst I ever got was a hurt wrist, praise God. He loved law and knowing it; he loved scams. He once got together with one of the heads of the Militia of Montana (MoM) and they concocted a scheme to defraud an elderly gal who made her money in real estate out of thousands of dollars (~$200,000 in 2019 USD), and he siphoned off huge numbers of bearer bonds. She died. I recall his fits of rage and cussing as he burst through the door one day with howls of, “She &^$%ing faked her own death! FAKED IT! That obituary was fake!” Yeah, he was the sort of guy who could get you to fake your own death once you realized what was going on.
His primary jobs throughout his life were in being someone else—being a personality. DJing and being a salesman worked well in that regard, and boy if he wasn’t good at those jobs. He did take pride in the accomplishments of his children, and he ranked us and let us know our standings. This is probably a sufficient overview of how he was, but to be fair, he himself had a much worse family, and so the level of dysfunction is decreasing through our generations, which is not always broadly typical.
But he has certainly had an influence on his children, though he has admitted, “You can have a perfect father or a father who gives you the perfect example of what not to do, and you should be thankful for both.”
One day, he was on the phone with me, and commented on a girl I was seeing. “Wow, really? She’d see someone like you? I can imagine her giving me a cuddle, or your brother, but you?” Slightly amusing, this was common for all of my childhood. I’ve never had his dark complexion (he believes that I should use tanning wipes), his musculature (he’s built), or his charisma. He even noted on one of my friends, “I don’t understand why she’d be friends with you, but I bet ya she’d like me.”
That sounds bad, but it really isn’t. I am, of nature, not the most emotional person; I recall looking at a girlfriend once and thinking, “This person likes me.” And I felt a deep discontent, because I could not, while rummaging around the bins in my mind, where I hold my information, find out why she would have a reason to like me. More disquietingly, I could not figure out when she would have feelings of affection based on the information about me that she valued.
But that’s me. I don’t connect with people easily. When I dream, I don’t see faces on people, and I can’t remember faces to save my life. I never recognize that I like someone until it’s far too late. As an example of this, I was chatting with a girl once, with whom I was friends, and she stated that she’d like a back massage. I informed her that I myself hated massages, but that I was happy to give her one, as my father had always desired massages of his back (and ears) when I was a child. When I turned around from staring out the window, she had no clothes on her torso. I suppose my look of horror tipped her off, because she put her hands over her breasts and stammered, “Oh, are we not…I thought that we…” I am the same when it comes to ascertaining whether a person dislikes me, is uncomfortable with me, or values me.
⇢ Prevail: Discipline to Confront Brutal Facts
Applying some cognitive behavioral therapy, in my case, could be a great boon. Returning to the subject of valuing, I noted in my previous topic, “[A great] friend pointed out that other folks are willing to love bomb people they appreciate, while I tend to keep people at arm’s length.” This friend is something of a touchstone for me, and has always seemed to understand me in a way that I don’t understand myself. She also noted, “Nature is about connection. You don’t connect well with people. Someone else being there interferes with you connecting to yourself, with nature, with God, etc.”
So my friend was right. I don’t love-bomb people. I don’t let people get close. When someone does want to be close, I am intensely and inherently suspicious. My father can play a long con over at least 6 months if he has to, and has used so many people. I do not have his looks, nor do I have his charm, so I am immediately fearful when someone shows me affection. One of the first things I think is, “Is this person trying to use me?” To top it off, I have an almost malignant distaste for showing much open affection. I’ve seen guys research women to find out what they like so that they can bed them. Love bombing, to me, feels almost like manipulation.
For that reason, I am forever behind in my response time. During the time that a relationship should be organically developing, I am trying to figure out why someone would like me. Twice, I have literally, physically removed girls from physical contact when they were trying to show me affection, because I was horrified and in shock, not having had time to process the pros and cons of what was going on. By the time I’ve had feelings for them, they’ve gone away in disgust and with sadness.
My past contributes to my current and continued failures in relationships and communication, but until I master it, I also believe that it makes me highly ineffective as a partner and as a leader. That said, I cannot make excuses for where I presently am. This is squarely *my* past. I am a 1%’er. My background is one to envy and is, in my estimation, more blessed than 99% of the world’s.
Addressing one’s present failures through the lens of the behavioral progression that has led to them (repeatedly) must not be conflated with excusing such behaviors. Rather, it is the first step in combating complacency. Alex Harris noted the creeping effect of complacency, saying, “Complacency is a blight that saps energy, dulls attitudes, and causes a a drain in the brain. The first symptom is satisfaction with things as they are. The second is rejection of things it as they might be. ‘Good enough,’ becomes days today’s watchword and tomorrow’s standard.”
So far from excusing the behavior, it’s taking the cover off of it. It’s forcing the bad behavior to see nature’s disinfectant—light. Importantly, it’s exposing the wound to see what truly lies beneath. It is having the discipline to confront who you really are with integrity, rather than hiding in despair. And it isn’t pleasant.
“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”—Admiral Stockdale
Some current, brutal facts about my reality are as follows:
- I do not like emotions. I do not trust them. The fact that I fail to utilize them appropriately as catalysts for good causes me to feel resentment, which is a negative adaptation to my mental space.
- Men who cannot effectively communicate are inherently poor leaders. Inherently poor leaders should not be attempting to lead relationships into success.
- I am not a very good friend. I am very willing to give people money, but I know that I purposefully avoid seeing friends (with the exception of a man named TL, who I trust a ton, for some reason), and that I feel a spiritual lassitude malaise when I am around many people for a long period of time.
- I recoil at having to consider what my emotions might be. I feel nauseous discussing important things in my past. While I will talk someone’s ear off, I will not allow them the privilege of getting to know anything deep about me.
I have had a serious run of errors in my personal life, like a 163-lb bull in a china shop. Addressing the negative outlooks that color my perceptual filters is something that can significantly ameliorate my problems, but it will require a great deal of inner agony and trust. God tells us that struggles are present, and that they shall not all come without weeping. For our struggles, and for the struggles of others, it is often true that much pain must be endured before we conquer. In Isaiah 66:8, God confirms this and says, “Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons.”
Like a new birth, becoming a new person is not without pain.
In the book, “The Four Loves,” CS Lewis wrote, “Eros will have naked bodies; Friendship naked personalities.” It is amazing that I have tried to live a life where I want to give and get agape love while having an impenetrable barrier to my inner man. That I want friends, while being unwilling to admit who and what I am. The nature of God is plural, One composed of Three, and so our own nature is to be united at the deepest level with someone else. But I have allowed no one the privilege of that.
⇢ Search for Peace, and Work to Maintain It
So my thoughts have presently turned to Jesus and His love; His agape. Agape is a love that is characterized by giving:
- Do you love me? FEED my sheep! (John 21)
- Greater agape has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15)
GIVING! If we learn to love in an “agape” way, that will lessen our fears and anxieties. I don’t need to fear what’s going to happen, because I am not expecting a return. I am *giving* myself away. Some person may not value it that much, but for every person who doesn’t, someone will value it 10x more than I can comprehend. (And in this regard, my outlook works in my favor.)
Agape focuses on giving, not getting. It will allow those who love us to have access to our souls; our joys, our fears, our ambitions, and our tears. “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:12-13)
I’ll be honest, the thought of marriage actually terrifies me. The thought of deep friendships is just wild and almost inconceivable, and I sometimes lose sleep thinking of hurt that being close to me might cause someone else. But God has blessed me with a fairly intelligent mind, strong leaders, a loving family, and people who are examples of what not to do, as well as examples to emulate. I also have encouragers. My awesome friend remarked,
“Your disconnect is a survival mechanism that got you to adulthood in great condition. Your job now is to reconnect with your inner child, now that you are safe, and to unlearn some of those survival mechanisms.”—Sarah L.
I am set up for success. I just have to embrace it, and actively work to maintain it. In that comes great inner peace. I am convinced that hiding my light under a bushel is an abdication of the Christian responsibility and a failure to be a worthwhile ambassador; it is a latent but malignant form of evil.
“Turn away from evil and do good. Search for peace, and work to maintain it.”—Psalms 34:14
With love, always,