Another tool from Melanie Fennell’s book is the “self-criticism record sheet” where you take a negative thought, preferably at the time you have it or very soon after, and rate your emotional state. This is my record from back when Miss X told me that she was falling for the man I have referred to as Mister Unsuitable (based on what she told me about him and why she could never be with him – to date she has been in a relationship with him for nearly five months).
Situation: Miss X told me why she had been in a strange mood (feelings for him)
Emotions (rate 1-100): Anxiety – 60. Panic – 40
Self-critical thoughts: I can’t compete with him. Better looking than me, younger, more successful, more confident
Self-defeating behaviour: Felt anxious about whether I should tell her how I feel. Decided not to – after all, there’s no way she’d choose me over him. Personal insults such as “too fat”, “too ugly”, “a failure” were a matter of course.
To challenge these negative thought patterns, the book then asks a series of questions and forces us to evaluate “in light of this new information how do you feel?” Well, no change because I had no contrary evidence to challenge it with as I had with other issues. There were no ex girlfriends or dating experiences to draw on.
Let me take you to how I felt when I told Miss X how I felt about her:
Situation: Aftermath of confessing my feelings
Emotions (rate 1-100): Despair 100. worthlessness 100. Anxiety. Feeling alone. I was so sure my feelings were reciprocated
Self-critical thoughts: Nobody will ever want me because nobody has ever wanted me. Why would they? I am repulsive and have no attractive qualities
Self-defeating behaviour: Retreated into a shell on Friday, punishing myself mentally for being so pathetic, ugly, fat and repulsive
The questions that we use to challenge these negative perceptions had no effect. They made me feel worse. She had chosen Mister Unsuitable and despite insisting on his catalogue of faults, and listing my virtues, these things did not sink in. The bad experiences from earlier years came flooding back and I kept reminding myself of the awful things my ex-wife had said. And now, Miss X who’d flirted with me on the first week we spent in each other’s presence, who (looking back now) played with my emotions while she figured out her own, was passing me over for somebody she told me she could never be with.
For my other issues, this task was a superb way of challenging those negative thought processes and in the end I was doing it automatically in my head without needing the record sheet. “I’ve lost my mobile phone – I’m useless” for example. I would stop and think “No I’m not… I’ve just forgotten where I left it. This is all or nothing behaviour and everybody loses their phone from time to time”.
It is easy to be self-deprecating but when you are doing it all the time it can become a serious problem. It prevents you doing things – because you are a failure. It stops you having expectations of others – because you are not worthy. In extreme cases, you will end up in abusive relationships because you feel you deserve no better.
We are now coming up to the end of the exercise in the book but there is one major task still to go.