When I was first in therapy for anxiety and panic attacks, my therapist gave me an exercise: draw the anxiety. It ended up looking a little like E.T. but with a sour disposition. I named it, “George.”
The purpose of naming the anxiety wasn’t to adopt it permanently into my psyche; it was to have something that was NOT me to “blame” for anxious thoughts, feelings, etc. Though I don’t have panic attacks or much anxiety anymore, I still call George out when negative or illogical thoughts come to mind, causing me distress. This is a technique that I have shared with clients, most with success.
Here’s an example:
Jan works in an office with several other people. Because of her upbringing and low self-esteem, Jan believes that people don’t like her very much. In her quest to feel better about herself, Jan started therapy and named those ugly thoughts, “The Hulk,” because they feel angry and green.
On her way out to lunch, Jan passed her co-worker in the hall. Jan smiled, but the co-worker’s face did not change from one that looked a bit angry. “Oh no!” Jan thought. “Sheila is mad at me! What did I do?” Recognizing the angry, green feeling of her “Hulk,” Jan started questioning her thought.
“Have I had any interactions with Sheila that would cause anger on her part? No. I haven’t even spoken to her in a few days. Could there be another explanation for Sheila’s mood? Of course! She could be irritated or frustrated with a number of things that have nothing to do with me.”
As Jan focused on these questions, her “Hulk” turned back into mild-mannered Bruce Banner, who is way more manageable than his alter ego.
If you deal with anxiety, depression or just negative thinking, what does your “George” look like? What color, shape and texture is it? What is its name? By having a third party to “blame” for these thoughts, you are living healthier – for you are NOT your thoughts. And your thoughts do not have to direct your behavior. I have taken away George’s power to control me, and I’m much healthier for it!