God didn’t save me – Critical thinking did.

Living with anxiety is like living with your hands tied behind your back….If you can function its supremely handicapped and nowhere near your full capacity.  You’re always compensating and correcting. Far too often you’re never really all there, in the moment – you’re always worried and fearful of horrible potential futures. You’re never really happy with yourself or accepting of who you are, you’re always inadequate and you never measure up. Anxiety can be worsened by elements in the world around you – dangers and threats, steps to be taken or not taken to avoid them, anecdotes that may apply to you can become new lenses for how you view yourself, your circumstances or may hide new, previously unknown dangers. It can even be exacerbated by your own personal beliefs, religious and cultural, deeply ingrained programming of which we are often only barely aware.

When I started to seriously tackle anxiety as a medical issue I began to understand how much of what you perceive as ‘real’ is just a function of chemicals in your brain. These things can be changed and so, thus, your perceptions of reality can be changed as well. It was both joyous and eye opening the day the medication I took for my anxiety and depression kicked in – suddenly, as if a switch had been thrown in my head (which, I guess metaphorically it had), so much of my previous perceptions, instincts and ‘gut feelings’ that I was so sure were hard and fast were thrown out the window – the fear, which had governed so much of my life for so long, was gone. The question then was fairly clear: – if my view of reality was so changeable, based on a flaw in a chemical function in my head, then how much of anything that I believed could be based on other basic flaws?

With anxiety being ever present, there had also been a number of events in my life that had caused me to start to seriously address the way my mind worked and the ways that I thought:  Living abroad and travelling, the death of my mother and the ending of a long term romantic relationship, changing careers… all major life changing events and situations that threw the way my mind worked into serious light.  So, that said there is an important distinction that needs to be made at the outset here – when I began this ‘metacognitive awakening’ if you will – it wasn’t to address WHAT I thought, but HOW I thought. The way you think can just as often lead to what you think…. change the former and you can sometimes demolish the latter and this has very much been the results of the journey I undertook.

Beginning to think critically required research: I needed to learn about things like logical fallacies and Socratic questions.  Therapy helped too; having someone with a scientific training in the mind analyse behaviours and thought processes  – long followed but not understood –  was a great help in applying a more critical, scientific methodology to my own outlook on life and feelings, my biases and opinions. I began to look more upon the importance of evidence in how I formed opinions and also how I felt in a given situation.

Practically speaking the process has led me to understand how many of my previous views and modes of thought were based on empty supposition and inner biases. It was easier, for example, to believe in a God because when I was bluntly honest, I wanted to believe in a God.  This self knowledge allowed me to see all the logical fallacies I engaged in to ‘prove’ this belief, the ways this inner bias allowed me to interpret really bad evidence in a way that supported my prejudice.  Furthermore, this process has allowed me to recast my own views of myself. People that suffer from anxiety and depression often have a very low opinion of themselves… their self esteem, if it exists at all, is often extremely low and very weak, often when presented, it is little more than bravado.  Most people see my front, but in truth I have always had extremely low self esteem  and to say I’ve engaged in self destructive behaviours as a result would be an understatement. Applying critical thinking to these views has allowed me to balance the relentless self loathing with a bit of self-reality: I’m all right, in fact, sometimes, I’m pretty good – no bravado this time, there is evidence for it.

My default programming has always been never to allow myself to be happy, because whenever I am happy, something bad will happen. Programming that ignored the fact that good things do happen, that I have been and can be happy.  Thinking critically has allowed me to dissect this pattern and life has become much less of a struggle, I can enjoy being happy.

This is not a cure-all.  Given that many of my issues are likely biochemical there is always more work to be done.  But the change in outlook, confidence and general happiness I have experience since I critically smashed the house of cards that was my own thought processes cannot be overstated. In the arsenal of tools for personal freedom, critical thinking has been a super-weapon.

Will convert for good evidence.

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~ by benephobia on October 30, 2013.

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