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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Overcoming Worry: Rewriting the Story You've Been Telling Yourself

I've written prior articles about worry, including: How to Stop Worrying: What is Chronic Worrying and Steps You Can Take to Stop Worrying.  Today I'm focusing on the stories you might be telling yourself that are causing you to worry, and how you can stop worrying by rewriting these stories.

Rewriting the Story You've Been Telling Yourself

People who tend to worry often tell themselves negative stories about what could happen in the future.  Sometimes, this is based on prior experiences and other times it's based on the imagination.

Worrying is often habitual--the more you do it, the more you're likely to continue to do it, so it's important to have some tools to overcome this habit.

One way to overcome habitual worrying is to become aware that you're telling yourself a particular story, and this story often has no basis in fact.

Once you've become aware that you've developed a habit of telling yourself negative stories that cause you to worry, you need to replace this pattern with something else, and one possibility is to rewrite your story with a different ending or several other possible endings that represent how you'd like things to turn out.

Rewriting the story isn't just a way to soothe yourself, it also makes you more aware of all the different possibilities that you're not considering when you only focus on negative possibilities.

It also opens up your mind to other creative solutions to your problem that you might not have considered before.

Here's an example:
Mary worried that she would never advance in her career.

Overcoming Worry: Rewriting the Story You're Telling Yourself

Her negative thoughts about herself kept her from proposing the kind of work projects to her boss where she could stand out and, at the same time, make a positive contribution to her organization.

Although she had many creative ideas, she worried that her ideas would be rejected, so she never mentioned them to her boss.

But she also realized that her colleagues often proposed ideas that were similar to the ones she kept to herself and they were often rewarded for them with career advancement and more money.

This was frustrating for Mary because she knew that she was talking herself out of putting her ideas forward by worrying that they would be rejected.

So, on the advice of her psychotherapist, Mary wrote out a story based on her worries and read it to herself out loud.

As soon as she heard herself read these words out loud, she knew that her worries were unfounded, but she still continued to worry.

Then, she began rewriting her story, which was a struggle for her because her habitual worrying about putting herself out there and her fear of a negative outcome had become so ingrained that it was hard for her to come up with a different ending other than the one that always played out in her head.

Since it was so hard for Mary to see anything but a negative outcome and reasons to worry, her therapist suggested that Mary write the story as if it was about someone else.

So, Mary wrote about a close friend, Susan, who had a similar problem, and it was much easier.

As Mary began to envision other ways for Susan to overcome her habitual worry and negative thoughts, she could see how Susan could be successful if she just stopped listening to the stories she was telling herself and persisted in her efforts.

After Mary rewrote her own story with Susan as the protagonist and she allowed Susan to have a successful ending to story, Mary was able to see that there was no reason why she couldn't take these steps herself.

As soon as she reread the story with a positive ending, something opened up in Mary and she had a flow of creative ideas about what she could do to write up her proposals for her boss and the what steps she could take.

Being able to see herself and her ideas in a new way was liberating for Mary, and she felt a renewed sense of creativity.

She also told herself, "What's the worst that can happen?" and she answered herself by telling herself that her ideas might be rejected, but she could live with that.  What she felt she could no longer live with was stifling herself and watching other people get rewarded for ideas that were similar to hers.

Within a short time, she gave her boss her proposal for a project to improve the organization and why she thought she would be the right person to head up this project. Her boss really liked her ideas and gave her the green light to go ahead.

Overcome Worry: Rewriting the Story You're Telling Yourself

A few months later, Mary succeeded with her  project and when a senior position opened up in the organization, her boss promoted her and gave her a substantial increase.

Psychological Trauma Can Get in the Way of Overcoming Habitual Worrying
For people who have experienced psychological trauma, it can be very difficult to let go of worrying because one of the symptoms of trauma is often hypervigiliance.

This means that the person is constantly worrying and anticipating what could go wrong, so they are constantly worrying.

For people who have experienced trauma, the suggestions that I've given in this article are often not enough.  They need help to overcome the trauma from a skilled psychotherapist.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have difficulty stopping yourself from worrying, you could benefit from seeing a skilled licensed mental health professional.

Rather than suffering on your own, recognize that you're not alone.

With help from a licensed psychotherapist, you can stop worrying so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me.

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