But I was telling you about our workshops at Ascot house. I got distracted. Sorry.
One was called “self-esteem” and addressed our lack of it. We’d trail in and adopt the standard body-language of this state, sitting with legs twisted around each other, shoulders hunched winsomely, one slightly higher than the other, sleeves pulled down over hands blighted by eczema and purple with cold, cupped together loosely in the lap as if awaiting the communion wafer, waiting, hopelessly, for absolution, heads bowed but coyly cocked, eyes fixed humbly on the floor; expressive of feminine fragility, a twisted parody of the way models sit on sofas, dreamily nursing mugs of coffee in ads for new-build homes.
These sessions were usually run by Jane, the impressive therapist I’ve mentioned before, and a therapy assistant called Eve, who I absolutely loved, probably because she resembled my own friends (or the sort of person I used to be friends with, when I had friends.)
I thought, at first these workshops would be typical “because you’re worth it” exercises in being told to value yourself, so characteristic of the modern, millennial sense of entitlement. However, such straight talkers as Jane and Eve were never going to allow that. This was where we were first introduced to the very plausible model of negative thinking that I employ all the time to explain my silly behaviour. You’ll recognise it from other posts in this blog:
a. Past experiences are processed into
b. Negative assumptions about yourself which, in turn lead to
c. Unhelpful defeatist decisions and paranoid and destructive behaviours, designed to hasten the inevitable humiliations, which form
d. Negative experiences, which provide evidence to support
e. Negative assumptions about ourselves
Etc. etc. You’ll remember I talked about how the students I worked with conformed exactly to this pattern in their attitude to exams.
Jane and Eve used old-style flip charts and whiteboards and pens, talking with assurance, and rapidly sketching great curving arrows to describe the self-fuelling cycles. They asked us for experiences to fit into the model. We were happy to volunteer, with an odd combination of actual and feigned reluctance, eagerness to talk about ourselves, and a genuine desire to do our duty by each other, and to the process, by offering ourselves up to humiliating scrutiny.
I remained sceptical of all this, until it dawned on me that the model was applicable to many aspects of the way I function, for example, my tendency to argue petulantly with Jo, become childishly stubborn and difficult, and then give in and apologise, thus:
1. I make negative assumptions about myself based on past experiences – I’m a bit of a twat, immature, thoughtless, not particularly bright, self-indulgent.
2. If contradicted, I assume I’m going to turn out to be in the wrong, will deal with it badly, and will, eventually, have to surrender and apologise.
3. This thought makes me feel inferior and defeated. I become sullen, stubborn and nasty.
4. This confirms my suspicions about myself, and makes my opponent annoyed,
5. So I surrender completely, apologise abjectly, and make the relationship even more unequal.
This model could also explain why I’m so subordinate and un-empowered and why I make Jo make all the decisions: I’m an idiot, so the decisions I make will always be the wrong ones. This makes me deeply indecisive, proving I’m an idiot. Or why I give in to temptations: I assume I’m weak, so don’t bother resisting, proving that I’m weak…