Thursday, December 15, 2016

Creating a Psychological Survival and Coping Kit

I grew up as a pretty happy-go-lucky person.  Somehow I learned to see the importance of making a decision to be happy and look on the bright side of things, and that made a lot of things easier for me.

But I still had trials and tests.

And afflictions.

And weaknesses.

And transgressions that I fell into.

At one point, I fell into a depression, and I got some counseling.  Under the direction of a doctor, I tried a few medications, but had more difficulty from the side-effects than from the depression.

Happily, my counselor at the time recommended a book to me called Feeling Good, by David Burns.  I got the book and read it.  In it, I found that much of my depression at that time was being caused by the way I was thinking.*  The thoughts were causing depressive feelings and contributing to a hopeless view of the world.

Eventually I learned that I had gotten cultivated some non-productive thought patterns that caused me pain.   (I’m sure Satan found that most amusing.)

I learned things about:
--How to have more realistic expectations of myself (and others)
--How to tell where my responsibility ended and another person’s began
--How to think more productively about what I did so that I could feel greater joy and happiness.

I don’t mind telling you that there were also things I read in Feeling Good that seemed to clash with gospel principles.  I was tempted to reject them because of that. But there was so much there that was helpful that I considered it a very valuable book, one worth keeping and referring back to from time to time.  I knew enough about myself to realize that I would not remember everything I’d read and I would need to review periodically.  I recognized that if I had fallen into bad habits of thought, it was possible and probable I would get into the same trouble again.

After a few more readings of that book over several years, I realized that some of the things that I’d previously thought clashed with gospel principles actually harmonized, but in a different way than I expected.  (Part of that could be because of how vocabulary is different between psychology and religion.)

The point of my telling you this is not necessarily to recommend that book, though it helped me.  The thing I learned was I could collect and keep resources around me that would help me recognize and correct mental-spiritual errors of thinking.

Over more years, I noticed I developed a few other peculiar thought-error patterns. They would manifest in some kind of behavior that I had troubles getting rid of.  When I noticed I was developing a new non-productive pattern, I started looking for principles, articles, scriptures, stories, coping techniques, strategies, and any kind of material that would address the issue.  I would gather it together in a document because I knew I would have to remind myself of that stuff again from time to time.  I have a document file for each problem.

This collection of material I have come to call my Psychological Survival and Coping Kit.  These issues are unique to me because they have to do with my particular weaknesses, challenges, and situation.  They give me valuable perspective. They help me manage my expectations in such a way that I remember where I need to be gentle with myself.  They represent areas where I know Satan particularly attacks me and where I know I need the Lord’s strength. 

I suspect everyone could benefit from building their own Psychological Survival and Coping Kit.  Studying and gathering available wisdom about a personal challenge is empowering. It makes the nebulous problem more defined and therefore limited.  It is amazingly validating; it helps us feel like we’re not alone.  It helps us become humble and open to revelation the Lord wants to give us to help us.  It helps us realize our need for the Savior and encourages us to come to Him.  It alerts us to traps and snares of Satan and prepares us to discern and avoid future stumbling blocks.  It gives us suggestions for what to do.  And when the kit is made, it is personalized to us.

I’m going to quote a well-known scripture that relates:

27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
 28 Behold, I will show unto the Gentiles their weakness, and I will show unto them that faith, hope and charity bringeth unto me—the fountain of all righteousness.  (Ether 12:27-28)

I love learning coping techniques.  Coping is not about just survival.  Coping is the way we deal positively with a challenge that allows us to figuratively learn and practice making lemon out of lemonade.  It’s the mechanics of the process of learning how to make weak things become strong after we’ve humbled ourselves turned it over to the Lord.  

* Some depression is caused by non-productive thought patterns and fallacious thinking and can be healed by learning to think in better, non-self-critical ways.  Other types of depression are caused by chemical imbalances and need the care of a physician and medicine to overcome.