Mental health first-negative mental states

In the previous article we learned about ‘Anchors’ and how these can play a part in the way we interpret reality and how we feel in relation to others and our experiences in everyday life. Let’s reflect for a moment: we can empower ourselves to develop mental health tools for self-help and to boost our confidence levels through self-control of emotional states. Simply put, confidence is about believing in our abilities and power to succeed. How can we focus on trusting our own winning energy if we are constantly worried because we allow our past experiences to define our present feelings and how we interpret events?

The concept of anchors comes as a way of explaining how previous experiences define our present fears and prevents us from fully living the life that we wish to.  

Remember that Anchors are about associative learning, i.e. how we relate to one person or one thing to another person or another thing. An anchor is made every time that we associate a feeling to an event that we experience, and each time a similar event is experienced again in the future we are likely to go through the same feeling. For example, a child is bitten by a dog in a park and that experience has formed an anchor where every time the child sees a similar dog, they will instantly feel anxious even if the dog is harmless.

We keep anchoring onto things all the time whether we are aware of it or not, because this is how the process of association works. Anchors can be negative or positive – as a child, I was used to waking up to the rich smell of coffee and watching my parents brew and drink it every morning. Now every time I smell coffee, it reminds me of my childhood and the image of my parents drinking it is fresh in my mind.

The good news is that we can overcome negative anchors. For anchors to come into existence, they need to go through a set of steps rooted in our past experiences. The shape of an anchor is measured by how intense the experience is, how long the event lasts, how unique the experience is and how many times we experience the episode. Replication of the event might be sometimes required for an anchor to be set.

Let’s stop and think for a second. It takes a number of steps to form an anchor. Can we undo an anchor tracing back the same set of steps? The answer is yes, providing that we feel ready to face our fears and see them through. We are going to have to revisit the time in the past when the anchor was first set. It is essential that we re-evaluate the event that gave rise to the anchor through a more mature approach.

Let’s try a useful exercise. Inside your mind, step into a place where you are experiencing your negative emotional state. How intense is the emotional state that you are experiencing? Try to picture it vividly and become aware of what you are hearing. Now focus on what you are feeling in relation to the event/person involved.

Dissociate yourself from your physical self and your mind. Now you have two versions of yourself – one of them is your original version and the other one is the dissociated version. Use the dissociated version to stand in front of yourself and observe the original version of yourself experiencing the emotional state that’s concerning you.

Now take as many steps back from your original version as needed to become completely removed from your emotional state. At this stage, point your finger to where you visualise your past and turn your body around until you face that direction. As you are now facing your past, inside of your mind, look out for the very last time you experienced a similar negative emotion/event/problem. How long ago was this?

Again, try to identify a time before that when you experienced a similar problem. How far back did you go with your mind? And again, go back to a time before that when you experienced a similar feeling/event/problem in a very prominent fashion. Make another effort inside your mind to go further back in time when the problem was really serious. How old were you and who was in this picture with you?

Use a few words to describe what you are experiencing right here and now. Name the feeling that you are experiencing. Can you pin-point where the feeling is coming from? Now you are using your memory to recall the information, ask yourself what it is that you want to achieve.

We have just revised the process where an anchor has been set. We have travelled in time from a position of present emotional state, back to a position where we have identified the source of the emotional state, i.e. the event/situation that stemmed the problem.

As you have now named your emotional state, try to remember if you were putting pressure on yourself on that very day of this serious event. Inside of your mind’s eyes, stand directly behind this younger version of yourself and try to look at what your younger version is looking at – feel what they are feeling and understand what they were trying to achieve the day the anchor was set.

Now face the younger version of yourself and look into their eyes and ask them what they could have done differently back then. Provide your younger version with some guidance/input to have them refuse to pick up this pressure. The next stage is to associate yourself with your younger self, become one, and reassess/revaluate the entire situation from this new stance and through your new developed understanding of how your younger version could have acted differently.

What has now changed?

Now dissociate yourself from your younger version and come out of the whole situation. Look at the present day, here and now, and look down on the past events where the problem was formerly experienced. Describe how things have now changed. How do you feel now compared to how you were feeling initially at the start of this exercise? By now you are likely to have managed to break your negative anchor.

What could you do differently from now on in an analogous situation? The good news is that by having deconstructed the process that led to the making of the negative anchor (negative emotional state) and having torn down the anchor, you have allowed yourself freedom of choice between different possible solutions. This will increase the quality of your decisions in future life events. Being in control of negative emotions will inevitably have a positive impact on your confidence in relation to how you fully focus on your strengths because you have the power to avert what makes you feel concerned.

Dr Tony Boncordo

Published by Tony De Palmas-Stress Management

I am a mental health social worker and a stress management therapist by background. I have always been interested in how some people with a history of mental health problems succeed in life and overcome negative mental states without seeking professional help. I believe that this is achievable in some cases and it is about how our perceptions of reality shape the meaning we assign to events in life. To this effect, it is crucial to realize that unhealthy levels of stress are the result of how we approach life, and this can be changed by making different choices. My blog is about sharing knowledge on how to find healthy coping mechanisms for the stressors in one's own life. The focus is on how we can successfully overcome negative mental states by just making some modifications in how we approach life. If you would like to keep in touch please drop me a line on Sensitive Subject Area: The blog is written by an experienced and trained therapist, but it is not specifically designed to treat mental health problems and the aim is not to deliver therapy. It is best to check with your GP or therapist if you feel you need mental health support. Tony De Palmas

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