This from an old friend from the REBT-CBT-FORUM@yahoogroups.com whom we have not heard from for a long time. This person has been struggling with anxiety and although works diligently applying REBT-CBT techniques, does not appear to be getting much traction. Although I am not psychic, I think I may have an idea as to why.
For readability and to protect privacy, let’s do a “Dear Abby” and refer to this person as “Pat.” Apologies in advance for the awkward pronouns. Pat has struggled for years with debilitating social anxiety, panic attacks and related excessive sweating and seems to have been working pretty diligently with REBT-CBT, unfortunately, without getting a lot of relief. Recently, Pat made the decision to work on this problem with a “shame attacking” exercise known as “The Banana Walk”
Shame attacking exercise: At its most basic, a relatively simple exercise or “homework assignment” often employed in REBT-CBT in which individuals force themselves to do things despite a fear of feeling anxious, embarrassed or foolish. One of the aims of the exercise is for people to learn that they can function effectively even if they might be perceived as being foolish or behaving foolishly. On a more primary level, shame attacking exercises teach an individual that it is OK to experience feelings such as anxiety or embarrassment, and that while uncomfortable, such feelings are not lethal and feeling them is not the end of the world.
Example of the “Banana Walk” shame attacking exercise
Pat shared that after doing preparation with REBT written work as well as mental rehearsing, that s/he finally found the courage to do the shame attacking exercise referred to as the “Banana Walk.” Hoping for a “magic bullet” that would miraculously cure the anxiety and sweating in one shot, Pat shares that it was somewhat helpful in reducing worry over what others might think of them, but that the sweating was not reduced and in fact might have been worse.
Pat is grateful for any help with this so that it will not continue to restrict life as much as it does. So, please add your comments, suggestions, “experience, strength and hope” with Pat in the comments box at the end.
Here is my, somewhat edited, reply to Pat:
Hi Pat, all,
Long time no see. Great to hear from you.
First of all, congratulations on your determination and courage in taking on shame attacking homework! Also for working so diligently with your written exercises.
I wonder if you have done any disputing work around sweating such as:
- I must not It is terrible when I sweat.
- I hate it that I can’t control my sweating
- There must be something wrong with me as I sweat so much.
- When other people see me sweating, they will look down on me
- And think me peculiar as some kind of coward or weakling or something.
Note that items in red are specific cognitive distortions and irrational beliefs. I am not psychic, so some of these guesses may be right on the money, others may be way off. Even the “off” ones, however, may help point you toward your own distorted thinking around sweating. Personally, I sweat a lot too, I always have. It is certainly not a pleasant or desirable thing to live with, particularly in a society that makes it shameful and them bombards us with advertising to hammer home the point with the intent of selling us billions of dollars’ worth of products which control or claim to control and stop this perfectly natural process. Not only is sweating in our Western Culture looked down upon, often people who sweat excessively and/or in the “wrong” situation are sometimes looked down upon and thought of as “lesser” or inadequate in some way. Unfortunately, while those of us who sweat profusely may not like it very much, there probably is little or nothing we can do about it physically. If it is truly a seriously debilitating problem, consider consulting with a qualified physician to see if some of the available medical treatments might be appropriate in your case.
It goes without saying that sweating is an eminently physical process, one which can be exacerbated or reduced depending on your interpretation and attitude toward it. Yes, of course, reducing anxiety will help . . . but it will not “cure” your sweating as sweating is neither a “disease” nor a neurosis! It is somewhat akin to “curing” blushing and flushing which are also neither a disease nor a neurosis. As the saying goes “Your mileage may vary” in terms of how much you may ever control your sweating or the underlying anxiety.
[Disclaimer: I know nothing about this author or this particular product. However, hypnosis is helpful for some people with issues of anxiety and dealing with situations which can cause them to feel self-conscious. Hypnosis is certainly worth exploring as one tool in the tool box. ~Rex]
My sense here–and of course I could be misreading this–is that with both the anxiety and the sweating, aim for being OK with them rather than trying to cure them. This is now well-understood as a “paradoxical cure” in which you reduce or eliminate unwanted emotions by first ALLOWING yourself to have them, to learn to be comfortable with actually feeling and experiencing them. Trying to control them or get rid of them–as I think you are–gives them more power, like the “monsters from the ID” from the ahead-of-its-time, classic SciFi movie “Forbidden Planet” where the ancient Martians destroyed their civilization when they were unable to control their own subconscious forces which they had turned in and unleased upon themselves.
There is essentially no difference between “flooding” and desensitization in which you approach your anxiety incrementally. In both cases, the immediate goal is to allow yourself to feel your anxiety, realize that it is uncomfortable-but-not-lethal. If flooding seems too intense, too shocking, there is no reason to approach it in little steps by letting yourself feel only the amount of anxiety that you can comfortably feel, then slowly increase your exposure until you can accept larger and larger “doses.” But again, you “get rid” of anxiety paradoxically by accepting it, by first allowing yourself to feel it. Although, of course, you use your intellect to structure and think about this, “acceptance” in this context is not an “intellectual exercise.” It is not theoretical but a literal and physical process you willingly participate in. If the word “acceptances” seems off-putting as some kind of highfalutin spiritual sort of thing, then the word “allow” is a perfectly acceptable alternative.
Mindfulness meditation and practice are great preparatio
n and work wonderfully in partnership with your more active disputing and “homework” exercises
My conclusion about my own excessive sweating is “Fuck it!” Just sweat. It won’t kill me. It is uncomfortable and sometimes a little embarrassing, but not the end of the world. If people judge me, they judge me. Not much I can do about that. Certainly becoming all upset and anxious over it just makes it worse and draws attention to it.
To rephrase that old anti-antiperspirant teevee commercial: Baby! Let ’em see you sweat!
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