It stands for Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and roughly speaking says that our thoughts create our emotions. Hmm. It ignores the felt experience of the gut bypassing the brain. When I confront an angry woman, I don’t make an intellectual decision that this is an angry woman, I might have to run away, I’d better empty my bowels. My bowels make the decision faster than my intellect can function. In one particular instance I had rashly left a note for my flatmates (Nigerian student doctor, actor/musician, actress, furniture salesman and social worker) suggesting that as I planned to paint the kitchen (four foot by four foot squalid outhouse tacked on to neglected Edwardian terraced house in Balham) that weekend, would they mind not using the kitchen for a couple of days? The actress, home after an evening performance of ingenue in The Mousetrap, didn’t take too kindly to this suggestion and let me know it in an explosion of fury that only someone who has been in the Oxford footlights can produce. My buttocks clenched involuntarily in a way they had never done before. That was as far as bowel action went in this instance, although I could see that the muscle spasm might have been a deliberative response–are we running or fighting this time? I decided on retreat and defeat, so didn’t need to lose any extraneous weight in the end. The kitchen stayed unpainted. I skirted round the actress for the rest of my stay in the house.
My body has always reacted before my brain in dramatic circumstances. When I attended marriage counselling and my husband told a string of lies that painted our marriage in unrecognisable terms with me as the villain and him as the kind and tolerant victim of a psychotic woman, I wanted to speak but was unable to react except by shaking so violently I had to hold on to the arms of my chair to stop from falling apart. Which of course just lent credence to his tale.
In my youth when I was angry, instead of yelling, I burst into tears which was absolutely useless as a method of getting things changed. Looking back I recognise the feelings of powerlessness which brought on these reactions. I suppose CBT, where you analyse the reality of the sitation, might have helped me deal with these scenarios. Using the CBT mode I would have tested my belief that I had no power.
I could have renegotiated the painting of the kitchen to a more convenient time, I could have said at marriage guidance that I needed some fresh air. But my belief at the time was that I lacked any personal power and could only react emotionally. The strength of my emotions bypassed my intellect and my body took over.
What would I do nowadays? I still prefer to avoid confrontation, especially if it is unexpected. I do withdraw and rally my arguments before venturing back into the fray. The drugs I take for bi-polar disorder effectively stop me bursting in to tears ninety nine percent of the time. (It takes music played on the oboe or clarinet to drive through the chemical hedge that now protects me.) Life is less dramatic but much more comfortable. it feels as though I have power and am in control. This is of course just an illusion.