Using writing, and meditation, and ice cream, and reading, and dreams,

and a whole lot of other tools to rediscover who I am,

after six years living with a man with OCPD.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Are ANTS Spoiling Your Picnic?

At a picnic, an ant or two... no big deal.  A swarm of ants, and we're ready to call in the Marines.

ANTS is also an acronym for Automatic Negative Thoughts, as described by Dr. Daniel Amen in his NY Times bestselling book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life.

Here's some typical ANTS (from Dr. Amen's book, but ones I also heard, myself, my my OCPD ex):
  • You never listen to me.
  • You don't like me.
  • This situation is not going to work out.  I know something bad will happen.
  • I should have done much better.  I'm a failure.
  • You're late because you don't care.
  • It's your fault.

Dr. Amen suggests we realize that thoughts actually impact how we feel and behave. 
  • You have a thought.
  • Your brain releases chemicals.
  • A electrical transmission goes across your brain.
  • You become aware of what you're thinking.

Notice how negative thoughts affect your body, he suggests.  
Every time you have an angry thought, an unkind thought, or a cranky thought, your body releases chemicals that make your body feel bad (and activate your deep limbic system.)  Think about the last time your were mad.  How did your body feel?  When most people are angry, their muscles become tense, their hearts beat faster, their hands start to sweat, and they may even begin to feel a little dizzy.  Your body reacts to every negative thought you have.

As adults, surely we've all noticed that when we do have an ant infestation in our home, even if we wipe up and kill every  ant, when new ants come in, they almost always follow the trail left by the other ants.  So, too, ANTS that travel across our brains leave a trail.

The key to "getting over it" begins with awareness.  Being aware we are choosing to think these thoughts - perhaps we are traveling a path that's seen ANTS scurry across it a thousand times.  Breaking the pattern isn't easy, but it's imperative for those who have OCPD to stop letting the ANTS rule.

He offers several steps to becoming an ANTeater and focusing on the positive thoughts - the ones that makes us feel good, to retrain our brains.

For those who love and live with someone with OCPD - constant negativity can be contagious, and we often have some exterminating of our own ANTS to do.

 He doesn't suggest, either, that it is realistic to only think happy thoughts, but if we were to count, how many of our thoughts would be positive, how many neutral, how many negative?  A pattern of mostly negative thoughts is going to drag us down, if it hasn't already.

There are some people I know who are not very "big" on Dr. Amen.  What I found fascinating is the photos of brain scans - those of normal people, and those with abnormal behaviors.  In a sense, it really IS in their head.  Sometimes terrible, anti-social behavior can be the result of a stroke, cyst, or other abnormality, and requires surgical intervention.

He makes the comparison to computers - if the hardware of a computer is broken or malfunctioning, it's not going to be able to run new programs.  No matter how many times you reload it or reboot the machine.  While I haven't finished the book yet, these ideas make much sense to me, and I like that he isn't pointing to one magic bullet, but to a combination of ways to address this:
  • Rule out (or diagnose) any abnormalities in the brain itself.
  • Correct said abnormalities with medication and/or surgery if necessary.
  • Psychotherapy and behavior modification (CBT) as needed.
  • Consider nutrition; adjust and balance the diet.
  • Regular physical contact - get hugs and touches from family members, bond through love-making, massage.  Human beings are meant to touch and be touched.
  • Aromatherapy (the limbic center of the brain is directly connected to the send of smell).
  • Implement regular physical exercise.
  • Work to improve positive thinking patterns, and kill the ANTS.

To me, the worst part of Automatic Negative Thoughts isn't even the negative, but the automatic.  Much like a smoker who always reaches for a cigarette when he is on the phone, doing something in a knee-jerk kind of way, without thinking about it, without being aware, is where the trouble can come in.

The people who have had most success in controlling OCPD, and for those without it, in creating a more joyful and peaceful life, are those who've learned to be mindful.

Have you read this book?  What did you like (or hate) about it?
Has this started any new ideas marching across your brain?

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