Changing beliefs when you can't see the alternative?

Has anyone had any luck with changing their beliefs about their life? I understand CBT and mindfulness and I've tried to put some of what I've learned into action but I'm coming up against the problem of not being able to see an alternative to my beliefs. This is where CBT has been problematic for me in the past. I've never had the opportunity to speak to a professional (still on the waiting list after two years) so I try to see the alternatives myself. I think i used to be a little better at it, but over time my hopes have been eroded away and I'm finding it very difficult to find an alternative to negative beliefs.

So for instance, I can't imagine a life where I feel happy and safe and secure anymore. I used to have that to aim for and could see ahead to how I would achieve it, but now I just can't imagine it at all. I guess I used to think that when I have a job I enjoy I will feel better, but now I've had a go at my dream job and found it too stressful, that has been taken away. I used to feel good with an ex boyfriend a few years ago - very good, I felt like I was living in a fairytale - but then we split up after about 18 months. I have a very nice boyfriend now that I have been with for about two and half years, but I don't believe in the idea of having a happy relationship any more. I think I told myself after the last one that there is no hope to find a boyfriend I would love in the same way. In a way, I do love my boyfriend differently to the last one, but I still love him. It's confusing. And as well, I used to think life will be good once I have more friends and do more things. But I have more friends and do more things now and I find it stressful and tiring.

Now I look ahead and I can't see any possibilities for happiness, I can't imagine what life would be life without anxiety, and I can't imagine life ever having meaning or being fulfilling. It's like I've tried everything externally and everything has been proved to go wrong. I can't find any internal resources to believe that things are ok.

How do I convince myself that life is ok if I can't even imagine life being ok? I feel trapped by my thoughts - the constant negativity - it's a stream of consciousness in my head telling me that life is awful and will never get better. But realistically, I have very few actual problems to worry about. It's more that I see life as being completely pointless and everything I have to do - my work, chores, being out with friends, anything - it's all completely pointless and I just have to drag myself through it. So life is only about endurance. I could change my life radically and live in a totally different way, but life would still only be about endurance because I will never actually enjoy anything - I never do.

If I didn't have these thoughts I'd be completely fine and happy. I just don't know how to provide myself with alternative options if I'm finding it very difficult to imagine life not being pointless. I hope this makes sense. Does anyone empathise and have you found a way of proving to yourself that life isn't completely pointless?

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  • Hi there

    Much of what you say rings bells with me. I suffer from anxiety and depression and frequently have a sense of pointlessness about life and I don't know why. I go round in circles looking for answers and find none. I have horrendous guilt because, like you, I don't have a hard life - so feel angry with myself that I just don't feel 'happy' or Ok about myself. So then I get guilt too. My life was hard a while ago - one of our daughters was born with a rare disability which was very difficult to deal with and we felt we were feeling our way in the dark for years, battling through her health problems, pain, operations, attempted suicides, self harm, and so on.

    However now she's grown up (against all the odds!) and is doing well. Living with a lovely man who loves her for who she is, with a disability AND mental health problem. She is self employed and gets DBT and is much better than she was. So you'd expect that I would feel better now we have time and space to enjoy our leisure, but no - over the last 8 years or so, I have felt more depressed and anxious and it's getting worse. I am being assessed and have been diagnosed with Borderline Personality disorder (I fit SOME criteria but not all - just enough for a diagnosis, apparently!) If they think me suitable I will be offered Mentalisation based Therapy - a newish therapy for people with Borderline. Intensive but I am so tired of TRYING to feel better and failing. I've tried everything from yoga, meditation, reflexology, herbal remedies, counselling,CBT, psychodynamic therapy (which made me feel worse!) and the rest. I feel I am running out of time and options. My husband is understanding but finds it hard to cope sometimes when I am so low and anxious about everything. He can't understand why I feel this way when we have a good life, enough money to be comfortable etc and STILL I compare myself constantly to others and feel I am lacking somehow - that everyone else 'gets' life and knows how to live it but I don't. I feel as if I am on one side of a glass watching everyone else making merry and unable to join in.

    I instinctively feel that Mindfulness is the way to go, but I am not very good at keeping going when the going gets tough. It's about NOT looking ahead or behind and ruminating or worrying, but learning to accept the present moment as OK for now. I have several books I find comforting and CDs I have put on my Ipod I can recommend - for meditations. I listen at night or sometimes in the morning, and I try to do the counting your breath thing (Mindfulness of Breathing). Have you ever been on a mindfulness course? If not it's better than going it alone, until you've learned the techniques. Worth doing - it's the one thing I found helpful and meaningful of everything I tried.

    I think you are clearly living too much in your imagination and seeing the huge void between what is and what you imagine your ideal is, but whatever it is it's not here, now! Maybe you have felt 'I would be happy if only I had the dream job/boyfriend/etc...' and found it still eludes you. No wonder you are disillusioned. I recommend reading a book by Russ Harris first of all, called The Happiness Trap. Sounds corny but it made sense to me and I do come back to it. Then try The Mindful Way Through Depression by Mark Williams - has an accompanying CD. Russ Harris has meditations on his website you can download and listen to regularly. Short but they make sense. Just do them, and the Mark Williams CD ones - regularly. Don't have expectations of feeling better in any given time. That's judging and judging is what you are doing a lot of - just notice what you are doing and feeling without judging yourself.

    Lastly, I really can and do empathise with your pain. I am there too, often, and still struggling - probably too much.

  • Hi there, thank you for your advice. I'm sorry to hear you are still suffering. Has the diagnosis of Borderline helped you at all? At least it opens new options for therapy like you say!

    I think I'm starting to understand that with me it's a matter of obsessive perfectionism (everything in my life needs to be GOOD) and also the inability to accept that bad feelings are temporary. I even find it difficult to believe sometimes that I will not feel as exhausted after I have slept. I go to bed exhausted and absolutely expect to feel the same way when I wake up, it's as if I think all good things are fleeting and all bad things are permanent. I definitely need to sort that warped thinking out! I also tend to see life as different shades of grey or black and like you assume that everyone else has something I don't - that they have some key that makes life enjoyable and I've never developed it. But saying that, I have had my moments of happiness so obviously it isn't true. It's just that when that happiness ended, I assumed that meant happiness was gone forever. When I split up with that guy a few years ago, I assumed that since that had been the only time in many years I felt happy (I've suffered MH problems since I was a pre-teen) then that must be the only time I would ever feel happy, thus everything is downhill from here....it's irrational to think that way and yet I need some kind of solid proof. I think I will have to start trying to notice each time I cheer up and things feel ok so I can remember them later, because I will swear that I haven't felt an inch of happiness for years, but somewhere at the back of my mind I know I have and that I've discounted each time I feel well.

    I'll definitely have a look at the books and stuff you've mentioned as well and give it a crack. I recently came off medication because I wanted to deal with my problems myself (I don't like feeling like I'm reliant) and every time I remind myself I'm on a mission to help myself feel better without the pills I feel a little stronger and a lot more optimistic. I kind of start to see myself as some kind of strong warrior type rather than hopeless and trapped (haha!!)

    I don't know if a similar way of looking at things would have a positive effect for you too.

    I'm glad to hear your daughter is happy and well and hope you get there yourself too!

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