Exposure Therapy: When is it too much?

Friday

Moderator
. I actually have 'too much' of a reaction with exposure, but just as equally I cognitively know in retrospect it shouldn't be such a big physical reaction (eg to run, etc). Do you know what I'm doing wrong so that I could fix it?
I would guess it’s going too far too fast.

(I know. Don’t smack me. 😉 Pretending to, or throwing a water bottle at me is totally within bounds!)

For example? When I was first dealing with my crowds trigger, I didn’t start off by spending ANY time in a crowd. I started by spending time on rooftops. Not even looking at the crowd. Just knowing they were down there was enough to send a sheen of sweat across my skin and amp up my heart rate, and forget about thinking of going down there myself. So I didn’t think about it. And I didn’t stay long on the roof itself, until my instincts “knew” I was just going to the roof. Nothing more. I brought cigarettes & music/books up to the roof and just sat. Smoked. Watched the stars. Ate food. Read books. Once I calmed down, and stayed that way, I’d go back to my rooms. Always in control. Always.

Eventually I started watching the crowds, now and again, before returning to my little rooftop oasis, far far away from them (not just physically, but mentally/emotionally). Then I watched the crowd a lot. Saw the patterns. The ebb and flow. And I started changing position. Different angles on the roof. Different roofs. Until the entire thing became boring, no aspect of being on the roof -or the crowd below- provoked ANY kind of reaction. So I started moving down. Terraces. Balconies. Fire escapes. Always with my “stuff to do”, and umpteen escape routes. If any aspect of it ever started to provoke a REAL reaction, and not just a shiver, and settle? Even a vague sense of unease was enough to send me back a level or three, until I was tranquila… the same way when I first started going to the roof I wouldn’t even think of the crowd below, and would eat/read/smoke/listen to music/watch the stars/etc…. or would return to my rooms.

I was on the roof hundreds -possibly thousands- of times before the roof itself became boring &/or my happy-little-oasis of music/stars/away from everything. The cigarettes helped, because that’s where I smoked (and also they timed my breathing, but I’ve sorted plenty of triggers and stressors without them… just being honest about vices, here). So when I say hundreds/thousands? I’m talking about both the little 2 minute half a smoke before my hackles rose, as well as the 4 hours sunbathing & reading… and I’m talking about a timeframe of a few weeks/months. Not years.

But still? NOT in the crowd. Nowhere near. Not even looking down. 8 or 5 stories up.

It took a few months before I started moving down, and across, and started getting closer & closer to provoke the same reaction that first just being on the roof itself provoked.

But that also meant I was chipping away at the trigger.

Until eventually? I was AT street level. Still not in the crowd. Just at the edges of it.

And there were still something like 20 some odd “steps” to go, before the trigger was over & done for, and no longer a trigger. They weren’t planned out, like first this, then that. Instead it was feeling around the edges of the thing. Finding the places where I needed to pause. Until I wasn’t just in the crowd, but agile (and invisible) in ANY crowd.

From panic attacks to rooftops to ghosting in and out of anywhere… perfectly at ease/in my element.
 

Rosebud

Not Active
Thank you so much @Friday , this is all hugely helpful! (And I used the ciggies, too- and vaping (nicotine) now. Swear even therapy should come with the option of walking, or going somewhere that's soothing.) Actually love roof tops, just probably would stay there if I could. Great way to approach it.

And there were still something like 20 some odd “steps” to go, before the trigger was over & done for, and no longer a trigger. They weren’t planned out, like first this, then that. Instead it was feeling around the edges of the thing. Finding the places where I needed to pause. Until I wasn’t just in the crowd, but agile (and invisible) in ANY crowd."

^^ I think I understand this, in terms of not planned. But what you are saying is you have to be in control, grounded to recognize where the edge is. (I think?)

I also think that is so smart to try to make it pleasant, vs tolerable.

Though I'm tired just reading the process. (I am not patient with myself). Good news is I'll either be cured or dead by the time I'm done! 😊👌
(I know. Don’t smack me. 😉 Pretending to, or throwing a water bottle at me is totally within bounds!)
Oh @Friday 🤣 . You're a doll. 😊
Here it comes.. 🍼 .. ->😊.. 🙃.. 😊🫂
 
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Rosebud

Not Active
@OliveJewel something you said came to my mind: the environment is not right for me. I figured something out, that is so, or severe triggers too are what they are, only if I believe words apply to me, or I trust, or I am vulnerable, etc. When I protect myself and none of that applies I can take from it what I seek, and stay unaffected, anonymous, transient and unknown. it's great if it applies to others and it's ok if it doesn't apply to me. It is like being 1/2 there; but not in a bad way, tuning out or taking with a grain of salt what is I know not applicable. Taking or doing what helps and avoiding/ leaving the rest.

Hope that makes sense.

ETA, it's sort of like Friday said: selective exposure, or limited or limiting exposure, by ignoring what is triggering or not relevant to me. And part of that is compartmentalizing or avoiding, not blanket immersion when it doesn't apply (to me). and only speaking up if I must.
 
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Friday

Moderator
^^ I think I understand this, in terms of not planned. But what you are saying is you have to be in control, grounded to recognize where the edge is. (I think?)
Yep, yep!

IDK if you’ve ever stuck your hand in a puddle of tadpoles? But if you have, it’s much the same thing… they keep swimming away from your hand. (Unless you just thrust your hand into the middle of them, and then they scatter in panic, as many smacking into you as successfully escaping. And then they simply reform.)

Eliminating triggers/stressors I found to be much the same thing… as long as I flirted around the edges of the trigger/stressor? The. Whole. Durn. Edge. Moooooooved.

I didn’t expect it to, when I first started. I took an ADHD approach, of “this how I am, now. So how do I work around it?”

Could have knocked me over with a feather, when in trying to find ways around “how I am now”… the goal post moved. And moved, again. And kept moving… as long as I approached he whole thing slooooooowly.

Like herding tadpoles 😉
 
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Rosebud

Not Active
Oh @Friday 🤣, As long as it's not cats!

I think that is superb advice!

Was thinking, hypervigilance doesn't help. But work arounds by their nature would give (my) brain something else to do/ work on.

I do think that's great. Reminds me of a little girl with ADHD I read about in Math class bored to tears, amd started seeing in her mind's eye skinny men (9's) dancing with fat ladies (her words) (8's). Thought, what a cool kid. Beats falling asleep in her seat.

I think too hypervigilance, triggers -they are all negative, uncomfortable, on edge or outright frightening for me. I can see now trying too hard probably makes matters actually worse because it increases my stress But barely touching them as you say could de-escalate the perceived urgency or negativity. Or good distractions, like animals, or children, or flowers on the scene. Happy things. Even nature is useful because it's hard to take things too seriously if a pair of geese walk up to you (JMHE lol) . 😊 Which is good use of selective attention I think.

Thank you!
 

Rosebud

Not Active
Idk. Maybe I'm just triggered and it's all me. Don't want to think of others in a negative way, don't want to be a negative for others.
 

Rosebud

Not Active
I'm not sure how to deal with it @Friday , except to assume it's just me/ I am always wrong, and work backwards from that. Though I guess that beats doubt, that breeds uncertainty which of course feels unsafe itself, and it may be wholly accurate I am at fault. And/or beats the pride or reinforcement that comes with assuming I am justified in any way. In another way, it affects only me too if I just assume it's my problem. Though that also makes me feel avoidance is the only option for everyone's sake, or the only appropriate/ best one. But yes, if I assume it's just me and accept it I can ensure I am the only one required to deal with 'me'.
 
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Rosebud

Not Active
I was thinking though too, I don't have trust, or have in times past and have regretted it. And in circumstances or places/ people past I saw and learned it was justified, sometimes more than justified. Maybe my gut and my brain are not wrong in what I see, experience or feel fearful of, or maybe I am triggered and pushing too hard to have trust, in anyone or the process.

I do know I feel like I can't do it on my own. It's just not worth it, or maybe not possible is the way to say it. I cannot risk because I'm 'supposed' to anymore. Whether it fails God, people or myself. I just don't have the strength in me any more. I think there is a saying, ~"If they're not for you they're against you".

I suppose too, the truth is I actually am a gentle person, despite what I think of myself. And some poeple/ places probably that's not a good thing. For a person like me, it's a scary thing.
 
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Friday

Moderator
except to assume it's just me/ I am always wrong, and work backwards from that.
That teaches absolutely zeeeeeeero trust in your own judgment, or discretion. In addition to -cough- being wrong. To always be wrong? Is the same as always being right. Aside from statistically impossible, it has zero practicality. The same way that trusting no one? Is the exact same thing as trusting everyone. As it requires no discretion. No judgment. No decisions. Black & White thinking is FANTASTIC in an emergency. It just doesn’t work outside of one, for shit. Hence the cognitive distortion. Sometimes all-or-nothing is valuable. But only sometimes. In very limited circumstance.

Working with the possibility that I’m wrong? Allows me to both work with a trigger/stressor AND relearn how to trust myself & my judgment.

I can be wrong. Often am. But knowing where I’m right, or partly right/ partly wrong? Is reeeeally crucial in the whole ‘art of living’ thing. As well as being/becoming the person I want to be. Which requires ACCURATELY assessing a situation, amongst other things. The shades of grey really do matter.

But yes, if I assume it's just me and accept it I can ensure I am the only one required to deal with 'me'.
Only if you have a way to have God-Mode activated IRL.

If so? Help a girl out, yeah? Kick me THAT trick.

Seriously.
 
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