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Here's the first part of the CBT technique I mentioned in my last post. I know this type of thing isn't for everyone, but I thought it might be helpful to some of you. I'd love for other people to share strategies they've learned as well.

Big and Little—operates under the premise that adult anxiety stems from relational trauma experienced before the age of about 8–9, when the part of the brain that controlled your thoughts coincided with your limbic system. Anything that was perceived as a threat to your survival during this period of life (something as simple as your mother leaving the room) is considered a relational trauma. My therapist stressed that this has nothing to do with bad parenting…that you could have “the Pope and Mother Theresa for parents” and still have experienced significant relational trauma.

Now the first phase of the technique…

Picture your five-year-old self standing five feet away from you. Whenever you feel anxious throughout the day (no matter how often), assign all intense feelings to little you. Ask your five-year-old self, “What’s going on, Little? What is this reminding you of from when you were little?”

We haven’t yet gotten to the stage where the actual traumatic events are uncovered. Because cognitive development was not high enough yet at that age, a lot of this can’t actually be “remembered.” So eventually the therapist is going to teach me how to emotionally recall them. The focus, however, will be on the following four emotions: anger, fear, sadness and happiness.

Once you associate your current feelings with something from your childhood, you engage in a two-step process:

1. Validation: You tell five-year-old you, “Okay, Little, I understand what you’re upset about.” (You identify the emotion and then you conjure up images from the past in order to “re-feel” them. This leads to catharsis.)

2. Reassurance: Once you’ve re-felt the emotions, you tell your five-year-old self…

A) Little, how about if you let me (Big) handle this?
B) Little, regardless of what happens, you and I are okay; we’re cool. I love you unconditionally. (This part is very important because the parental reassurance you got as a child to help you through your upsets is absent in your adulthood.)
C) Little, let me gently remind you that it’s 2006—not (the year you were five). You can never be that “undone” again because you have me now.

Where is all this going? Well, society dictates that when you reach the age of eighteen, you’re supposed to magically transform from Little you into Big you, someone who can handle anything that’s thrown at you. In reality, that never really happens. Little you is still very much present. So what this technique attempts to do is to overcome Little you’s relational traumas so that s/he can be put into the background and Big you, whose cognitive thought patterns are fully developed, can finally take over.

Now, I asked why some people have anxiety issues and others don’t and my therapist said that those who suffer from anxiety as adults usually share similar natures. Specifically she mentioned that anxious people were often empathic children…that they felt others’ emotions (pain and joy) more than other children do. They were often also reliable children, and as a result, their parents felt that they could handle more things on their own than siblings could and thus were not given as much attention.

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