At the start of today’s podcast, we got an update on the Feeling Great app from Jeremy Karmel. We are looking for one or more programmers who might like to join our project. Our goal is to create the first electronic tool that can outperform human therapists, and some super promising preliminary data suggests we may be on the right path to make this happen. We are looking for talented engineers and designers who would share our passion for this incredible dream.
If you are interested, contact Jeremy@FeelingGreatapp.com
Today we are joined by our beloved and brilliant colleague, Dr. Jill Levitt to ask two questions:
- Can the “self” be judged?
- Does the “self” exist?
We got quite a bit of positive feedback to a recent Ask David Podcast that included a question about Buddhism, but people said they wanted more on the topic of the “great death” of the self.
Bottom line was this:
- You can judge your own or someone else’s specific thoughts and actions, but you cannot judge your (or somebody else’s) “self.”
- The question, “does the ‘self’ exist,” is meaningless.
- The goal of therapy is not to get promoted from the “worthless” to the “worthwhile” category, but to reject these categories as having no meaning.
David argues that it is impossible to feel depressed without the distortions of Overgeneralization and Labeling—that where you jump from a specific flaw or problem, like getting rejected by your boyfriend to some abstract label or judgment, like thinking you are “unloveable.” We also used the real-life example of David responding to criticisms that he was too harsh with Steven Hayes on Episode 220.
We show how TEAM therapy works, and illustrate several techniques for crushing the Negative Thoughts that lead to the painful negative thoughts that including Overgeneralization and Labeling, including:
- Positive Reframing
- Externalization of Voices
- Be Specific
- Acceptance Paradox
- Feared Fantasy
We also focused on the concept of “laughing enlightenment,” a key Buddhist concept, along with the “great death” of the self. When you lose your “self,” you actually lose nothing, because there was nothing there in the first place. This is a kind of cosmic joke. But you inherit the world and gain liberation from your suffering, along with great joy, and of course, sadness as well.
We also summarized the thinking of Ludwig Wittgenstein, arguably the greatest philosopher of all time, and how his sudden insight when a soccer ball hit him in the head transformed the history of philosophy. He was an extremely lonely man who had numerous episodes of depression, and never attempted to publish anything when he was alive, because only a handful of students and colleagues could understand what he was trying to say. This was intensely frustrating to him, because his message was so simple, clear, and basic—and yet the great philosophers could not grasp it.
The Buddha had the same problem.
The book, Philosophical Investigations was published in 1950, right after his death. It is just a series of numbered paragraphs, or brief comments, on different everyday themes, like bricklayers, string, games, and so forth. It is was based on a metal box they found under his bed, which contained notes from his weekly seminars at Cambridge. Many people, including myself, consider it as the greatest book in the history of philosophy, and think of Wittgenstein as the man who killed, or ended, philosophy.
According to Wikipedia, the famed British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, described Wittgenstein as “perhaps the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived; passionate, profound, intense, and dominating.”
Although Wittgenstein did not focus emotional problems, his solution to all the problems of philosophy is very similar to cognitive therapy. Here is the parallel: You don’t try to solve the classic “free will” problem. Instead, you see through it and give it up as nonsensical, as language that’s “out of gear,” so to speak. Once you “see this,” and understand why it is true, it is incredibly liberating. But it can be a lonely experience, because you suddenly “see” something super-obvious that seems to be invisible to 99.9% of humans. It’s as if you had a “third eye,” and could see something incredible that people with only two eyes cannot see.
By the same token, when you suddenly “see” that the idea that you have a “self” which could be “superior” or “inferior” is nonsensical, it is also incredibly liberating. This, in fact, is the cognitive therapy version of spiritual “enlightenment.” And that’s also one of the goals of the TEAM-CBT that my collegues and I have created.
Jill, Rhonda, and David
Jill teaches with David and Rhonda at the free weekly training group for Bay Area therapists at Stanford. She is also the Director of Clinical Training at the Feeling Good Institute in Mt. View, California. If you would like to contact her for treatment, training, or supervision, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Rhonda Barovsky practices in Walnut Creek, California, but due to Covid-19 restrictions is working via Zoom, and can be reached at email@example.com. She is a Level 4 Certified TEAM-CBT therapist and trainer and specializes in the treatment of trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. Check out her new website: http://www.feelinggreattherapycenter.com
You can reach Dr. Burns at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This is the cover of my new book, Feeling Great. The kindle and audio versions are available now, too!
Greetings David, Rrrrrrhhhoooonda, and Jill,
This topic regarding the existence of a self is so profound … or not, depending upon the context and definition of “self”. There is really nothing of great value that I could add within a philosophical framework however, perhaps there is something to be said from an objective scientific perspective. Nothing in the physical/objective universe is static. Entropy is a universal constant. This is certainly the case for humans as all biological processes fluctuate over time. This fact serves as the basis for an entire field, “Chronobiology”, which takes into account the temporal patterns of cells, tissues, organs, etc… Roughly 98% of a human body is entirely replaced every 7-10 years with the remaining 2% being comprised of specialized central nervous cells, lens cells, and oocytes (female gametes). So biologically speaking, you are quite literally, always becoming a new you. With this objective knowledge in mind, precisely how are we to define the self? A technically accurate answer may be…. The self is that thing which is constantly changing. Now what are the implications of such a perspective?
Richard A. Gilstrap, PhD
Great thinking, thanks! d
I love your work and this suggestion is not an substitute for following your approach. But for me, this has also helped my depressions. Before I fall asleep I sometimes tell myself that I will be happy the next day. Just those words, no visualization or anything else.
The next day I’ve frequently forgotten I even told myself that. Regardless, I find myself whistling or humming and not know why I’m so happy. Because nothing had changed other than my mood.
I love what you are doing.
Great idea! This is like self-hypnosis. It will be effective for some folks, not effective for others, but easy and worth a try for sure. Thanks for your note! david
Hi David! Wittgenstein (as I understand him) viewed philosophical problems/errors resulting from (unwittingly) misuse of language. Do you think this could be a parallel in psychology to cognitive distortions?
Yes, these are the same concepts. Thanks! d