Shake It Off! An Interview with Rafael Santandreu
Bestselling author and renowned psychotherapist Rafael Santandreu has been sorting out the minds of Spaniards for some time now; on the eve of the publication of his first English translation – Shake It Off! – we speak to him on how we can apply his method of therapy to daily life
So, Rafael, things are pretty odd right now… how have your lockdown months been?
To be honest, things are fine. We often talk ourselves into thinking things are much, much worse than they are. We call that catastrophising. Now, of course, a global pandemic is awful. However, if you think about it, we have had much worse pandemics before and will probably have them again as we evolve and life continues.
If you take into account the possibilities you always have in life, you will be able to put up with the idea of getting COVID-19 and still be capable of doing fantastic things, for yourself and others. If you think that getting infected is ‘bad’ but not ‘absolutely terrible’ you will feel uneasy, but still pretty optimistic with life. It all depends on your inner dialogue. In cognitive psychology, we teach how to convince ourselves of those ideas.
If a person is finding something overwhelming, what is the process by which they can become more resilient?
In my therapy practice, I often get folks who are really suffering because they are obsessing about something that isn’t really such a big deal. Or they are focusing on the past, idealising it as a country of milk and honey. However, in both cases, the solution is not external to you. It is your own mind that can provide you with solace. What needs to change is not your external circumstances, but your internal thoughts about them.
I’ll give you an example. Most of us have some element of the place we live in that we absolutely hate. For me, it was dog mess on the streets of Barcelona. For you, it might be too much traffic or noisy neighbours. So, instead of focusing on all that we love about where we live, we hone in on the one thing that upsets us. We begin a cycle of feeling worse and worse about our area. But how would a tourist view where you live? Some people live in cities that others pay a small fortune to visit for two weeks a year. They aren’t focusing on that thing which upsets you, they are thinking about the incredible art galleries or the great food. You can train your mind to focus more on the aspects of life that you gain enjoyment from, while at the same time sitting with the mild discomfort of noticing things that you’re not thrilled about. It’s okay not to love everything and everyone.
What other tips do you have for our readers?
Retain your sense of humour. If you can, laugh at your own exaggerations. Let’s face it: our minds sometimes tell us to believe ludicrous things. Do you really think you’re ultimately unlovable because you have a big nose or can’t fit into those jeans? Think about all the big-nosed, big-bottomed people in the world – are you trying to tell me that none of them are loved? In this way, you can mock your own notions about yourself and take all of the power out of them.
But it’s still so hard to stop those negative thoughts!
When you’re spiralling into those sorts of thoughts, you are actually suffering from a failure of imagination. You should visualise yourself as still being in that situation, but feeling happy. You may even have memories of a time that you were happy about something although the thing you are currently unhappy about was still true. For example, if you’ve had a horrible break-up and are very unhappy about it, can you remember a time before you met this person that you were happy? You didn’t even know that person back then, but you managed to get up, shower, have breakfast, have a laugh with friends. And you will again!
If you can visualise yourself as you used to be, doing what you did and feeling what you felt, you can model that behaviour. It’s also really important to say that it is a false notion that we ‘need’ romantic love. Loving someone is wonderful, but it is not a basic human need. It is not like food or shelter. While we believe the love songs, we retain a neurotic belief that we need that one someone in order to live. It is simply not true. It is your neurotic thoughts telling you this and once you shake off those wrong-headed beliefs, you tap into your emotional resilience and regain daily happiness.
Find out more: