For those of you who have trained with me, you know of my fondness for the use of therapeutic metaphor. I want to offer you one such metaphor today which was the work of Pschologist Thomas A Richards, PhD
Introduction: ANTs are “automatic negative thoughts” that those of us with anxiety problems and depression have. We need to work very specifically and persistently to rid ourselves of these automatic negative thoughts — not just temporarily but permanently. The following is an interesting parable concerning these “ANTS”:
Overheard at the
ANNUAL ANTs CONVENTION, 2001
Once a year, the ANTS from all around the world gather to visit each other and to show off how much each of them has grown bigger and bolder during the past year. The Annual ANTS Conventions are like sales meetings, whereby the ANT that has made the most “sales” or “commissions” by increasing peoplesâ automatic negative thoughts receives recognition, is greatly honoured, and highly praised.
The ANTS whole mission and goal in life is to fuel the negative thinking that leads to anxiety, panic, social phobia, agoraphobia, generalized anxiety, obsessive actions and compulsive behaviour and the related depression that goes along with anxiety.
So, at the convention, the ANTS discuss new methods and strategies to rip us down, tear our self-esteem to shreds, and make us feel completely hopeless and helpless about our anxiety. The ANT that comes up with the trickiest and most cunning plot to do this is always given a “special reward” and allowed to plague the people who have fully given in to ANTS thoughts so that their lives are ruined and totally filled with fear and anxiety. They are kept on a very short and tight leash by the ANTS masters.
Letâs listen to some of this yearâs convention conversations:
Young ANT #1: “Hey, Iâve got another person convinced that heâs no good, that heâs not as important as other people, and who doesnât think he has any control over his own life. Iâve even got him scared to go out in public!”
Young ANT #2: “Ha! Another one of our victims trapped? I love it! (Clapping with glee.) What shall we give him? Panic attacks? Social anxiety? Obsessive-compulsive thoughts and behavior? Agoraphobia? (A special gleam appears in the ANTSâ eye:) Or maybe all of the above…….”
Young ANT #1: “As long as he keeps believing us and giving in to us, we can give him as many problems as heâll take. Two problems are better than one, I always say……”
Young ANT #2: “Oh, man! Iâm excited now! Maybe Iâll win that award next year! I need to keep practicing my negative and irrational thinking and learn how to pass it on to others. Practice makes perfect, they always say…….”
Young ANT #1 (snorting in pleasure): “But our victims never learn that practicing is important to change thoughts, do they? They start out practicing and being persistent, but they always quit before they really get any better. Then, weâve got them trapped. One more defeat makes them feel totally worthless and helpless and they give up!”
The young ANTS continue to chortle in evil glee.
Just then, an older and wiser ANT enters the picture and overhears the conversation between the two young, immature ANTS.
Older and Wiser ANT Voice #3:
“Stop your incessant bragging. You sound just like children! Donât you know that we derive our very existence from the lies we tell people that they believe? Every time you push too far thereâs a chance theyâll get wise and then we will lose control. If the person ever fully realizes what weâre doing to him, weâre the ones who arenât going to have any power left……”
The younger ANTS shudder in horror at this statement.
ANTS #1: (slowly and meekly) “You mean like our friend, the Destroyer? When that woman he was working on got some help and realized what was happening to her, she practiced and practiced and practiced………” (ANTS #1 shudders violently at the thought).
ANTS #2: (hesitatingly) “But what happened? What did this woman do anyway? And where is the Destroyer now?”
Older and Wiser ANT #3: “She realized what was happening to her, caught him at it, and used PEACEFUL, CALMING strategies and methods on him! And she wouldnât give up! Then she started “slow talk” and the “determination factor” and SHE ACTUALLY PRACTICED THESE ABOMINATIONS UNTIL THEY SANK DEEP DOWN INTO HER BRAIN AND BECAME AUTOMATIC!
Older and Wiser ANT #3 begins perspiring, his heart beats faster, and he starts getting dizzy, “Oh, my God! I donât think I can go on….!”
Finally, he pulled himself together and continued to speak in a very serious, low voice: “The Destroyer began to shrink and shrink, but the more he tried to bring back the anxiety, the fear, and the worry, the worse it got. She stood her ground, ignored him, and turned the other way. She refused to pay any attention to him. Finally, he had no toehold left, and he had to leave her. He ended up on the old insect farm for ruined and defeated ANTS: exhausted, defeated, and so very tiny and weak that heâll never leave the institution until he continues to shrink further and further and finally dies. That nasty, vicious anxiety woman killed the Destroyer for good just by changing her thinking habits and refusing to listen to him anymore.“
(Older and wiser ANT #3 looks from immature ANT #1 to ANT #2, shaking his head).
“Are you two learning anything from this at all?”
ANTS #1: (Scared, weak, trembling, and much more sober now). “You mean, we have to be careful not to get caught. If our person realizes what weâre up to and stops believing in what we tell them, then….. weâre…. weâre……”
Older and Wiser ANT #3:
“……….DOOMED! Youâll spend the rest of your days on the dying ANTS farm with the Destroyer, feeling more and more miserable all the time, and continuing to shrivel up and shrink. The good news is that you wonât have to put up with that for very long. Youâll grow so small and tiny and insignificant that youâll eventually just fade away into absolute nothingness. And no one will ever remember that you even existed…….”