I’m sitting in the office of Brian Gallagher, a psychologist with Einstein Healthcare Network, because I have a problem. I cry too much—at sad movies, at maudlin TV commercials, but most infuriatingly during my annual reviews at work. Gallagher, who’s thin, intense and bearded, isn’t taking me on as a patient. He’s explaining what he might do if he did. He uses cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT, to address “social anxiety disorders,” which is what he calls my problem. First up: I should get some perspective. How long do these annual reviews last? Twenty minutes, I tell him.
He nods his wise chin. “Think of the worst thing that could happen to you.” Easy: My kids could die. “Now think of the best thing you’ve ever experienced.” Hello, Phillies 2008! “If the best is zero and the worst is 100, where on that continuum does this ordeal fall?” Um. Somewhere around 52?
With a pen, Dr. Gallagher draws three points—thinking, emotion, behavior—with arrows between them. “Your thinking affects your emotions, which affect your behavior. Change the thinking, change the emotion, change the behavior. What are you afraid of in this annual review?”
Of being criticized, I say.
That, he says, may have to do with early experiences of feeling unloved: “Some people develop very perfectionist tendencies. They think, ‘If I’m not perfect, there will be a withdrawal of affection.’” Again, he urges perspective: “What happens when an editor criticizes your work?” he asks. I tell him: I cry.
In CBT, he says, I’d learn mindfulness/meditation techniques, like breathing exercises, “To remind yourself: It’s okay, this is just criticism, it’s not something dangerous.” Anxiety, he continues, is about looking into the future. I need to stay in the moment. Getting at my “core belief” about the withdrawal of affection could take time. Parents of perfectionists tend to be highly critical, making their children feel unworthy: “It did hurt when that was your parents. But this is your boss.”
I feel myself tearing up a little. “You’re good at this,” I tell him.
“Well,” he says. “Living your own life is a lot more complicated than sitting back and exploring someone else’s.” Xanax, he adds, is a possibility.
Prices for appointments to learn how to stop crying vary by insurance coverage. Belmont Behavioral Health, Albert Einstein Medical Center.