Going through high-stress situations made me resort to unhealthy coping methods and left me with memories I'd rather not have. I can honestly say my life would have turned out better if I'd avoided the responsibility and found something else to do with my life instead of feeling compelled to put myself through the wringer time and again until I just crashed completely. But I'm sure it varies a lot between individuals.
Its brutal, and I am sorry you crashed. I have definitely got examples from my past where I pushed too far and ended up basically retraumatising myself. One such event basically destroyed a potential career for me!
The way I look at exposure now is like going to the gym. I very carefully progressively overload. Each week I try to do more. But only a little bit. My body and mind need to adapt. If I do too much if I ramp up volume or weight, I snap my **** up, or I get CNS fatigue, or it backfires, or in the case of exposure, I induce trauma and backslide.
My old psychologist got me to draw 3 circles. The inner one was my comfort zone, the outer one was my challenge zone, and the one outside that was the trauma zone. I wrote my tasks into the circles where they were anxiety wise, and each week picked ones in the challenge zone to do. I then did them daily. Each week I redrew my circles and observed the very slight shifts in movement over time which encouraged me and gave me some belief.
This really helped with a big lifelong phobia of mine. The process took maybe 4-5 months of near daily work. Often tiny things each day, but mostly consistent (usually i would do 5 things or so a week I guess).
I guess the difficulty is, carving out enough time, getting people on your side to encourage you, and being in the right place to take something like this as slowly as it needs to be taken. Life doesn't tend to be that generous in terms of time and space. Part of the reason why we struggle with anxiety is having this stuff basically forced on us, when its too much for us to handle.
Best example of exposure therapy and the debate as to whether it works well or not. Guy goes up to like 100 women in a day and asks them out. Gets rejected by pretty much all of them. Does this destroy his fear of rejection or just destroy his self confidence instead?
I would guess that whether this helps or not might depend on a lot of tricky factors. One might be the attitude and values and beliefs of the person taking it on, as well as the support network they have available to them. If someone is doing this from a position of already feeling rejected by women, depressed, anxious, etc it wouldn't go as well as someone who is basically content, and mostly free of major issues with a good support network and a bunch of encouragement.
I also wonder if asking out women is too big a jump. For example, initiating conversation
with 100 women might be a better step. Or smiling at 100 women, or saying hi to a woman a day, etc, and building up.
I appreciate that the idea is to desensitise to rejection, but, it would feel very all or nothing and very extreme to me, and it occurs to me now that maybe it isn't actually ideal to be desensitized to rejection anyway... hmm... what do you think?