We can probably all agree that thinking negative things, especially about ourselves, can increase our negative emotions. That’s putting it nicely: Thinking negatively can really create a living hell. How can we stop?
First off is mindfulness. Lots of mindfulness – until you can actually watch your thoughts to the point that you may be able to challenge them with new thoughts, or replacement thoughts. If you challenge and replace negative thoughts often enough, your brain will start to do it automatically. It’s really important to know that replacement thoughts aren’t the same as `positive thoughts’. Our minds are smart enough to know when we’re flat-out lying, so replacement thoughts are often more useful when they’re neutral. I’ll start, because I have lots of negative thoughts allll the time.
1. I’m a loser because I’m on disability, because I can’t support myself, because I need to ask for help…blah blah blah.
Challenge thought: I’m not as healthy as I’d like to be, and there are stigmas associated with that..but I have a lot of positive qualities too. Even though I need support financially, I contribute a lot to the community, and help a lot of people out. And I have really good intentions, and follow through on my word. I’m all-in-all a pretty decent person.
Please note: If I had challenged ‘I’m a loser’ with, `I’m a great person’, that would have felt like a lie to me. It might work for some people – but the dbt therapists I spoke with generally try to go for a way of challenging the thought that is actually true. Really what you are doing is taking the judgment out of the negative thinking, and replacing it with what are the true facts. Often the true facts are a little `kinder’ than the judgments. 😉
Thought two: This pain is going to go on forever, and I just can’t stand it. I feel like it’s going to make me crazy.
Note: I used to have this thought about my emotional pain, and still do sometimes. But this week I’ve been more focused on intense chronic pain that I go through bouts of.
Challenging thoughts: This is a loooong one, girl! Actually, this pain has always been time-limited, so chances are it won’t go on forever, although it really does suck right now! And you have stood it before, so remember to try to stay in the moment and you can stand it again.
I feel like it’s going to make me crazy? Well, I’m having the thought that it’s going to make me crazy. What does `make me crazy’ even mean? I don’t even have a definition of `crazy’, and I don’t think there even is one. The truth is that I really desperately want this pain to go away. And who wouldn’t? That doesn’t make me crazy though. If I try to stay in the moment, I know I can get through this bout, because I have proof that I can do it – I’ve been going through periods like this for a long time, and history tells me that I can and will get through this. (And I’d probably add some encouragement here for actually having been able to challenge a thought during such intense pain). Pat on the back! Ouch. Maybe not!
Diffusing thoughts: Diffusing thoughts is another way to make them less powerful, and even funny. I think I spoke of this somewhere else – but hey, some things are worth repeating. “I feel like a loser. My family hates me, so I must be a loser…because families don’t just reject people unless there’s a serious and valid reason’. Well, as much as I’d like to challenge that, I’m going to diffuse it.
I’m going to look at the words, and in my `minds eye’ I’m shrinking them. Now they’re tiny. I saw them in the color red, but I’m going to make the letters light grey. They already seem less-well, existent, important, real. Now I’m going to mix the words up. “Unless loser hates family me must reject reason and valid…. Now it’s actually becoming fun. I mean, they’re just words. They cannot hurt me unless I let them.
Another thought: “You’re fat. You look like a frickin’ pink pig”. Oh, another one I’d love to challenge. Buut, there are so many other skills to try, I’m going to try a different one. I have a blues song in mind that I think is called “So good”. I’m gonna sing the words to that. “You’re so fat. Sugar and Spice, yeah. You look like a pig, yeah. All things nice, yeah. So gooooood! So goooood! I WANT YOU!!! Cue sexy saxophone solo! Yeah, my thought is pretty funny at this point. In fact, I’m dancing to it.
So, now that I’ve told you that I think I look like a pig, I think the least you can do is go and try some of these methods of making your negative thoughts less powerful yourself. Is it a deal?
PS: My physical pain this week trumped doing the homework from last time a bit. Although I am working on it. Did you notice? I tried, tried not to use the word `feeling’ when I meant `thought’. But I snuck it in there once. Just for practice. 😉