Dealing with negative thoughts

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What are you going to start today?  Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

The concept of negative thinking is quite biased.  it assumes that we have two directions, positive and negative, and divides our world up into good and bad.  It’s actually quite a prejudiced thing to do.  It can alienate friends who don’t conform to traditional ‘cheerful’ patterns, and can even disable critical thinkers by labelling their analysis as ‘negative thinking’.  Society would stop improving if everyone had to talk positively all the time.

THOUGHTS THAT MAKE US SUFFER

Even so, there are certain thoughts that are associated with suffering in the thinker.  Given this, anyone with an interest in mental health would be interested in identifying them, in order to then consider how we might deal with them.

There are maybe two main categories of suffering thought patterns.  The first category could be labelled ‘self-protectiveness’, and the second ‘restriction of view’.  They are linked, but the first is more to do with our emotional faculties, and the second more to do with our conceptual faculties.

SELF-PROTECTIVE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

These are thoughts which have at their root the fear of loss.  They include:

  • If I make a change, then I will lose something I have
  • If I make an effort, then I will not be able to endure it
  • If I sit with this discomfort, then I will go mad
What distinguishes these thoughts, is that they lock us into a frustrating life.  If we follow their recommendations, then we will do nothing, but fear going mad in the process of doing nothing.  The more we do nothing, the more we will just sit or lie there.  And the more we just sit or lie there, the more we will feel trapped in an isolated private world.  Common phrases used by people in this negative cycle include: ‘I haven’t done anything today,’ and ‘I’m fed up’.

It’s also common for those stuck in this cycle to blame events, people and situations.  Their talk will explain at great length why change is not possible, but also why the status quo is so painful.  Listening to this talk, you will feel as though you are listening to a circle going round and round.

We are all subject to these thoughts periodically, and so you may recognise yourself in this description.

RESTRICTIONS OF VIEW

These are thoughts which have at their root narrowness of focus.  They include:

  • I only belong in one type of place/situation/outcome
  • Other people will only accept one type of me
  • The universe is a cruel place
  • I, or those close to me, are nasty or bad
What defines these thoughts is their partiality of view.  If we believe them, then we are ignoring other possibilities.

An old phrase says ‘an ordinary mind only sees ordinariness’.  So, if you believe the above thoughts, you are failing to allow that you may well belong in a variety of places, situations and outcomes.  They may be unfamiliar to you right now, but that does not mean they can’t happen.  You are failing to allow yourself to try different behaviours.  You are also failing to allow that the universe can be viewed as kind as well as cruel, and that people can be viewed as good as well as bad.

DEALING WITH NEGATIVE THOUGHTS

If the above is true, it means that we may have to prove to ourselves that our negative thoughts are invalid, and therefore our suffering is unnecessary.

This is the foundation of much CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).  Essentially, CBT therapists help us to test out the boundaries of our negative thoughts, and experience new things that free us up a bit.

Here are seven examples of new thinking we can test out:

  1. I can make changes without losing anything
  2. I can make an effort and survive the experience
  3. I can sit with discomfort without going mad
  4. I can feel at home in new places/situations/outcomes
  5. I can be different versions of me and still be accepted
  6. I can experience the universe as a good, kind place
  7. I can be good, and so can those close to me
AN EXERCISE

Maybe pick your favourite one out of the above seven phrases.  Then spend a period of time testing it out, to see if you can give it reality.

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SUMMARY

Negative thoughts are thoughts that make us suffer.  They are caused in part by self-protectiveness, and in part by having too narrow a view of existence.

Instead of sitting with our ordinary minds, possibly blaming others for our unhappiness, we could instead try out a set of new thoughts.

We can lose our self-protectiveness by experimenting.  We can see if we can learn to do the following happily:

  • Make changes
  • Make an effort
  • Sit with discomfort
  • Encounter new places, situations and outcomes
  • Be different versions of ourself
  • See the universe as good
  • See ourself and others as good
By testing these out for yourself, you can see if more positive thoughts can become real in your life.
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