Thoughts on Thinking... What Are You Saying to Yourself (Part 2)

by Thomas J. Schumacher, Psy.D., R-CSW
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 “If people can be educated to see the lowly side of their natures, it may be hoped that they will also learn to understand and to love their fellow man better.  A little less hypocrisy and a little more tolerance towards oneself can only have good results in respect for our neighbors; for we are all too prone to transfer to others the injustice and violence we inflict upon our own natures.”

                                                                                     -- Carl Jung (1875 – 1961)

Shedding Negative Thought Patterns

     In order to combat distorted thinking patterns you must learn to leave your negative thoughts behind.  Mark Twain once quipped: “Life does not consist mainly—or even largely—of facts and happenings.  It consists mainly of the storm of thoughts that is forever blowing through one’s head.”  How true, but the trick is not to stop the ongoing storm of thoughts, but rather to change the nature from destructive to positive and life-enhancing ones.  When that happens, you’ve made a giant step toward living the good life based on your positive self-esteem and the personal confidence to deal effectively with life’s problems. 

     As you commit yourself to eliminating these negative ways of thinking, you must understand two factors.  First, these bad thinking habits are much more likely to emerge when you are fatigued or highly stressed, or when there is a significant problem facing you.  These situations weaken your ability to cope and contribute to distorted thinking.  Ironically, these bad thinking habits emerge when there’s a problem, and that’s exactly when effective coping responses are needed most.  When things are going reasonably well, they may not be apparent at all.

     Also, many people do not experience these thought disorders with all problems.  These habits instead tend to emerge when a problem touches on an area of personal vulnerability or emotional sensitivity.  By noticing exactly when distorted patterns emerge, you can pinpoint unresolved personal conflicts, thereby enhancing your personal awareness.  These emotional “soft spots” clearly call for strengthened coping skills. 

     How do you get rid of these self-defeating ways of thinking, these distortions of reality that interfere with living life effectively?  It can be done, but it will require self-awareness, patience, practice, and the help of your lover or a good friend.  Here are some helpful hints:

1)      Verbalize you thoughts when a problem occurs.  To build awareness of distorted thinking, think out loud when you have a problem.  As you may be very surprised at how negative and self-defeating your thoughts actually are.  Remember that these thoughts reinforce negative perceptions of you and reality.

2)      Do not project negative thoughts onto your lover or loved ones.  It’s easy to attribute unfairly negative thoughts to loved ones or close friends: “He doesn’t love me.” “They don’t care.” “Everyone’s out to take advantage of me.”  To eliminate distorted thinking, first take full responsibility for your thoughts.  Then open yourself to give loved ones a chance to care about you.

3)      Work on one habit at a time.  Most people are prone to several different negative thought patterns.  To tackle them all at once is usually self-defeating.  Instead, identify one distorted thinking habit and work on that one alone until it is eliminated.  Then move on to another one until you overcome all of them.

4)      Act as if you are completely competent and in control.  In the beginning, force yourself to do this in lieu of negative thinking in order to give new ways of relating to a problem a chance.  You will feel better because problems don’t seem so overwhelming, and you are coping more effectively.  

5)      Use thought-stopping as a technique.  When you find yourself slipping into distorted thinking, internally shout to yourself, “STOP.” Or accompany this by clapping your hands to associate stopping with a strong external cue.

6)      Practice positive affirmations.  Even when you feel good, it’s helpful to make self-reinforcing statements.  Repeat them frequently out loud; doing so in front of a mirror helps.   No matter where you are, keep self-affirming thoughts going: “I have many strengths and others appreciate these in me.” “I am a good person and am loved by others.”

7)      Put positive suggestions by others into practice.  It is often helpful to solicit and really listen to feedback from your lover or a good friend.  When you do, make it a point not to become defensive, because receiving feedback often triggers negative thinking.  You may find yourself gaining insight into how to cope more effectively. 

8)      Separate yourself from negatively thinking peers.  Often negative perceptions are reinforced by friends, especially when discussing personal or relationship struggles.  If you need to talk it out, find one upbeat friend who is helpful to use as a sounding board.  Let the pessimists in your life bring someone else down.

     When you begin to think more positively, unwanted baggage from the past is left behind.  You throw away major roots of personal discontent that have been barriers to personal growth and fulfilling relationships.  Bottom line: It’s very difficult if not impossible, to live life happily when you feel insecure, unloved, distrustful of others, and threatened by events around you.  But most of these feelings you create yourself.  You can’t change the world, but you can change yourself and the way you perceive life events.


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