Are you Trapped by Fear and Shame?
Fear and shame can be motivating, but not in a positive way. Is it helpful to say, “I can’t believe I had that thought, what is wrong with me?” or “You have it so great, why would you think something like that?”
Recently, someone expressed how exhausting it was to cognitively “stomp out” every negative thought they had. I agree! They felt that because they struggled with controlling their thoughts, they must be a bad person, weak or lazy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. It takes an enormous amount of energy to choose another, more positive thought, without beating yourself up over the negative one. Choosing another thought allows us to remove the shame factor, and that is what we want because shame can feel like a prison we can’t escape. It isn’t uncommon to get stuck on the thoughts that take up space in our mind. We will berate ourselves over a thought. We give it a power it doesn’t deserve, and we all do this to some degree or another.
It’s Hard to Change Our Thoughts
At this point, you might be saying to yourself that choosing another thought sounds good, but easier said than done. Well, you’re right. As with most things in life, change requires practice. I can almost feel the anxiety that statement invokes for many of you but try to think in terms of baby steps. When we experience a negative thought, we feel it, and it’s upsetting. When we fight our thoughts, they gain power and can overwhelm us. Attempt to notice the thought. Don’t chastise yourself for it, only notice it. Remind yourself that it is just a thought. It is not your identity.
We Can Observe our Thoughts From a Distance
When we watch a scary movie, we may have an emotional response, but it’s happening outside of ourselves, not directly to us. We can rationally explain the scene to a friend, but we aren’t actually experiencing the scene that scared us in the movie. The idea here is to create distance from the thoughts, by describing them as if they were happening in a film and not to us. Again, this is where the practice element comes in. Allow yourself time and grace as you practice.
Finally, we are human, and we all need help sifting through the noise sometimes. We may not be able to control what pops into our mind, but that’s okay. In the noise or quiet of our mind, we get to choose how our thoughts effect us, and whether or not they get to rule our day.
July 2019, Deb Kunze, Counselor