Believe me when I say that I know a thing or two about managing negative thoughts! When I say negative thoughts, I'm not referring to being pessimistic. I'm also not referring to the deep and difficult emotions associated with loss, grief, trauma, and so many other difficult things. I'm talking about the day-to-day negative thought patterns that we fall into again and again, often without even realizing we're doing so. These thought processes quite typically lead to negative feelings about ourselves, relationships, or situations that may not even be based in reality. In other words, our minds are very good at coming up with all sorts of things and making those things seem very, very real.
Managing negative thoughts is by far one of the most common issues that I help clients with as a therapist. No one comes to me saying "my thoughts are running wild". But so much about anxiety, depression, self image issues, self confidence issues, and so many other things can be improved by recognizing, addressing, and changing deeply held negative thought systems.
The great news is that we have a lot more control over our thoughts than we often realize. The work of managing negative thoughts isn't fast and it isn't easy--or else I wouldn't have a job! But just like anything else that we work hard at and practice, it's something we can certainly learn to do over time.
If you know me or have followed me for even a short amount of time, I hope you already know I don't say any of these things in the spirit of "get yourself together" or "just don't think about hard things". If you struggle with these sorts of negative thought patterns, you know just how scary, sad, and out of control they can cause you to feel. And so I share these things only in a spirit of encouragement, because I want people to know that healing can be found:)
The first step in managing negative thoughts is learning to recognize them. You can't address and change something you don't know you're doing! Here are a few examples of commonly experienced negative thought patterns:
- Filtering-We focus on and magnify a small, negative detail of a situation and filter out all the good.
- What-Ifs-We ask ourselves "what if" over and over again, until we convince ourself that a negative outcome is inevitable.
- Black-or-White Thinking- We measure life in terms of absolutes. Things are black or white, right or wrong, perfect or a failure, and we leave no room for anything else in between.
- Shoulds-We have a list of rules for how we should behave, how we should perform, and how our lives should be. We are very hard on ourselves when things don't go according to our plan.
- Jumping to Conclusions-We expect the worst out of any situation.
- Emotional Reasoning-We assume that whatever we feel about ourselves must be the truth.
In Part 2 of this post I'll talk about addressing and changing negative thoughts, but I do want you to know that what I've shared here is just the tiniest piece of information available on this topic AND that this doesn't count as therapy:) Experiencing these thoughts to the point that it effects your day to day life is a great reason to seek out a counselor of your own. There is no need to wait for a crisis! Anything that's stealing your joy and happiness is a problem worth addressing. If you decide to seek out a counselor of your own, a great place to start is by calling a local church or university psychology department. These places can often refer you to some great counseling centers!
I've mentioned before that I've struggled with some difficult anxiety in the past, and that I know about the freedom that can be found on the other side. The process of learning to manage my own negative thoughts has been deeply beneficial to me personally, and I'll be forever grateful to the wise counselors who have guided me along the way. God has given me one good life to live here on this earth and I refuse to live it anxious, scared, and worried all the time. And I very much want you to know that you don't have to either:)
"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." John 10:10