You know the ones I’m talking about.
They tell you you’re not good enough. They taunt you and scare you and sometimes say things that make you want to hide away from the world.
Some of those unkind voices aren’t even your own. They’re voices from as long ago as your childhood but yet, have remained with you well into your adult years.
The other voice; your voice, doesn’t seem to want to support you either. You call yourself names, beat yourself up and criticise yourself harshly. You manage to think positively and cheer yourself on from time to time but those negative thoughts, ugh. If only they would just stop.
Here’s the truth.
We’re built to think and sometimes, we’ll have thoughts that we don’t want to have. Our thoughts aren’t going to stop just because we want them to. Some people can stop them temporarily through different forms of meditation but outside of that, thoughts will return.
Having unhelpful thoughts doesn’t make you a bad person and you can’t harshly criticise yourself into feeling better.
For example, I’ve recently had some scary thoughts about explosions and what could happen if I or my kids got caught up in them. Pretty unpleasant, right? The thing is, I started to get really worried and scared and panicked. I also felt bad about having such horrifying thoughts about my own children.
And then, something came to me about the thoughts I (we) have and I started to feel a lot better, even though the unpleasant thoughts hadn’t quite gone away.
What I realised was that many of our thoughts are based on past experiences, things people have said/say to us, things we’ve seen and heard. So it makes sense that some thoughts will feel more pleasant than others.
In other words, we’ve had both positive and negative experiences. People have said positive and negative things to us and we’ve seen and heard both positive and negative things.
The thoughts I was having in that moment were because of the recent attacks in London. I didn’t want to have them but the fact is they were there. The problem was that not only did I initially feel scared of those thoughts, but I also started to make up a story about what having them meant.
The main story was that I was a bad mum for having such thoughts about my children. But I didn’t choose to have them, they just appeared. More importantly, it’s not something that I want to or hope will happen so how can I be a bad mum?
Something else that came to me was that our thoughts are like films that can be categorised into different genres such as:
We can choose which types of films to watch but we can’t always choose which thoughts we have. Sometimes, they appear unexpectedly and you ask yourself “why am I thinking that??”
So if that’s the case, how can we reduce the discomfort we feel when we have thoughts that belong to genres we don’t enjoy?
Try these three things.
Let them be there
It often feels easy to say, but not so easy to do. There are times when I’ll spend ages grappling with unwanted thoughts until I realise, oh yeah, that doesn’t help. As soon as I stop resisting, they don’t necessarily vanish magically or turn into rosy thoughts but I still start to feel a little bit better.
Remember that more thoughts will come along
As I mentioned before, we’re built to think so we’ll always have a flow of thoughts. In fact, I find it forces me to exercise patience. Instead of trying to push the thoughts away (and wasting mental energy on something that’ll eventually leave anyway), I have to wait for them to pass.
Make a commitment to have your own back every day
Someone who cares about you would wouldn’t they? Or at least that’s what you’d expect. So make the decision to do the same for yourself whether you’re enjoying the genre of your thoughts or not. And if you forget, that’s when you go back and remind yourself of the decision you made to look out for yourself just as much as a best friend would.
It’s not about ignoring what needs to be dealt with, It’s about taking a different approach to our thoughts and feelings than what we’re used to. If one way doesn’t do us any good, it makes sense to try something else. But like exercise, it takes practice and we may not always want to do it but over time, we’ll reap the benefits.