Last week you were able to tune into my interview with Psychotherapist, Bonnie Schneider, who, in her very insightful manner, portrayed negative thoughts as little monsters who just really need a hug. What a great way of explaining the core of the problem! Indeed, these little monsters – the negative thoughts – often overestimated in our personal realities, in true reality are simply little parts of us which have trouble communicating with us and are trying to tell us something about ourselves but in a very unhealthy way that, rather than helping us, makes us worse.
The problem is that the negative thoughts are there for a reason, but though that reason may be valid, the negative thoughts themselves don’t serve us. There is a very fine line between negative thinking and depression. And there is also a very serious link between depression, low mood and even simply just chronic negativity and inflammation overall and reduced immunity. Unfortunately, what starts as negative thinking can often end up manifesting (maybe not right away and maybe only in many years or even decades) into physical health issues like diabetes, autoimmune disease and even cancer and heart disease. Recently, quite a lot of research on mood has even centred on the connection between the gut and the brain, called the gut-brain axis. Apparently, the way we think can affect the mix of microbes in our gut. If the mix is as it should be, the microbes in our gut help us to produce key vitamins we need, such as vitamin K and short chain fatty acids, among others. But if the mix gets out of whack, meaning too much negative bacteria allowed in and positive bacteria not keeping balance, we could end up compromising our immunity. Probiotics and prebiotic-rich foods will help of course, but there is no substitute for the effects of our thoughts and our emotions on our health.
Often our negative thoughts may reflect truisms about ourselves that we don’t like and ideally would like to change. Sometimes they are voices from our past from a critical parent, perhaps (making us feel we’re not good enough), or from friends who stopped being friends and wanted to hurt us (making us feel put down and hurt), or even from peers who made us feel badly about ourselves for who we were at the time (telling us we’re ugly or fat or stupid or worthless in some way).
Sometimes those negative thoughts drove us to proactively change who we were to become the better person we are today: maybe we were embarrassed about carrying extra weight, so we got fit. Or maybe we were ashamed of not being good enough at school, so we studied harder. Or perhaps we were embarrassed of our poor upbringing, so we worked really hard and became big successes. In this way, the negative voices were useful to empower us to improve. Hence, they should go away when we’re now the person we supposedly wanted to become. But what if they don’t?
What happens if the negative thoughts have done their job but they still stick around like little gremlins coming to bother us just when we think we can finally let ourselves enjoy the fruits of our labour? Or, worse, what if the negative thoughts are just negative thoughts that rather than forcing us to get better, instead keep us trapped in an existence where we feel not good enough, not attractive enough, not smart enough, not worthy enough for love… or whatever our personal gremlins may be. In other words, what if our negative thoughts suffocate us so much that we instead give into them and start to believe the inferior image they brew of us?
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the positive effect that keeping a personal diary can have on mental health. This week I want to tackle the problem of dealing with negative thoughts. The tool, unlike a diary, but possibly in combination with one, is a mental one I call a reframe. The ability to listen to your negative thoughts and then to reframe your perspective into one of understanding and motivation, is a way to tackle them and to change negativity into proactivity and then to positivity.
At the end, you should feel that you’ve listened to your thoughts and you should have a list of thoughts that you’re working to improve with yourself. You may need help to let some other thoughts go (that’s what coaches like me are here for). Rather than letting your thoughts keep coming at you like little gremlins who get hungry when you’re in a weak moment, demonstrate your strength to yourself and keep congratulating yourself on how hard you’re working on self-improvement (remember we are all just an evolving self constantly improving so self-improvement is a natural and good thing). Remember to give gratitude for your progress and that it takes positive emotions to over-write negative ones.
In case your struggle is actually in understanding or hearing your thoughts and knowing your feelings, that’s ok too. There is a certain age in children, from 2 to 3, in some cases a bit earlier or later, where these little humans start speaking and formulating meaningful sentences, and start to express their feelings and thoughts. Very often though, although the children think that they are expressing thoughts and feelings clearly, they have just assembled an artillery of words and meanings just enough to start to express their inner world, but they still need a wholesome map, which will help them to interpret this inner world. Sometimes these children themselves do not understand why they feel cranky or upset. Sometimes this same lack of understanding happens with older children too and with teenagers, especially when they have hormones raging and moods all over the place.
Parents can try to help children to articulate their emotions and sensations, help them to distinguish physical sensations of hunger, lack of sleep, tiredness from emotional feelings of hurt, anger, jealousy and so on. Sometimes, really understanding parents can help older children and teenagers too, though it’s more difficult at that age because part of their struggle is also to let parents go. Without parents to help them decipher their thoughts, children can sometimes act a bit like our negative thoughts. They completely surrender to their emotions, have trouble controlling themselves because they do not have the full perspective and they feed their own obsessions as they do not have the tool to stop them. Psychologists normally tell parents who have tantrum ridden children that whatever feeling they are trying to express we should always take it seriously and express affection towards confused children, because they are on a very impressive journey of learning the world.
So why not treat our own “inner children” in the same way? What if our negative thoughts have accumulated to such a degree that we do not know how to fully interpret everything we feel. Psychologists, therapists and coaches act in the adulthood scenario, act like parents to tantrum ridden children, because unfortunately we are not necessarily always taught how to organise and decipher our own negative puzzles or our map of action lies confused and in pieces.
So if helping to decipher those thoughts is something you’d like to do, that’s something I help my clients with: both for the purpose of improving mental and physical health. And if you want to start helping yourself, one good place to start is to ask yourself what these negative thoughts might be trying to tell you. Maybe you have been ignoring yourself for too long? Have you been putting off some very important task, a discussion, a problem you have to overcome but can’t face taking care of? Do you need help to get motivated? Have you been treated wrongly in the past and want to rid yourself from that situation or just to let the angry, bitter voice from feeling hurt go? Do you feel like you deserve more from life but don’t know how to get there or even how to get started?
Book a free 30 minute call with me here and let me here.