The Power of Negative Thinking
A couple of years ago I was sitting at the dining table and my dear friend said to me. “One of the things that I really like about you is that generally you think quite positive, but you are always the first person to say how shit it is when something hard happens.”
The concept of just sticking ‘positive thinking’ on top of ourselves when we don’t feel so great has never really sat well with me. For one, I have to admit that I’ve always been really judgemental of cheesy affirmation artwork, another is that I do not join the popular belief that your thoughts are all that create your reality (I think we have a few more contributors) or believe solely in non duality as I don’t think we are here to transcend our feelings as clearly I’m invested in feelings!
I am of course not anti positive thinking, there is very clearly INFINITE room for thinking good thoughts, especially regarding ourselves. Positive affirmations can be very beneficial. If you are looking in the mirror and saying I AM ENOUGH, then hell yes, yes you are, you are always enough. But for the sake of this conversation today, what I’m looking at is the idea that we don’t need to dismiss, eliminate or override the thoughts we don’t like, the ones that have perhaps lead to us not thinking we are good enough. Instead we can see that they might hold the pointy arrow to where we need to look to find the root of why we thought that way that is causing us suffering in the first place. These thoughts that we don’t like may be the first point to feeling more in control, more connected to our truth and more in love with ourselves. I believe that looking at the thoughts we don’t like first can lead us to actually believing that we are all of the wonderful things we have always been.
I have been thinking a lot about contradiction this year.
How we feel one thing and think another to ourselves, how we think one thing and do another, how we feel one thing and say another. I’ve been considering how we are causing ourselves pain by swinging back and forth between who we want to be or who we think we should be, and who we really are.
I’ve learned that a lot of my own wounds have come from my own contradictions. The times when I have lied to myself on the inside or the outside. The times when I haven’t said out loud what I was feeling, and the times when I’ve blended myself to fit in rather than cause a scene.
I have learned from my observations with clients and myself that the brain really doesn’t not like contradiction. It causes confusion, and at the worst, mental chaos. In fact, our whole being doesn’t like contradiction.
Our mind, body and spirit are meant to be entwined, a team. A perfect human trio.
I spoke in my last post about desiring more personal truth telling. I notice that the more I unravel my own personal contradictions, the more I get to my own truths, and the more I make friends with my mind, as it was, as it is, as it changes.
I’ve always believed that learning to accept ones thoughts really is a process of making friends with the brain, rather than sticking with our ‘I’m broken’ storylines. Accepting ones feelings I think of as part of making friends with the body. We are told to ‘get out of our heads’ often, but it doesn’t really work until we practice the mind-body teamwork. We are often operating ourselves like puppets without really inhabiting ourselves for the whole experience.
Self puppetry and contradiction often feel like the safer options.
Over the years I have had many clients mention that they are afraid of their negative thoughts because they were worried that they would cause ‘bad’ things happen. I have never resonated with the classic ideas of the Law of Attraction because I know lots of people with very nice thoughts who have found themselves in really frankly awful pain. I have also never met anyone with only pure thoughts of rainbows and sunflowers.
I’ve also always shared with clients that if a spiritual concept is causing you to feel afraid, then maybe you should be questioning it.
I don’t personally resonate with only two sides of the coin Negative thinking / Positive thinking. Light / Shadow. I know that we are broader and more intricate that this reduction and have many feelings and thoughts in all directions.
I also don’t really like any teaching that spins a circle back to some sort of self blame, I know too many beautiful people with too many stories to have this concept sit well with me. Many of my readers found me from my own experiences with chronic pain and I’ve gotten to know them and their wise, courageous souls. I know many of them have experienced time and time again others blaming them for their own pains. I know their pain and it has so many contributing factors.
I’m more interested the space in between, the feelings, the surprises, the wisdom. The connection. I am interested in what partners up with our thoughts, how our spectrum of our experiences contributes to our mindset at any given moment. We are always changing.
If I’m in a low mood or I’m thinking anxiously and I stand in front of the mirror and say I AM HAPPY, I feel like a liar. I am a liar. I am also living on the surface, that place where you stick the cute band aid. I don’t believe that happiness is a choice, I believe that it is a feeling that I have to notice and find within my life, a feeling that unravels as I experience my days. Sometimes it’s so present and sometimes it’s not. My own experience is that I don’t get to feel it from just placing it upon me like a sticker, I need to explore my relationship with the feelings and the thoughts that contribute.
Labelling my thoughts has never really got me very far in the direction of self love.
I’m not going to be the first to say that we take on a lot of roles when we are young. I think we all understand this. I’m sure you know yours. Pretty, difficult, loud, sensitive, weird, ugly, big, small, quiet.
But even when we dislike the boxes that we have put into, it’s surprising how quickly we are to label the structure of our minds, things we like and things we don’t like. Negative thoughts and positive thoughts.
Thoughts are thoughts. They just are. Our brain is incredible, and it remembers everything, all our experiences and observations are in the pot. Our experience contributes to our layers of thought.
Researchers estimate that we have up to about 60,000 thoughts per day. Earlier this year when I got to know my thoughts quite intimately there was a visual that always popped up for me. Of us operating our lives on a bridge, where we pass other people, watch clouds, observe daily goings on. These are the thoughts that we are really aware of. And then underneath the bridge is a high speed freeway, with cars zooming past, no adherence to the speed limit.
I spent some time, actually a lot of time down on that freeway, the space you sometimes only get a glimpse of in those high anxiety moments. Have you ever tuned in to the high speed thought racing track? I know you have.
Down on the freeway I learned to get to know my thoughts, and I discovered, they didn’t really respond well to labelling like I suspected. I tried. I tried to gently usher the really bad ones and especially the mad ones into a secure vault. Come this way guys! This way.. head to that door marked no return!
I thought a lot about how maybe it would be much nicer to have some other peoples thoughts instead of mine. Could I do a ‘negative’ thought trade for some that weren’t quite so awful?
But I learned and will still keep learning, to consider that they were just thoughts, just thoughts, they aren’t positive or negative. They are just thoughts. Yes, some of them were thoughts that I didn’t like, some were thoughts that I judged, some were thoughts that I wanted to pretend didn’t exist. This practicing hasn’t take a hot second of course. It has taken months. My thoughts and I, just like my feelings and I, are in this together for an entire lifetime. My therapist speaks of engaging the observer self, the part of us that has no opinion or judgements. I decided that my observer self is a hippo, sat, watching, just making notes ‘Oh I’ve seen that thought before’.
The thoughts we don’t like, have the biggest tales to tell.
They are the flashing neon sign saying hey! look over here, look underneath me!
Eventually I started to allow these thoughts that I didn’t like, to tell me their story.
Our thoughts aren’t there with pure intention to repeat over and over to ourselves. This is of course what often happens, especially within our crisis, and even our daily lives. We hear thoughts that we don’t like as radio static, as an interruption, instead of an investigation. They loop because they familiar, we know them, and of course we have many triggers.
Perhaps our thoughts are waiting for us to lift the lid.
Underneath all of my most horrifying thoughts there were deep and intricate stories. I found that there was an emotion laying underneath, or maybe a lot of emotions, sometimes a whole rainbow of feelings ready to burst. I found that getting curious about the thought, even as it scared me, helped me to learn something. It was a direct doorway to a wound, either one I knew well or one that I didn’t. I learned that the only way to change and move the thoughts that were disruptive was to go into the emotions and look at the past and the back story.
Of course this involves pain, but it also doesn’t involve contradiction. The pain is always the work in progress. When we unravel the thoughts we don’t get a magic fix to peace and forever happy thinking, but we sometimes become clearer on where we received the wound. It hurts because we look at it, especially with our difficult thoughts towards ourselves, the process of learning how we came to say awful things to ourselves is difficult and also, humbling.
I learned to allocate my thoughts to where they belonged, to learn which bit of the past they partnered with. How they had turned into repeat storylines.
I learned to enter a conversation with my pain, and remind myself that the thought in question was a product of a trauma, but it didn’t mean that it was true in the present, or ever true at all.
Because thoughts are just thoughts, they are real because they are your thoughts, but they do not have to be true.
If we are experiencing mental dis-order and we keep placing positive thoughts on top, without investigating the wounds underneath, our painful thoughts don’t disappear, they just redistribute or perhaps even multiply. It then often seems we create more personal pain because we become angry that it’s not working, and then perhaps we feel we are more terrible or more broken because we can’t seem to work this magic wand.
There are a lot of things that contribute to our reality. Race, sex, gender, income status, birthplace, genetics, disability, sexual preference, health, visa status, family, religion and so on – you know.. everything. Thoughts have a contribution to how we experience our lives, especially the thoughts we think about ourselves. Of COURSE they do, but the thing we have a lot more control over is our perception. We can choose to look upon experiences with a more loving lens, a more compassionate eye. In the same way we can perceive with a more anxious spin. A leaning towards the ‘positive’ perception can be cultivated.
The thoughts that we don’t like so much, are where our healing process can begin. This year I have explored the words that I speak to myself in depth. I have learned the phrases which I think on repeat and some of them chart back to twenty years ago. I have been unpacking them and my discoveries are helping me rebuild self confidence from the ground up.
My intention is to believe that it is OK to give all of our thoughts space to breathe. We can practice expansive thinking, where we look at the multi faceted parts of each situation we are in. We can look from so many angles to help us distinguish our beliefs and truths.
We do not have to punish ourselves because we have thoughts that we don’t like. We do not have to panic lay on positive thinking methods to try and correct ourselves or fix our perceived brokenness. We can believe that we will feel relief, we can believe that we will feel the high notes and we can practice feeling what it might be like, but we do not have to do this at the expense of acknowledging the thoughts we do not enjoy.
We do not have to block parts of ourselves out.
Do you know how many people have ‘negative’ thoughts?
Could those thoughts that we hate thinking about ourselves, or our past, shift slowly as we look at what is underneath? Can we consider they are thoughts but not true? Can we start to work with them, Can we get to know them?
Can we learn to accept them?
I believe that we can.
Can we be totally ok as we are?
Can we consider that we aren’t broken?
I believe we can.
- I have been working with a psychotherapist as I move through my thoughts and feelings. You do not have to do this alone.
- Find a list of Helplines for the UK and USA: here
I love you as I continue to love me.
I write all my posts based upon my own personal experiences. I always encourage discernment when reading anything. Take what resonates with you and leave the rest.