“Your thoughts are not always your friends.” I heard that sentence a long time ago and never forgot it. We sometimes hurt ourselves with our thoughts and don’t even realize we’re doing it, or know that we can change it. Thinking is essential to living a good life, so thinking is not the problem in itself. The problem is that we assign ‘ultimate authority’ to our thoughts – and that authority is undeserved.
It doesn’t occur to us to question what we think – we assume it’s all reliable information. But in fact the thoughts we think are inextricably linked to, and driven by, the emotions we feel and the bodies we inhabit. Our thoughts are also generated by the lifelong influence of society and family, which forms our expectations and beliefs.
To get an idea of the relative nature of thinking, consider for a minute the way you think when you are feeling sick, or in a depressed mood. At those times the positive aspects of your life are out of reach or dismissed, and negativity rules. Your ‘thought authority’ is telling you that your life is all bleak, and you are believing it. Understandable? Yes it is, but those thoughts are not accurate – and definitely not helpful. When you get to the other side of a down time you can look back and see how one-sided your thinking was, but it’s already too late.
Another way thoughts can hurt us is by self-shaming. Trying to do a good job is important, but do you beat yourself up when you make a mistake? Do you think things like “You are an idiot! You never do anything right!”? In that case your mind has become an authoritarian tyrant, tormenting you, causing anxiety and shame. Is that the kind of leader you want? No. Encouragement is a much better teacher than punishment.
Learning how to analyze, challenge and change your thinking takes time, but it is doable. Ask your self: Is this thought true? What is not true about it? What is generating this thought? Once the question is asked, the thought-grip is loosened. It is very freeing to strip away the false authority that thinking can have.
A therapist can help you to “think outside the box” of your brain’s wiring. You can explore the origins of your beliefs and thought-habits and have some guidance in developing the capacity to challenge and change them.
Read more about how therapy can help in my book, Someone To Talk To; What Really Happens in Therapy and How It Can Work for You. Find it on Amazon or https://joycehouser.com/my-book/