“The key to happiness – or that even more desired thing, calmness – lies not in always thinking happy thoughts. No. That is impossible.The key is in accepting your thoughts, all of them, even the bad ones. Accept thoughts, but don’t become them.–Matt Haig, Reasons to Stay Alive
Today, there was this intense loathing I felt for myself. So intense, I began questioning who I was, where I was in life and felt my life was as pitiful as it gets. Streams of negative thoughts flowed and flooded my mind and I was feeling enveloped by it.
As someone that doesn’t tear up easily, crying wasn’t an option to let out the pent-up emotions, so I took a deep breath, detaching my feelings from my thoughts and started raveling at the seams, trying to find out why I felt such way. And then I realized something; I had been stressed lately and had repressed my negative thoughts and emotions so much so that at the slightest mental vulnerability, I almost crumbled. Which led to what I will writing on today. We will take a deep dive into negative emotions and how to process, manage and embrace them.
Negative thoughts are natural, they are a part of human existence; an inbuilt defense system for our brains, if you please. Negative thoughts are negative and random in nature in reference to one’s self.
Thoughts like “I am not good enough”, “I can’t do it”, “I am a failure”, “no one cares about me”, “I am so stupid”, “I hate myself”, “who would love a person like me”. These are examples of negative thoughts that can actually consume you if not properly managed. Negative thinking is something we all engage in from time to time, although, constant negativity can destroy your mental health, leaving you depressed and anxious.
Constantly shutting off negative thinking and trying to stick to positive thinking isn’t inherently helpful and to be honest full of crap. Ever wondered why overly optimistic people annoy you? The reason is that, deep down, positive thinking feels fake and disingenuous to us.
Take a look at people that always try to give off positive vibes, whenever they encounter any external form of negativity, they become passive aggressive. When in truth, they are scared of what will happen if they lose hold of the façade of happiness, they have fashioned for themselves.
Constantly thinking positively is like taking analgesics just to get temporary relief until your pain comes roaring back worse than before. So, it is best to find the cause of your negative thoughts and try to process them before it progresses to constant sadness and self-hate.
Having negative thoughts doesn’t mean you are a negative person – you are only human after all
According to Norman Vincent Peale, in his “The power of positive thinking”, he was of the view that thinking constant happy/positive thoughts is the pathway to achieving success -which I do not support as this isn’t the best way to cope with our stress especially for people that are prone to anxiety spells. But we will stick to his insight on what can cause negative thoughts:
- Shame about the past: You see, we have all done something in the past that we are not proud of or that we think may come back to bite us in the rear. We all do or say somethings that when we think of, we are filled with embarrassment and perhaps shame, but of course your negative thinking will decide to blow it out of proportion and make it seem like it is the worst thing to happen on the face of the earth. It is not. You need to accept that You can’t rewrite the past and accept the event as a learning curve and consider how not to make such errors again.
- Anxiety about the present: Many of us worry about this day and night, we worry about how people perceive us or how we perform at our jobs or how the society sees us. In the process of these thoughts, your negative thinking slips in and you begin to imagine that people hate you, or that you are we just a sham parading as person of self-worth; or worried that your colleagues think you are a crappy employee or that your partner will leave you when they realize you are not an epitome of perfection. Relax, no one is perfect, we all have these self-doubts once in a while, you are not alone in this.
- Fear of the future: Ah, the unknown. The most constant fear of all. We fear the future because it is unknown and we do not know what it might bring or if we will ever achieve the success, we strive day and night for. This sort of negative thinking often leads to “catastrophizing,” or self-sabotaging which means constantly predicting failure and disaster in the future. I hate to break it to you, worrying about the future is a waste of time and energy and mental strength. But the advantage of such thoughts is; the time you spend thinking and worry can be better utilized by committing to taking actions in the present. You are scared you will not be the outstanding lawyer that you want to be? Accept the worst outcome, then take those courses, read those books, build that connection in the law forum etc. That is a step toward ensuring that your future stands a chance at success.
As someone who analyzes my thoughts, and reasons I feel a particular way, it can be challenging to differentiate negative thinking from the regular worries that everyone has. It can be the same for you too, so I try to think positive thoughts to counter them, but positive thinking isn’t magic. You can’t just will negative thoughts into positive ones. You have to accept them as part of being human.
When you get these negative thoughts, let them in. For those who find better expression in crying, let it out and for people with more analytic minds, pick your emotions apart and try to see what may have caused this, play through all the various scenarios that can take place and prepare yourself for the worst that can happen. See once you can understand that this is just your mind trying to defend itself from the unknown; you have managed and embraced the situation.
Now, when you think self-depreciation thoughts; maybe during a huge project, or from taking on a lot of stress, find a way to process them, manage them and embrace them. See them as temporary fluctuations of your energy
My own approach is to look on positive and negative thinking as a continuum, where both thought processes are at opposite ends and you being a constant without getting to the edge of both elements. Think of it as “defensive pessimism”, see your negative thoughts as you being realistic about your worst-case scenario, this will automatically sap the past, the present and the future of the anxiety producing power they have over you.