Hi all! How are you doing? How is your head treating you? Mine is being relatively well- behaved I’m happy to say. This ‘time out’ where I have a chance to change bad habits and implement a new routine seems to be paying off. The meditation twice daily helps BIG time and I’m pleased to have gotten back into my yoga. I had a harder time the other day but I got through it without acting on any bad thoughts / impulses.
That brings me to todays’ topic: Thought deescalation. This blog will be very important for me to keep in mind and reread when need be. I have a bad habit of letting my thoughts consume me. They become all-powerful and a part of reality itself. The truth is that I’ve been giving them way too much power. Thoughts come and go and in reality, they don’t have a huge impact unless we let them. Thoughts are powerful when we choose to act on them. This is super important – minimizing the significance of our thoughts makes handling the bad ones much easier!
Two people can have the very same thought but depending on how they perceive it, one may take it very hard while the other releases it within seconds. What then is the difference between these two people?
Inside the head of person #1:
Wow, that was a weird thought. I wonder where it came from. I guess [insert thought] has been on my mind lately. That’s ok, it’s just one passing thought amongst the hundreds of thousands per day. It isn’t real and it doesn’t have to reflect reality. It doesn’t have to reflect MY reality. I won’t act on something that will only cause me harm. I choose to move on.
Inside the head of person #2:
Why am I thinking this? I’m a bad person… I hate myself. I can’t get it out of my stupid head! What’s wrong with me? Why am I so weak? GO AWAY! [The thought] must be true if I’m thinking it and feeling it so strongly. I’m stuck with these thoughts and feelings. I’m powerless.
The difference is clear; one person accepts and acknowledges the thought without judgement while the other refuses to accept it and tries to push it away. This NEVER works. The first person also sees it as transient and not necessarily real. The second person thinks the thought is automatically truthful and feels trapped with it.
What can we do to be more like the first person? I’m quite clearly the second so this will be difficult to wrap my head around. Still, let’s explore it together.
First let’s take a look at some important characteristics of thoughts themselves.
- Thoughts can be random and come out of left field.
- Thoughts are not facts.
- Thoughts can be right or wrong but it might be best to just view them as existing – no labels, they simply ARE.
- The nature of a thought is influenced by many things including our mood at the time.
- Thoughts come and go, some faster or slower than others.
- Since thoughts move pretty quickly, we’re likely to have others ready to take their place if we don’t cling to the current one.
A Vicious Cycle
Out thoughts, emotions and behaviours are interconnected. This means that seriously bad things can ensue if we don’t know how to handle our thoughts. The cycle looks like this:
A ‘good’ thought is likely to lead to happier emotions which leads to better behaviours.
A ‘bad’ thought is likely to lead to unhappy emotions which leads to negative behaviours.
As we can see, the result depends on a common denominator: Our thoughts. We need to address our thoughts before they have a chance to manifest. ￼
– Mindfulness as a way to practice distancing ourselves from our thoughts and viewing them as an observer.
– Identification of cognitive distortions. For an in depth explanation, you can find the blog here.
– Cognitive restructuring: Replacing automatic thoughts with rational explanations. Searching for facts and evidence to replace illogical conclusions.
What Can We Conclude?
A current state of being doesn’t have to be permanent. We can choose to hold on to an unpleasant thought, or we can choose to accept and release it. Since thoughts aren’t facts, there’s no point to hanging on to them as if they’re absolute truthes. If we understand that the thought can be random and wrong, it’s easier to not attach much significance. This is freeing.
I’m going to take a personal example to demonstrate how the principle can be applied.
I frequently feel depressed and empty. Negative thoughts run rampant in my mind making me feel guilt, shame, regret as well as a feeling of helplessness, incapability and worthlessness. I feel like a bad person who deserves pain and punishment. This makes me want to hurt myself, and combined with the adrenaline I get from engaging in self harm, it feels like the right thing to do to escape bad feelings. The fact that my state of being seems permanent also contributes to my self-destruct pattern.
If I take myself too seriously, which is often the case, it’s likely that I’ll act on my thoughts / impulses. What if instead I allow the thought to run it’s course and move on? What if I acknowledge it but recognize that it’s a product of my current mood and isn’t a hard fact? I can choose NOT to act on it.
What might this process look like? (I’m also practicing for the next time this happens to me.)
– I’m feeling this very strongly right now but I know my cycles. It’s very unpleasant but it WILL pass. I’m not always going to feel this way.
– Hurting myself to stop the current pain is only going to bring up more feelings of guilt and shame later. I’m not solving the problem, I’m postponing it.
– What proof do I have that I’m a bad person who deserves pain? I’ve made many mistakes but wouldn’t it be better to focus on changing the future? If one of my mistakes and regrets is hurting myself, I’m only feeding into the problem.
To wrap things up today I’ll bring you up to date with what’s been going on for me. Today is day 25 which is almost the full length of my orignal 30 day ‘prison sentence’. Just kidding … I’m taking about the court mandate we worked around by not contesting my being here. Day by day I realize how necessary this stay is. One thing that helped make this clear is that my psychiatrist allowed me to go home for a night and come back after dinner the following day. It went well and I was so happy to see my parents, Aaron, Mia and Piko. It was great to be free, to drive and to rollerblade, but it also revealed how fragile I still am. There was something simple to decide and yet it got me very overwhelmed. Being out also made me quite tired so I slept deep last night! My point is that I’m making good changes and progress BUT I have the suspicion that if I were out for even a week, I’d start feeling seriously bad again. By that I mean lost, agitated, confused, depressed and from there, I might do something stupid. I don’t know. I could just be worried but I really want this to be my last hospital stay. I want to make sure my good habits and routine are solid before I have a permanent release. That’s great why depending on what happens with my psychiatrist tomorrow, I may or may not contact a crisis centre to see if I can stay to have a safer transition.
Alright then, that’s all for now! I’ll be back soon!