Escape the Trap of
Negative thinking, according to Cognitive Therapy Guide.org, is “any type of thinking that leads to negative consequences.” These consequences can manifest as depression, anxiety, and addiction. We don’t always realize we’re caught in the trap of negative thinking, but once we do, it’s important to identify it and do something about it. By doing so, we improve our mental, as well as our physical, health.
Four common types of negative thinking have been identified. Different experts have different labels for each, but their symptoms are the same. Ashley Miller, in her article for AZcentral, titled, How to Identify & Replace Negative Thinking Patterns, identifies them as follows: “filtering, meaning that you see only negative aspects of a situation and ‘filter out’ the positives; personalizing, meaning that you blame yourself for everything bad that happens; catastrophizing, meaning that you always expect the worst; and polarizing, meaning that you see everything in terms of black and white, all good or all bad.”
By rewiring our brains, we can reverse the pattern of negative thinking. Doing so can initially be a struggle, and it will take time and determination, but it is an achievable goal. Once we determine which thoughts we want to change, we must take action against them. Here are some suggestions for doing so:
The first step in thought stopping is to concentrate on the thought. The next step is to actually say “stop” to end the thought. At first, shout the word “stop” out loud. You will want to be somewhere private when you do this. As you progress, you’ll begin saying it in your mind so you can do it anywhere. Using alternate language like “get out of my head” can also be effective. The Law of Attraction.com even suggests, if you’re more of an image person, to visualize a bright red stop sign. You can also just change the direction of your thinking.
Replace your negative thoughts with more realistic positive ones. Begin by releasing the negative thoughts and introducing new ones. For instance, you may think there is no way out of a situation and have been telling yourself that. Replace that thought with a positive one, like “There is a way out of the situation and I can find it.” This positive attitude opens your mind to looking for reasonable options and accepting them once you’ve found them. Implementing the options will make you more optimistic, because you are being proactive instead of being caught in a web of self-doubt and negativity.
Positive affirmations, according to MindTools, are “positive, specific statements that help you to overcome self-sabotaging, negative thoughts. They help you visualize, and believe in, what you’re affirming to yourself, helping you to make positive changes to your life and career.” Positive affirmations can be deployed in the same way you use thought-stopping techniques. For example, as soon as you feel a negative thought pushing its way into your mind, push it out with an affirmation.
Depending on what the negative thought is, the affirmation would be declaring the opposite. For example, if you are thinking, “People don’t like me,” turn that around and think something like, “I am a kind and caring person, and I have friends who appreciate those attributes and value me as their friend.”
It also helps to get to a point where it becomes second nature to say affirmations on a daily basis. By doing so, they become a powerful tool helping you reshape your thinking. Some experts suggest you make eye contact with yourself in the mirror as you recite your affirmations.
Whether you prefer words or images, both are powerful ways to make a physical representation of your fears and negative thoughts. If you are a word person, try writing down the thoughts that concern you really letting go of all that negativity. Let it all out. Afterward, you can destroy the paper you’ve written your feelings on as an act of getting rid of them and to symbolize the fact that you are moving on from them. If images are your thing, try painting, drawing, or even sculpting your negative feelings. Once again, the images can be destroyed afterward in the act of taking control and getting rid of these thoughts.
One or all of the above techniques may help you escape your negative thoughts or teach you how to control them. However, they may not be enough. Many of us need additional help from a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist. Remember, it is never too late to ask for help and there is nothing shameful in it. Seeking help is a positive, proactive step that will help you improve your mental health and live a happier more fulfilled life.