Sam recently wrote this blog for Mindwell Leeds on Toxic Thinking:
We have millions of thoughts every day. Some of them are negative, some positive and most of them are just slightly boring and neutral like “what shall I have for dinner”. Thoughts only become toxic when we get stuck in a way of thinking that actively harms us. They might harm our relationships with other people; prevent us from living a fulfilling, useful life; and they can even lead to mental illness.
We all know someone, don’t we? An Eeyore. “The sky has finally fallen. Always knew it would”. They think the worst, expect the worst and inevitably the worst happens to them. These people see themselves as victims of life’s circumstances and subconsciously set themselves up for failure. It makes them rather difficult to be around and unfriending on Facebook would be our preferred option if it didn’t just confirm their miserable opinion that no one likes them.
Of course, there are times in all of our lives when we can fall into these ways of thinking. There may be underlying issues like low self-esteem where we focus on our failures more than our achievements, and surmise that other people are better at things than us, leading to the conclusion that we are worth less than other people. We may also have low self-efficacy, meaning we don’t believe we have the ability to achieve our goals or triumph over challenges. And we may have an external locus of control when we believe that we have little control over the events of our lives and that external forces like fate play a bigger role in what happens to us than our own decisions and actions. When we come up against a challenge in life, these underlying beliefs can influence the way we think and lead to a negative state of mind.
Apart from the occasional Eeyore, most of us don’t like feeling bad. Whether there’s conflict with someone else or with ourselves, we try to find the easy way to resolve the discomfort rather than confronting it. Burying bad feelings, sweeping them under the carpet, often seems infinitely preferable to facing them. And everyone around us is happy to be complicit; “cheer up”, “look on the bright side”, “there are people worse off than you”. Social media can often seem like a world so far removed from the one we live in, one full of happy people doing exciting things and magnifying our own sense of inadequacy. So we join in with a carefully choreographed, heavily-filtered selfie, or snaps of somewhere interesting we went for a week rather than the 51 weeks of dull routine. But the problem with burying sadness, grief, or anger is that it doesn’t go away. It’s like putting a lid on a boiling pan – With no release for the pressure, it builds up until it explodes.
Trying to find a healthy balance in our thinking can be quite challenging. It’s easy to get stuck in an unhealthy thinking pattern whether it’s unhelpfully negative or dishonestly positive. Being able to see both the good and the bad in our lives, and not attach too much weight to either is the key to healthy thinking. It’s okay to feel sad or angry and it’s important to acknowledge those feelings. By doing that those feelings can often resolve themselves. It may be helpful to talk to someone about them or write them down but whatever you do, get them out. Once they are out however, don’t attach to them; don’t let them define you or your life. It’s okay to listen to your feelings but you don’t have to identify with them. Bad stuff doesn’t always happen to you, you don’t deserve bad luck and you are just as valuable as other people. It’s time to move on and see the good stuff that is always there and be grateful for it. It’s important to remember that you are in control and you have a choice.