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How to stop those pesky negative thoughts

You had a good day. Got the kids to bed without too much fuss and they didn’t kill each other. Enjoyed dinner with the family and it felt like things were going well.

Then it happens. Out of nowhere, the little dark angel in your head reminds you of how yesterday wasn’t so hot. In fact, it says that yesterday you were a failure as a mother.

It starts off quiet, but before you know it, all you can think about is the many mistakes you’ve made. You focus on how everybody else is a better parent than you.

You know your kids are going to be messed up as adults because of your screw ups!!

You try to ignore it and think about something else. You tell it to leave you alone. It seems to come back stronger every time.

It just won’t stop.

If that story resonates with you, then I hope you’ll find this article useful in helping you to take some of the power away from that dark voice in your head. Because even though we can’t always get rid of it, we can find ways to live a good life in spite of it. Your emotions do not need to be controlled by those negative voices.

I want to help you learn to DEFUSE from those negative thoughts.

What in the heck does it mean to defuse?

When you think something and you believe it 100% such that it controls your emotions and your behavior, we can say you are fused with that thought. This is our natural tendency since we generally believe our thoughts. I mean, why wouldn’t we trust our own head when it’s been with us our entire lives?

What if I told you that your mind lies to you…

It’s true. You can think things that are not true. Try it for yourself. Picture yourself doing 10 pushups right now while you’re sitting here reading this blog. Can you feel the burn?

See, you can THINK something that is not actually reality. In fact, your mind does this to you dozens of times every day and you just aren’t AWARE of it!

Let me say that again. Your mind is constantly coming up with stories about who you are that are not inherently true. You just don’t question it because you are so used to fusing with those stories!

Can I stop fusing with these negative thoughts?

Yes you can!

But first, you need to become aware that it is happening. Building the skill of mindful awareness will help you recognize your thoughts as thoughts.

Pause for a second and notice what’s going through your head for the next 15 seconds.

Did your mind drift? Did it think of anything emotionally charged? Did it stay focused on the present experience, or go into planning mode? What was your mind doing while you paused?

When you’re not used to doing this it can be a) difficult and b) a little scary. It takes practice to notice our thoughts.

You might want to start by using emotion as a cue. When you begin to feel a strong emotion, take a pause and notice what your mind is saying.

It might give you pictures, or phrases, or maybe even sound like your mother. Just begin to notice how your mind speaks to you, and causes an emotional response. That is fusion in action.

Check out my post on mindfulness meditation if you want to learn more about developing this very useful  skill.

What to do once you’ve noticed the thought

Okay, so you’ve taken your pause and recognize your mind just told you a story. Now, recognize what a thought actually is. (Technically, it’s a bunch of cells in your brain having an electrical and chemical response to a stimulus, but you can ignore that.) For our purposes, a thought is… A THOUGHT. Duh.

A thought is a thought. It’s not real. You can’t touch a thought. It can’t make you do something. It’s just a thought.

Just as you thought about doing 10 pushups earlier and didn’t get any stronger, you can have this thought and not do anything about it.

Usually, you have a thought, believe it, it affects your emotions, and it affects your behavior. For example, maybe you thought, “I’m a bad wife and mother,” so you felt sad/depressed, and because you felt that way you curled up in bed rather than talking to your spouse about the day. That pattern can play out a million different ways, but it typically results in trying to avoid the negative thought, trying to avoid the negative emotion, and behaviors that only make the thoughts and emotions more powerful.

Defusion can help disrupt that pattern!

Noticing that you’re having a thought, and recognizing that the thought is a thought which has no inherent power to make you do anything helps separate you from just believing the thought. Here is a short video that illustrates this concept.

 

 

Other tools to help defuse from negative thoughts

So I just told you that a thought is a thought and blew your mind. Now I’m going to tell you that a word is just a word and rock your whole world!

We give meaning to words because that’s how language works. But a word is just a collection of letters and sounds, and has no meaning by itself. Don’t believe me? Go to China and ask for a watermelon. They won’t understand, right?

Watermelon only has meaning in English because we’ve learned over the course of our lives that it’s a green fruit with pink flesh that is refreshing on a hot Florida day. Without that learning and context, watermelon is just a collection of letters and sounds.

Now that you know this, you can take advantage of it by taking those negative thoughts you’re fused to and turning them back into meaningless collections of letters and sounds.

Do that by singing it in a song! Use the tune of the happy birthday song (don’t worry, it’s not copyrighted anymore so you won’t need to pay any royalties) and repeat your mind’s story.

I’m a loooooser, I’m a looooser, I’m a loooooooooser, I’m a loooooooser.

It is really hard to take our mind seriously when it’s singing a silly song! You can even have Mickey Mouse sing the song! With that funny voice, it gives the thought even less credibility.

Or even without a character or a song, just say the thought over and over and over and over. When you say something repeatedly, it begins to lose any meaning associated with it.

Try it yourself: Say bowl one time. I’m guessing you also pictured something that matches your notion of a bowl. Now say bowl repeatedly for the next 30 seconds. Were you still picturing your ideal bowl at the end of the exercise?

A word is just a collection of letters and sounds and only has meaning because we have learned that it has meaning. Repeat your thought over and over and over and it turns back into a collection of letters and sounds removed from the meaning.

One last tip to help defuse from negative thoughts

Say you’ve tried the techniques I just discussed, and the thought is still knocking around your head. The final tip here is simply to acknowledge that the thought exists, “thank you, mind,” and continue doing what is important and meaningful to you.

It can be helpful to imagine that you’re a bus driver and your thoughts are passengers. Some are courteous, and others throw spitballs at your head. You know none of the passengers can actually physically hurt you because they are just thoughts. Your job is to continue driving the bus towards your values… those things that you find important and meaningful. If the rowdy passengers are throwing paper airplanes and shouting in your ear, you simply say, “thank you, you can return to your seat now,” while continuing to keep the bus on track.

This committed action to doing the things you find meaningful makes it harder for those negative thoughts to continue to control you. You are taking control by choosing to do things rather than simply avoid the thoughts and emotions. That is so powerful.

I know this concept can be a bit confusing, so I encourage you to reach out if you have any questions or need clarification (kevin@hydepsychology.com, 727-469-3008). And if you’re ready to get to work in taking back control of your life, please schedule a free 30 minute consultation today.

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Dr. Kevin Hyde

Dr. Kevin Hyde

Dr. Kevin Hyde is a clinical psychologist licensed to practice in the state of Florida. He resides in Pinellas County with his wife and two young daughters. In his spare time, Dr. Hyde enjoys relaxing at the beach with family, Nationals baseball, baking bread, and keeping up with current events. He founded Pinellas Anxiety Specialists with the hope of reducing the stress and anxiety that so many cope with on a daily basis.