If your mind is anything like mine it will spout difficult or negative stuff at you all the time. Most people’s do. What is worse is that many of us then start to get worked up about the fact that we have these thoughts in the first place. We are constantly told in today's world that we need to think positively or that we should be 'happy' all the time so if we experience difficult thoughts it is common to then worry “why can’t I be positive”, “why do I think these things all the time” “what is wrong with me?” which can lead to self-criticism, low mood and an utter lack of self-acceptance. This quite frankly is just not fair on ourselves. Whilst having difficult or negative thoughts feels pretty awful there is actually a good reason for it. Understanding this first can help us handle these thought a little more effectively.
So what is the explanation? Well if we go back to our early ancestors, we lived in a time where we had to be on the lookout for danger all the time. Our reality was that there could be something lurking around any corner just waiting to eat us or harm us. Because the stakes were so high our brain carried out this function with a policy of 'better safe than sorry'. If you run and it turns out there was no threat - no harm done but if you don't then well.....you were toast! Our brain had to be on the lookout for potential danger ALL. THE. TIME. It is this function that kept us alive.
Whilst life is somewhat different now (well for most of us) this part of our brain has been so useful in keeping us safe it has stayed with us. It continues to look out for danger everywhere, to find any possible threat to us and to warn us of anything that might cause us harm “they won’t like you”, “ you will fail” or “you will look stupid” "you will get fat" the list could go on and on. This is not something odd or weird about you, it is normal. It is your brain doing what it knows best, it is trying to protect you. Does that mean it is always helpful? Heck no!
If for whatever reason (and there can be many) you are experiencing a particularly difficult time your brain may be taking this job VERY SERIOUSLY and be unrelenting in its pursuit of potential danger. I often liken this to having a tree house or den as a kid and instead of setting a rudimentary ‘booby trap’ (think homemade tripwire with a bell) to alert you if someone is approaching, you have 3 armed guards with machine guns sat outside guarding your homebuilt fort. It serves the same purpose but it’s a little OTT for a ramshackle den built out of a clothes-horse covered in a bunch of sheets! This is kind of what happens when we get very anxious.
So if you are getting troubled by difficult thoughts the first things to remember are:
- This is normal
- Your brain is trying to help in the only way it knows how.
- Go easy on your brain, it means well.
- Your brain isn't always right - it works on a better safe than sorry approach.
This doesn’t of course mean that you have to listen to it or believe what it says. Up next some simple ways to start responding to your thoughts in a different way.