When you have a thought, how often do you believe that thought as fact?
Think about it, even if you eventually convince yourself that it is not fact, how often do you think, even for a second, that it is?
Here’s some knowledge from my therapist: (backed by evidence based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, also known as ACT)
When your brain has a thought, you typically believe that thought to be fact. Even if you end up convincing yourself its not, your brain believed it, if not for a moment.
When you are unable to rationalize that a thought is just a thought, you end up living in the fictional world inside of your head.
Why is life full of pain? Why do we find it hard to be happy? Why is suffering a normal part of human life?
The answers to these questions are not something I can give quite easily, but I can tell you this:
You do not have to be consumed by your emotions. You do not have to be consumed by your thoughts. As impossible as it seems right now, you CAN take control of your head. It takes a LOT of mental work, and it will not be something you can do overnight. But healing yourself is never an instant feat.
Language is a bitter-sweet thing, for sure. We have created this beautiful, intricate way of communicating with one another, and it’s a large part of why humans have evolved so much as a species. However, language can also be damning. Language can lead to manipulation, lies, self hatred, isolation, and more. We as humans have made sure that language is a double edged sword.
So how do we prevent our brains from jumping to conclusions and believing fiction to be fact? How do we get out of our heads, and into the present moment?
The power is in your own thoughts, surprisingly enough. Let’s say you have a thought – “I am hard to love”. The thought enters your head, and no sooner are you ruminating on it, obsessing over it, believing it. This thought, and believing it, can lead to a cycle of avoiding interpersonal relationships and isolating yourself from the people who love and care about you. This, in turn, can lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental distress.
A lot of the time, we will try to avoid the thought that is causing us distress. We will push it out of our mind, we will scream over top of it to drown it out. Have you ever noticed, by trying to avoid a thought, you end up actively suffering with it? The more you try to tell yourself to not think about something, the more you think about it. It truly is a never ending cycle. We need to break free, myself included.
At this point, you’re probably saying “Okay, Courtney. You’re telling me to NOT avoid the thoughts that are causing me distress? How on earth could that possibly be beneficial?” Well, it IS beneficial, and I’ll tell you why: As humans, we developed extremely intricate emotions, as survival techniques. We have fear, which leads to our Fight, Flight, Fawn, & Freeze response that I’ve discussed before, but we also have sadness, which tells us when we need to heal. We have anger, that shows us when someone has wronged us. We have happiness to encourage us to be social and communicate with other humans. All of our emotions have a purpose, and in order to be healthy, we NEED to feel them. We need to sit with them, we need to identify them, and we need to work through them.
Next time a negative thought comes into your mind, instead of trying to avoid it, try this: Label the thought as what it is. It is a thought. It is not fact, it is simply something your brain has told you. Look at the facts behind the thought. Is there any tangible evidence to back that thought up? Or is it all speculation based on your own insecurities and fears?
Sit with the thought. Do not push it away, do not hide from it, just sit with it. What do you feel when you sit with this thought? Label your emotions, give them a name. Even if you’re not entirely sure what the emotion is, just give it a name that is closest to what you’re feeling. Identify WHERE you feel this emotion. Our emotions are physical a majority of the time. Does is feel like a lump in your throat? Is your chest tight? Does your stomach hurt? What do you feel and where do you feel it? Be in the present moment and be mindful of what is going on within your body. Do not let your mind fight these emotions or thoughts.
As to what to do next, I’m still working on learning that part, but what I can tell you, is that simply taking the step to be mindful of your thoughts and emotions is a HUGE step and is extremely beneficial to your path to healing. As I learn more about ACT therapy, I will continue to share the tips and tricks I learn.