Ugly thoughts

16.01.2021
When unpleasant thoughts appear, what do you do? In this article we'll help you discover that logical solutions may work, but for a short time...

Unpleasant thoughts can take many forms: words, images, memories, or even sounds. These types of thoughts can contain, for example, traces of the past (for example, in the form of memories) or fears about what may happen in the future.

We are talking about content that is usually classified as negative. On big occasions, we focus on eliminating unpleasant thoughts, as these can be really distressing. However, trying to stop thinking is sometimes like trying to stop thinking about a pink elephant: inevitably, the pink elephant appears.

What are thoughts?

The mind is a great narrator -describes, labels, evaluates, categorizes, predicts, solves problems, etc.- , but also a great time machine, it can travel to the past, to the most hidden memories and thus take a leap towards a future not yet lived. Sometimes it is perverse, because this machine is running without any button with which we can turn it off. Thus, he constantly travels towards experiences already lived or pending.

Thoughts arise in this great machine and can take multiple forms depending on the previous experiences we have had.That is, they can take the form of words, sounds, images, memories, as if a movie were happening, being the protagonists history that happens in this device without the possibility of turning it off, being in constant operation.

The relationship of thoughts to experience

If we go back millions of years in the history of the human being, we could say that experience was a great ally when it came to relating events in an arbitrary way, building symbolic meanings. Since then, human beings have been dominated according to what functions of our behavior can be beneficial or harmful, as experience tells us.

Emo Philips reflects this in one of his key phrases: "I used to think that the brain was the most important organ in our body, until I realized who told me that . " The mind can therefore talk about anything, whether it is directly or indirectly related to our experience.

I don't get rid of my unpleasant thoughts, what do I do?

The logical, analytical, problem-solving mind has surely tried to control these unpleasant thoughts once they appear. In the community where we operate, we tend to apply the same logical solution to the problems of life outside of our skin to our internal world.

For example, something common when walking down the street, our logical, analytical and problem-solving mind will tell us that, at a red light, we stop. Otherwise, the consequences would be fatal to ourselves. However, what happens when we try to apply this same logic to our internal events and unpleasant thoughts ?

Here's the elephant in the room: We try not to think about our unpleasant thoughts through the use of distraction, perhaps thinking about something else. Probably the method we use is to use all our efforts to analyze the pros and cons of that thought . Sometimes they even justify why it is there with us. With this type of method it seems that we have everything under control, however, how long does it last?

Dive into the quicksand

Unpleasant thoughts can work like a bank of quicksand. Once you enter the terrain of the quicksand, the panic to get out of them will make the movements to get out of there erratic and at the same time logical.

The problem is that the more movements you make inside the quicksand, the greater the probability of sinking into it faster. Perhaps, the logical thing in these cases becomes a trap and the option that remains is to put our whole body in contact with these quicksand and stop the struggle to get out.

So what options do I have?

It is normal for the relationship with these unpleasant thoughts to result in fight or flight, trying to escape the clutches of the discomfort underlying these types of thoughts. However, as discussed in previous lines, the solution may become part of the problem.

Maintaining these efforts by not wanting to have these unpleasant thoughts involves sacrificing time and energy in other actions that are important.

Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) teaches to implement other forms of relationship with the mind and with the contents that appear, as well as with unpleasant thoughts. One of the techniques used is cognitive defusion . This type of technique allows us to become aware of the moments when we fall into the trap and the tricks that the mind uses.

How to realize?

The following exercises can be considered, without excluding the need in some cases to attend therapy. In any case, these recommendations can be helpful to "realize" what is happening in that device that we have between ear to ear. In no case, will it solve that "stop thinking" :

  • How long has the thought once been in your mind? How do you try to relate to him? What do you do when it appears?
  • You can write the thought and add two words at the end: "or not".
  • Another option can be to record the thought in a mobile application and add different tones and melodies, voice distortions, etc.
  • Etc.

In short, depending on the context in which we are immersed and the skills we have to solve problems in one way or another, unpleasant thoughts can take different forms.

The strategies discussed are not a panacea to adhere to to stop such thoughts. What's more, looking for "magic formulas" to stop thinking, despite seeming to be a good solution, can also be part of the problem.

When we reason about a problem, we tend to use a simple and useful outline most of the time. This way of thinking is what is known as linear thinking.

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