Saturday, December 31, 2011

Being Kind with our Critical Thoughts


Snowshoeing in the fresh morning snow. 

Cyrus our dog making a snowman.
What can we do about repetitive, harmful thoughts that we have a hard time not repeating to ourselves when we feel down, tired, discouraged and/or depressed? We have all tried cognitive therapy techniques for reframing negative thinking, thought stopping processes and other methods, but some thoughts are difficult to change. Perhaps there is something useful about some of our negative thoughts and maybe it is not the thought that needs to change, but how we convey it to ourselves. Maybe they carry a buried message or reminder that is important to us, but because we say it to ourselves in such a demeaning negative or hurtful ways, we can’t hear the positive intent. For example, if I find that I am wasting time online, not exercising regularly or not using time productively, I may begin telling myself that I am lazy, wasting time, etc. What I may really be wanting is to remind myself that I want to find time to finish a book I started writing and instead of surfing online I could be spending 20 minutes revising and editing. The problem is that the voice in my head is demeaning so I won’t listen. All I hear is that I am lazy or ill guided.  I don’t hear the underlying concern or desire. However, if I bring a nonjudgmental attitude to listening to my negative self-messages I can see that if I soften the language of the messages, then I can hear that they hold desires that I have to live better or in a more productive way. Just as I need to bring a loving compassionate attitude to other parts of me, I need to do the same for my negative thoughts. Instead of pushing them away and seeing them as the enemy I can view them as being desperate and demanding, but also concerned with my well being and growth. I can soften the language that these voices use so that I won’t react against them, but be able to listen to them. Just as a child can’t hear what is expected of them when a parent is yelling at them, I can’t hear what my negative voice is saying when it is yelling at me. If I can be kinder, softer with these fearful parts of myself, then I can hear the gift of their concerns. 

Try this Art Therapy Exercise:
Take a repetitive thought that you have which you may label as negative or hurtful.  Take a few minutes to reflect where this voice came from (a parent, former partner, etc.), locate where in your body you sense this part of you and see if there is an image of this voice or part of you. Draw this part of you when it is talking to you in a critical way.
Now relax and get centered. Take a few deep breaths, and from a place of presence, see if you can re-imagine this part of you as it tells you in a softer, kinder way what its real intent for you is. See if you can understand from its point of view what it is wanting for you. Draw this part of you when it is talking to you in a more yearning or kinder way.
Is there some value is this criticizing part when it is seen in a different light?

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