Smoothie, Anyone? Or Maybe a Psychic Cleanse?
Free yourself from psychological toxins.
Posted December 4, 2016
Many promises of better health have been made for different types of dietary and nutritional cleanses. From smoothies to restricted caloric intake, cleanses have been promoted as a means of eliminating the harmful and starting over with a healthier lifestyle. While we’re taking better care of our bodies, are we caring also for our psychological well-being? What is the psychological analog to a body cleanse? The idea of positive change resulting from a psychological purification or release of undesirable ideas or emotions has a long history. Aristotle defined catharsis as “purging of the spirit of morbid and base ideas or emotions.”
The primary goal of cleansing is the elimination or reduction of unhealthy elements that block the healthy processes within us. Cleansing involves three major steps.
- Identify what is inhibiting your ability to: be happy, fulfill your potential, and be who you want to be.
- Determine the best ways of minimizing each.
- Nature abhors a vacuum; what will replace the unhealthy components?
You might no longer be afraid of monsters in your closet, but your inventory might reveal fears that prevent you from trying new things or aspiring to more challenging goals. While some fears stem from bad experiences in the past, many are unrealistic and simply keep us in our comfort zone. While fear of physical dangers minimize risks of injury, avoiding emotional and psychological challenges can inhibit personal growth and fulfillment. Fear of failure can limit our achievements by blocking attempts at aspirations that could have been successful. Fear of rejection might protect you from imagined embarrassment or the pain of feeling unworthy, but can also trap you in loneliness or an unhappy relationship. Fear that someone you love will leave you, literally or emotionally, can keep your relationship stagnant, leaving you unhappy and stressed. Reflecting on the impact of her parents’ divorce, Kelly Clarkson sang: “Because of you I find it hard to trust not only me, but everyone around me. Because of you I am afraid.”
Memories of past hurts or disappointments can breed resentments that preserve bitterness and allow it to grow. A major betrayal such as spousal cheating can cause lasting hurt, while less substantial emotional injuries can fester and accumulate over time. Events can be remembered as more extreme than they were and can overshadow more positive experiences. Harboring resentment over minor disputes can result in needlessly ending a relationship. Bitterness can rob the present of some of its joy and block the development of existing or new relationships. A depressing emotion, resentment can sap energy and motivation and limit appreciation of the rich fullness of the present and visions of the future. As singer John Prine predicted, when your heart grows bitter, “You become your own prisoner as you watch yourself sit there wrapped up in a trap of your very own chain of sorrow.”
Do you still think of yourself as shy or clumsy as you did as a child? Do you still see yourself as unattractive, as you did when you were a teenager? We often view ourselves as we imagine others see us. Casual comments by peers or others influence how we evaluate ourselves, as we internalize the judgments of others and our interactions with them. Distorted or obsolete self images can interfere with enjoying new activities or engaging more fully in social experiences. When you don’t outgrow them, old images can keep you stuck needlessly and hold you back from discovering new joys and greater satisfaction.
Ways of thinking
Are many of your thoughts cynical, pessimistic or self-deprecating? Do your thoughts revolve around expecting negative outcomes or looking for the worst in others? Positive thinking has been related to stronger social support, health-promoting behaviors, and personal growth. By contrast, pessimistic thinking encourages self-defeating behaviors such as avoiding challenges and limiting behaviors and social exchanges. Research has demonstrated associations between a negative perspective and lower satisfaction in relationships, less enjoyment in life, poor planning for the future, depression and distress. Anticipating opposition, you might provoke conflict by raising arguments that would not have been advanced. Expecting that a course of action won’t succeed, you might avoid healthy changes in diet or exercise or seeking medical advice.
Having inventoried obstacles to your psychological well-being, you’ll be able to explore ways of chipping away at them. Changing longstanding habits, feelings, and ways of thinking takes time and effort. In addition to professional services, there are an array of informative resources in books, articles, and online sources such as Psychology Today. An important guiding principle is to replace the unhealthy with more adaptive behaviors, thoughts, and feelings. As more positive choices enhance your life, let go of the old ways and embrace your freedom.
Begin with small steps.
- Fears can be tackled by replacing anxiety with a relaxed sense of control. First, learn a method of relaxation. There are approaches based on breathing techniques, mental imagery, and positive thinking. Begin pairing relaxation with what triggers the weakest stress and move on gradually to more challenging stimuli.
- Consider resentments from a new perspective. Is it worth carrying the negative emotional baggage? Letting go of bitterness can be liberating. Replace non-productive feelings with adaptive ones, including compassion, forgiveness, and empathy. Reappraisal of past hurts can remind us that we are different now, and it’s more important to move on than to nurse emotional injuries of the past.
- Nostalgic reminiscence can help us compare who we once were with who we are now. Old photos, diary entries, and souvenirs can help us reconstruct images of the type of person we were as a child, teen or young adult. Consider how you have matured with changes in your lifestyle and social circumstances. Just as you are no longer a vulnerable toddler, you have outgrown other aspects of your youthful self. Have you become more confident, assertive, and sociable? You are now ready to build on your achievements and extend yourself beyond what you once thought were your limits.
- If your inventory has revealed a tendency toward pessimistic thinking, you can begin to replace self-defeating thoughts with positive ones. Replace “I could never” with “I wonder if I could.” If you are your own worst critic, consider more objective feedback. Inventory your successes and how much you have meant to others in your life. Just as negative thinking has become habitual, you can develop a new habit of positive thinking. You’ll soon discover that optimistic thoughts lead to behaviors that generate favorable outcomes.
Batcho, K. I. (2012). Childhood happiness: More than just child’s play. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/longing-nostalgia/201201/childhood-happiness-more-just-childs-play
Batcho, K. I., Nave, A. M., & DaRin, M. L. (2011). A retrospective survey of childhood experiences. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12, 531-545. http://rdcu.be/m1M1
Cheng, H., & Furnham, A. (2004). Perceived parental rearing style, self-esteem and self-criticism as predictors of happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 5, 1-21.
Clarkson, K., Hodges, D., & Moody, B. (2004). Because of you. On Breakaway [CD]. New York, NY: Sony Legacy.
Hamilton, J. M., Kives, K. D., Micevski, V., & Grace, S. L. (2003). Time perspective and health-promoting behavior in a cardiac rehabilitation population. Behavioral Medicine, 28, 132-139.
McCullough, M. E. (2000). Forgiveness as human strength: Theory, measurement, and links to well-being. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 19, 43-55.
Powell, E. (2011). Catharsis in psychology and beyond: A historic overview. Primal Psychotherapy. http://primal-page.com/cathar.htm
Prine, J. (1989). Bruised orange. On Bruised Orange [CD]. Nashville, TN: Oh Boy Records.
Zimbardo, P. G., & Boyd, J. N. (1999). Putting time in perspective: A valid, reliable individual-differences metric. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77, 1271-1288.