Just Thoughts, Not Life Itself

Is negative self-talk holding your life hostage?

Posted Nov 30, 2013

Every night, Melissa marveled that another day had passed without her anxiety throwing her into depression. It’s not that the anxious thoughts weren’t there. In fact, they came and went all day long. The difference was she had finally learned to recognize them as such – just thoughts about her life, not life itself.

Just one year ago, any number of undesirable circumstances could have sent Melissa into a tailspin – a bad date, a disagreement with a friend, an unexpected expense, criticism of her work, a to-do list out of control. But now, when the obsessive thoughts of “I’m not good enough…smart enough…together enough” came up – in all their various incarnations – Melissa had learned to observe these thoughts instead of absorbing them.

“I am not my thoughts” had become a common mantra. And when that wasn’t enough, distracting her mind did the trick, with a walk, a run, a nap, a journal entry, yoga, meditation, or a visit with a close friend.

It’s as though Melissa’s mind and body had learned to live on an auto-pilot she could finally trust, observing and diffusing negative thoughts before they manifested into negative emotions. This was something she had never experienced in all her 40 years, only now coming to realize that “down” days here and there every couple of weeks didn’t reflect the normal ups and downs of life everyone experienced, but bouts with depression that she had learned to circumvent with the help of therapy, mindfulness, courage, and faith.

Are You Listening To Falsehoods?

Whether we realize it or not, we all have an underlying set of expectations for life – some fulfilled, others not. That’s life, plain and simple.

The problem lies in the difficulty some of us have in accepting unfulfilled expectations. These beliefs about how life is supposed to be are so ingrained in us that the possibility of failing to meet said expectations is too much to bear. What we’ve been promised isn’t delivered, and that makes us mad!

Anger stemming from unfilled expectations can probably be traced back to one or more of the following falsehoods we carry through life:

  • I need to be perfect to be happy.
  • When I am upset, it is the responsibility of others to comfort me.
  • When others harm me, it is intentional.
  • When I harm others, it is a mistake.
  • The more intense my pain or discomfort, the less the rules apply to me.
  • I deserve to be taken care of by others.
  • Others must carry my burdens for me.
  • If I am angry, no one else has the right to be.
  • No one works harder than I do.
  • The people in my life now must make up for the pain caused by the people in my past.
  • I am always taken advantage of by others.
  • I am supposed to deny my own needs for the needs of others.

Of course, these are not beliefs that we pull out of thin air. In most cases, they originate with family members who pass down these falsehoods, including the behavior that manifests and reinforces them. Beyond family, we tend to enter into relationships in which these belief systems of ours are validated, as painful and maddening as they may be.

Are You Ready To Forgive?

Actions speak louder than words and, in the case of anger, the action of holding on to a grudge or a memory trumps any words framed as forgiveness that you do not mean.

This is not to suggest you are intentionally misleading someone into believing you have forgiven them. I mean only that sometimes the expectation of forgiveness is so overwhelming that you do not give your underlying feelings the validation they need and deserve. As a result, the forgiveness you may want to give is held hostage by thoughts that won’t go away:

  • That person’s never apologized or shown any remorse.
  • I’m not going to let that happen to me again.
  • It still makes me mad to think about it.
  • What happened to me was so unfair I can’t get over it.
  • I’m not going to let that person off the hook.

So how do you release yourself from the grip of thoughts tying you to a grudge? It can be as simple as observing the underlying thoughts (above) and choosing new thoughts that reinforce a healthier move in the right direction:

  • It’s not worth the pain to keep thinking about it.
  • That person is out of my life now, so what’s the use?
  • I’ve grown up and moved on with my life.
  • We were kids when that happened and we’ve both grown up.
  • I’ve come to accept that’s just the way this person is and they’re never going to change.

Granted, these new thoughts may feel foreign to the language of self-talk you have become accustomed to expressing about this person. Thus, mindful attention is key – to what you’re thinking and what you want to think in the practical pursuit of genuine forgiveness.

Positive Affirmation: My life is worth a strong foundation of optimism, hope, and joy.

2013, Gregory L. Jantz, Turning Your Down Into Up: A Realistic Plan For Healing From Depression, WaterBrook Press.