Our Internal Insane Thoughts: Part I-What Are They?
How many days has it been since you replayed a scene in your mind where you said hurtful, revealing or politically incorrect words you wish could have been taken back? Possibly you were diligent in your speech but humiliated in front of friends or colleagues? Or became a victim of an unscrupulous person or scheme? Regardless of the origin, Insane thoughts about what we should have done occur throughout our lives.
No, this isn’t a coaching advertisement, or pitch to attend a “life-changing” event, or a special offer to buy a book that will change your life. Rather, it’s a short three-part exploration of the insane thoughts we repeatedly tell ourselves (Part I), why we do it (Part II), and how to stop or reduce them (Part III).
Enlarging Insane Thoughts
It will be bad enough if our memory is accurate about what happened. If it is, the pain we experienced when it occurred will by itself be excruciating. Unfortunately, our mind isn’t that kind. Accuracy is a great standard for line editing documents or machining parts for a rocket. It rarely occurs in memory because of the brain’s physiology and our need to rectify what we didn’t want to occur in the past.
These “cartoon clips” come to us as abstracted portions of what happened, remastered as if by a Hollywood digital editor. And, just as any good editor would do, our malleable brain distorts factual moments for impact, substituting drama for truth; pain for subtly.
When a Painful Past Directs the Present
The result? A scene bubbles ups into our consciousness when anything vaguely reminiscent of the event occurs, as it did for a woman I served in hospice. She was rejected by fellow teachers in her first assignment when she was in her early 20’s.
The story lasted for thirty minutes and contained so much detail I felt the hurtful words were directed to me. As I listened, it became evident that the rejection created great psychological damage. The following week, she told the same story. And every week until they died, never leaving out any detail. If anything, with each retelling the events became more elaborate, and the pain grew. She was in her eighty’s and according to her daughter, the story she told sporadically for the last fifty years, now was a regular event.
For my patient and most people, “What if…” and “Only if…” internal messages can control portions of our lives with as much control as “The Great Oz,” lurking behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz. There are events in my life that occurred in childhood, as a young adult, and even recently that have me saying “What if…” and “If only I did…” One of the differences between my patient and myself is the degree to which each of us allowed our past to affect our present.
In Part II, I discuss why, despite their efforts to suppress them, these destructive scenes occur. In Part III I’ll suggest some simple changes you can make to minimize their effects.
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