Our Insane and Destructive Thoughts: Part III-What to Do About Them
Knowing what destructive thoughts are is one thing. Knowing how to stop them is another. In Part I of this three-part series, I maintained one form of our insane thoughts is the creation of “what if” scenarios about a less than pleasant event. In Part II I suggested these thoughts are one way the mind tries to reach homeostasis—stability. In this final part, I’ll offer suggestions for how to reduce “what if” repetitive thoughts and prevent future ones from occurring. We have choices what to do following an embarrassing, humiliating, or hurtful experience: We can change it, let go of it, or use it.
Changing the Past Through Destructive Thoughts
Trying to change the past is a common choice. We repeat the event in my minds and try to change the outcome so we wouldn’t have felt as awful as we did. Our memory becomes an endless digital loop where we get to play editor, changing scenes and outcomes. Unfortunately, whatever relief we experience is momentary; the pain returns when our mind decides to replay the original scene rather than the one we constructed.
Letting Go of the Past
The second option, as many writers suggest, is to “let go” of the past. While instructing your brain to stop doing something may work for those with exceptional control, it doesn’t work for most of us. Ignoring the past is similar to Nancy Reagan’s remedy for drug use, “Just Say No.” It’s difficult to will our minds not to run daily screenings of the event. Hoping that will work is similar to telling a bully your arm hurts in the hope he’ll stop hitting you.
Why would the mind focus on a past hurtful event that’s impossible to change? Homeostasis—the need to reduce the negative impact of an experience. The mind will keep working at it until it feels “better.” For some things, there can be no resolution, and the endless loop continues for years as it did for the woman I cared for in Part I.
Instruction for the Future
The third option is easier and more positive. We can modify how the mind frames our memories by using the past as instruction for future actions. We are moving from what is negative and can’t be changed (hurtful past behaviors) to what is positive (future skillful behaviors).
Yes, I may have insulted someone in a way that prevents them from ever forgiving me. I can’t force them to stop feeling the pain I caused, but I can use my unskillful behavior as a guidepost for what I can do in the future.
Letting go of self-destructive thoughts requires more than a desire not to have them. If you have interactions with people, you will inevitably screw up or feel hurt by the actions of others. It’s less a question of if you will have these experiences and more about how you will react to them. Reliving what you can’t change is fruitless. Ignoring it only highlights the pain. But the hurtful memory can be changed when it becomes a map for doing skillful actions in the future.
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