A lot of cognitive behavioral therapists will ask you to challenge unhelpful thoughts. If you feel like you’re an outsider or a burden, you should try to replace that thought with a different one.
So, “No one really wants to hang out with me,” might become, “I know that a few, really cool people value me.”
Our instinct as humans is to try to feel better as quickly as we can, and I believe that replacing an unhelpful thought can sometimes help us see the larger picture. For instance, it is DEFINITELY true that a few people value you and this can be a very helpful thing to remember when we are in despair and feeling lonely.
However, sometimes just replacing a thought can be a means of avoidance itself and can make us feel even more afraid.
When we are constantly pushing our ‘negative’ thoughts to the side and trying to replace these thoughts with new, more helpful thoughts, we are essentially telling our bodies that HAVING the negative thought itself is a problem or a threat.
In fact, it’s such a big threat that we need to IMMEDIATELY swoop down and DO SOMETHING so that our brains no longer believe such a horrible, scary, wrong thought that derails our whole life! In addition to fearing that no one wants to hang out with us, we now fear having the thought that no one wants to hang out with us. We start to think thoughts like, ‘if I believe that no one really wants to hang out with me for very long I am going to sabotage myself and become even more depressed and lonely. And if I’m lonely and depressed, that’s the energy I will project onto the world and fewer and fewer people will want to be around me!”
This is a one way ticket to a panic attack and a LOT of numbing behavior. Have you ever had this experience? Let me know in the comments below!
When we are having a thought, there is also a negative feeling that accompanies it, and the thought and feeling may be a way of our body trying to send us a message. For example, when we get curious about the thought that no one wants to hang out with us, we may find that, beneath it, we are feeling sad, lonely and isolated. Therapies like EMDR allow us to get in touch with our bodies and process whatever feelings are stuck. Get in touch if you’d like to see if EMDR therapy can help you!
By denying a thought or feeling or instantly go to replace it, we miss a really good opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of our bodies and what they’re needing.
Furthermore, constantly denying or replacing our thoughts leads us to develop a relationship of distrust and animosity with our own bodies. (THE VERY DISTRUST THAT THE PATRIARCHY HAS ENCOURAGED FOR CENTURIES, by the way). We become afraid of sitting with ourselves and our feelings.
And these ‘negative thoughts’ just get louder. For example, if a friend tried to send us a message that a bus is about to hit us and we didn’t listen and interrupted her or told her to shut up because we’re actually on a pedestrian only street, she would feel dismissed and like she didn’t matter. And then she would start to scream at you or try other ways to get your attention because she feels you aren’t hearing her.
It’s the same thing with ourselves.
Whatever we deny or brush aside tends to get stronger. If we listen deeply and investigate, we may hear our bodies trying to give us a message. I invite you to investigate how these thoughts developed as a way to protect you.
Maybe the part having this thought is afraid of being alone, or it’s hurting because of past trauma, or it’s needing to be creative and have joy. Maybe it’s actually needing some reassurance from you and it just wants to be seen.
Think of this part as a kid who is acting out as a way of getting your attention, and think about what it would mean to respond with curiosity, kindness and compassion. You don’t need to believe everything it’s telling you, but you can pick up on the underlying need beneath its words.
When the parts of ourselves all feel heard and welcome, they often feel more comfortable relaxing. Whatever we resist persists–whatever we soften towards can feel safe and heal.
In your healing journey, I invite you to notice and open to all parts of yourself, even the parts that feel hard to accept. They are all working hard to protect you, even if their message doesn’t correspond with reality.
Emma Kobil is a licensed professional counselor practicing online in Colorado and Florida. Her philosophically informed therapeutic approach focuses on helping creative and perfectionist women practice self compassion. Learn more about Emma, or schedule an appointment, at mindfulcounselingdenver.com.