Have you ever noticed how much time you spend thinking about negative or painful situations, ruminating and replaying what’s not working in your life? It’s normal to have 80% of our thoughts be negative. What’s worse is that it is difficult to STOP thinking about negative experiences. So why do we compulsively hold onto painful thoughts?
Negative Thinking as an Evolutionary Advantage
Interestingly enough, there is a purpose behind ruminations of negativity. Evolution has taught us to avoid harm in order to survive, so it makes sense we would want to make sure we had our attention on harm, potential harm, or harm we HAVE encountered to learn from our mistakes.
The other reason we hold onto negative experiences is our deep wanting for it to somehow come out another way, a better way. No matter how many times we watch Titanic, we all hope the boat misses the iceberg. We try to rewrite what we don’t want into a new reality. If we can just understand our pain more clearly, spend more time with it, or “figure it out,” we’ll be able to avoid it in the future. But even if we figure it out, we must remember the pain, or it could happen again once we forget.
We hold on to our pain, in an effort to figure out how to let it go, but then cannot out of fear of forgetting how to deal with it.
We also have a need to feel that our pain matters, that it didn’t happen for no reason, and that it won’t be forgotten. Our remembering the pain shows that our suffering had importance and value. To stop revisiting our pain can feel like abandonment, and moving on before it’s truly been heard or acknowledged.
How to Interrupt Negative Thinking
Our addiction to suffering is in some way an actual desire to feel better. The result is that it ironically makes us feel worse and causes us to suffer more than we actually need to. How, then do we break this cycle?
The key to breaking any habit is to START to become aware of it. The minute you start to type in your ex’s name into Facebook to see what he/she has been up to, simply acknowledge that you’re searching for pain.
2. Talk it out.
Say something gentle to yourself out loud.“Wow! Look how sweet you are, trying to avoid being hurt. These are great intentions, but we know this will just hurt more.” Try to be with yourself exactly where you are, and know it’s ok to feel stuck.
3. Get curious.
If the awareness and gentle acknowledgement of this negative thinking have seemed to halt it, you now have at least a minute with nothing to do now. Ask your sweet self (without judgment), “What just happened there?” This DID pop up for a reason, and good for you for catching it before giving in! Were you in a place where it felt unsafe? Did you have a memory of the pain? What brought your attention this particular moment? Then get curious about your intentions: Does the rehashing and ruminating on this NORMALLY lead you to peace? Does it NORMALLY make you feel better? You know the answer, but it’s still good to ask. The next question is to ask is, “If it doesn’t make me feel better, what feeling DOES it bring up usually for me?”
Panic, helplessness, hopelessness, depression, anger, resentment, the list goes on……The POWER question comes next, and is personally my favorite! “Do I want to feel this way?” If the answer is no, you can now DO something! If you can stop in your tracks and STOP typing his name into your social media, or stop ruminating on a negative issue, and say out loud, “What am I doing?! I don’t want to feel bad! I’m going to STOP (action you’re doing to remember negativity), in THIS moment at least.”
In the process, you will discover that you can be entirely well and happy at this moment without having to go back and make anything that came before it different.