When Thoughts Can Hurt
By Kathi Whitten, LCSW
No. VA Psychotherapy Associates
When Thoughts Can Hurt
Many people live with anxious or negative thoughts and feelings about themselves, others or situations which keep them from being able to fully enjoy their lives. Usually these thoughts and feelings are so strong, and have been there for so long, that they are never questioned anymore. In other words, whenever the thoughts and feelings occur, they are simply accepted.
For instance, some people approach a situation that seems inviting to them, but quickly stop themselves from moving toward it because of a sudden, limiting thought such as, “Oh, every time I do that, I fail,” or “I wind up feeling silly,” or “I dont think Im smart enough ” You get the idea. These negative thoughts and feelings move closer and the idea of pursuing something interesting moves farther away.
Another variety of negative thoughts or feelings seem to focus on someone else. Thoughts such as, “I cant ask him, he never comes through,” or “she always misunderstands what I want,” or “he is always grumpy and mean.”
One quality most of these kinds of thoughts share is that they are evaluating oneself or someone/something else. It is this evaluating quality that we believe, and rarely question. Often, the thoughts are based on some past event that did leave us feeling that way, but we conclude (often incorrectly) that it will always be the same in the future.
For instance, if someone is shy, and finds moving into a social setting challenging, thinking that it will be impossible, will probably make it so. We cant stop memories from returning (for example, on some occasions it was hard to do) but its important to distinguish between something we felt or thought previously from all possible future situations. A shy person who accepts that she is shy can still enter a social setting by also remembering that she still wants to be with people. Will it be hard? Perhaps, but having the thought that it would be impossible would cut off any kind of social interaction at all.
Evaluating things is a necessary skill in our daily lives. But unfortunately, we often over-use it, so that we are evaluating things we cannot actually know about (how a future situation will turn out, how someone else will respond, how we ourselves will feel when we do something). We have expectations based on past experiences, of course. Its only when the expectations become so intense that its difficult to consider doing something important that we usually start to look at the way we are evaluating the situation.
Many people who come to psychotherapy find it to be a process in which they examine many of the assumptions, feelings and thoughts they have habitually used to make daily decisions about people and situations. Often this leads to a positive change in living that is very fulfilling. If you are living in a way that seems to be lacking in positive relationships and vitality, perhaps psychotherapy would be useful for you.