Most people think it is better to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative when it comes to our thoughts. Studies show just the opposite….
Researchers have found that humans have very little ability to consciously suppress unwanted thoughts and emotions.
Trying to repress them actually makes them stronger.
Pain + Resistance = Suffering
In one study, participants were asked to report the thoughts that were going through their heads for a period of five minutes, but before doing so they were asked NOT to think of a white bear. If they happened to think of a white bear they were asked to ring a bell. The group that had been told not to think of a white bear lit up the room with bell ringing.
Then a group of participants was asked to go ahead and think of the white bear for five minutes, visualize it, before being asked not to think of it. Bells rang out less often.
Smashing Point: The group that was allowed to think of the white bear before being told not to, thought of it much less. It’s the same with our own painful feelings. If we actually acknowlege our suffering, much of it is alleviated.
Resisting emotionally painful thoughts actually exacerbates suffering! Our subconscious makes note of anything we are trying to avoid and actually amplifies it.
Research shows that people with higher levels of self-compassion are significantly less likely to try to avoid difficult thoughts. They’re more willing to experience painful feelings and to acknowledge that their emotions are valid. So for example, a person loses his job, and says to himself, “I’m going through a very difficult time right now.”
The great thing about self–compassion is that instead of replacing negative feelings with positive ones (e.g. I’ll get a new job right away), new positive emotions are generated by acknowledging the painful ones. People feel loving and compassionate towards themselves rather than thinking of themselves as failures.
Look at the Psalmists. They acknowledge their suffering. Being truthful means avoiding denial, and admitting the pain and horror of the suffering. Like the psalmists, we can express our pain in lament.
We are healed from suffering only by experiencing it to the full. ~Marcel Proust
*Just a note to clarify. I am not negating the importance of positive self talk. In previous posts I’ve talked about positive self-talk. If I’m driving down the road and hit a piece of metal, it’s still much better to say things like, “Who put the metal in the road?” than to say, “I’m such an idiot.”
** Material taken from Self Compassion by Kristin Neff
Is there something you are trying to avoid thinking about? Try saying, “(your name), I’m so sorry you are going through this hard time.” Then wrap your arms tightly across your chest in a self embrace. Do you feel better?