The moments where we despise ourselves, minimize our accomplishments and talents, maximize our faults and impediments, hate our body or self, feel inferior to others are quite common to our experience. Everyone has these thoughts from time to time in reaction to frustrations of life. These are a normal part of the self however if not dealt with appropriately they may assume a huge power and come into our mind with a greater frequency and intensity. In some cases they go on to precipitate psychological disorders. In order to prevent this, it is extremely important to recognize these thoughts and deal with them tactfully.
There isn’t a readymade solution that can work for everyone as we all are different. Given below are a few guidelines that could be of some help in coming up with your own sense of the problem and the ways to cope with it.
1) How are these thoughts related to your context and self?
All our thoughts and feelings are related to our total personality and our context. It is important to look into who we are and where are we coming from? An effective way to deal with these thoughts would require a detailed review of your life history and to understand that how are these thoughts related to your context. It is only when we have an in-depth knowledge of this link we can alleviate the suffering emanating from these thoughts.
2) Enhancing self-awareness
Many a times when we experience negative emotions or thoughts we simply go along with the flow allowing ourselves to be submerged in the pool of pain. We end up believing that nothing ever was good and nothing ever will be good. It will be of tremendous help to acknowledge that you are experiencing negative parts of your self and therefore you are feeling so. One should try to recognize these emotions and label them as a ‘part’ or a ‘phase’ rather than getting washed by the flow. This self-awareness brings reflection and some degree of self-control and draws a limit. After recognizing that it is a part of you and not the whole gently tell yourself, ‘it will pass.’
3) Don’t be a positivist escapist
There are millions of advises that tell people to think good, to laugh out loud when they wish to cry, to distract themselves and to force oneself into thinking positive. Though it is certainly good to think positive to deal with the negative, it is not healthy to adopt an escapist attitude. You should not feel so terrorized by your own negative feelings that you compulsively do things to banish them. Some people go to lengths to do it, indulging in binge eating or shopping, trying to find humor in everything, having quick sex, absorbing oneself in work, immersing their time in watching T.V. or browsing internet, taking alcohol and drugs, trying to be always on the move and so on. This is an escapist attitude that does not deal with the negative but puts one in a denial and further worsens the situation. Although it is a human tendency to escape from pain it does not help. Most of the time we tend to be sad because we feel that we cannot be with our sadness. We suppress it and it keeps coming back and haunts us. Remember that the negative thoughts will not vanish by running away from them. They are a part of you and you must develop comfort to be with them and yet not allow them to overrule you.
4) Live in the present
This is perhaps the most difficult thing to do as our mind is often flooded by memories of the past and daydreams and fantasies of the future. Understand your past and the role you played in it, acknowledge whatever went wrong and also locate your own responsibility where applicable. Allow yourself to mourn bad things from the past. At the same time, think about your future, make goals and plans and indulge in fantasies that de-stress you however don’t spend hours into it. Start living today and participate in whatever is happening at the moment. It is extremely important to feel anchored in the present. Make an agenda of what you want to achieve today and work for it.
5) Identifying underlying issues
Whenever you are feeling negative emotions take some time out to write down your experience in the following format: the event that triggered your negative emotions (e.g. failing to clear an entrance test), the way you interpreted the event (e.g. well I have been a loser, I failed this exam and I can never achieve what I want in my life. My life is miserable) and the consequent emotions (pain, sadness, frustration, rage, etc).
Though our negative emotions are usually triggered by external events such as personal, professional and relational failures they have an intimate relation with the way we interpret that experience. People who experience negative emotions intensely attack their selves badly for anything going wrong. It is thus important to recognize how you interpret the event. Once you develop this awareness try and evaluate this interpretation again, look at yourself, your past accomplishments and try to find any evidence that does not support it (going back to the example: Surly I have failed this exam but I’m very good at music and also I have cleared many exams in the past. Therefore I failed one exam but I’m not a failure). Repeat such evidence in your mind and challenge the underlying negative assumptions that you hold and you would feel better.
6) Goal Setting
Most of the time, we dream really big and are extremely impatient to realize it. When we don’t get what we want quickly despite our hard efforts we feel miserable. A technique to handle this is to firstly identify your goals and make a realistic assessment of how much time and effort they would require (I wish to increase my business three times but given the present rate of growth it should take at least four years to do it. I would need to develop many new contacts and market my products outside the city as well). After you have identified this, break down this larger goal into smaller more achievable goals and devise a plan and time frame to achieve them (maybe for the first three months, apart from doing my business as usual, I need to make brief trips outside the city to search for potential customers. Given my present workload, this is the only extra effort I can manage comfortably). Carry out these smaller goals and evaluate your progress and make adjustments in your larger plan. In case you are unable to achieve something try and analyze why it happened and learn a lesson from it but don’t blame yourself excessively (I had thought things would move quickly but they are taking time. I’m feeling bad as I miscalculated. Let me devise a new time frame keeping these impediments in mind and try my best).
7) Take out time for fun
Given the present achievement driven and stressful life that we all are living, we miss out on things we like. The idea of having fun and relaxation is different from individual to individual. It can be partying, being with family, going on a vacation, reading romantic novels, listening to classical music, painting, mediation, self-hypnosis, jogging, having a good nap and so on. Don’t get guided by other people’s definition of fun but identify for yourself activities that give you peace and bliss. These are extremely important and as you schedule your goals you must also schedule them, take out time for them. These activities would rejuvenate and de-stress you.
8) Healthy and reciprocal interpersonal relationships
Having one healthy and reciprocal relationship would wash away a large part of the negativity from your life. Develop a relationship where you allow both yourself and the other person to express all thoughts and feelings authentically. It is usually due to a fear of rejection that we hold back our intrapsychic pain tightly in our system. It is a healing experience to express these negative emotions in a relationship where we feel loved, understood and cared for.
Author: Pulkit Sharma is Clinical Psychologist at Vidyasagar Institute of Mental Health & Neurosciences (VIMHANS), New Delhi.