A Better Way to Cope with Negative Thoughts
So-called “negative emotions” — things like fear, shame, guilt, vulnerability, blame, and anger — seem to give many of us a hard time. We struggle to even know when some of these are present in our lives, much less how to process them and use them for good.
How We Cope with Negative Emotions
A common coping mechanism for negative emotions is to ignore them. Often, we feel emotions that we do not recognize, understand, or want, so we opt out of engaging with them. However, we cannot be selectively numb to emotions. If we numb the “bad” ones, we will numb the good ones, too. You won’t be able to enjoy relationships, children, or success if you’re numbing emotions to issues like sickness, addiction, infertility, etc.
Engaging with your own heart is exhausting, uncertain, and at times, painful. If you have opted to be numb rather than be in pain, you are missing out on life’s many joys. What steps do you need to take in order to start enjoying life again?
Emotions can often be a helpful problem solving tool if we will find the courage to engage with them.
Step One: Recognize your Emotions
Take time to recognize the emotion that you’re feeling. Notice how it feels in your body. Negative emotions feel different for different people, but they almost always feel bad.
- For example, perhaps you feel guilty about something. Guilt is a behavior that you can correct. It can be very productive in your life to own your own behaviors in order to make positive changes.
- Another example is shame. Shame is the feeling of never being enough: not smart enough, thin enough, together enough, secure enough, strong enough, whatever enough. This negative emotion is a focus on self that can be very destructive in our life and tends to create a desire to hide and blame others for our behaviors.
Step Two: Challenge Your Negative Thoughts
Now that you know what emotions you are feeling, you should try to find out what caused them. What triggered this bad feeling?
With shame, for example, there are many different possible origins. Sometimes we listen to “old tapes” in our heads about who we are, what we should feel, and how we should behave.
When shame feelings are activated in us, those things we say to ourselves can be overwhelmingly full of self doubt and judgement. We want to begin to challenge those tapes and not “buy in” when that happens. Shame messages we tell ourselves have the most influence when they are the only voice that has our attention.
Make a Small Change in Your Behavior
One effective response to these messages in the moment is to just simply get up and choose something you can accomplish. No matter how big or small it may be. Here are some ideas:
- If you’re sitting at your desk at work, stand up and go make yourself a cup of tea.
- If you’re at home by yourself and waiting on the kids to return from school, go outside and wind up the garden hose you need to put away.
- If you’re laying in bed and the only one awake, get up and make your lunch instead of waiting util the morning to make it.
Often times when we are bombarded by these tapes we don’t recognize we mentally get stuck in a loop of the messages and feelings. Sometimes all it takes is to break the shame loop by doing something we’ve believed to be productive before. By changing our behavior, however small, it can literally change our brain state and snap us out of the loop.
Get help from Watershed Counseling
Do you need help processing your negative feelings? Watershed can help. Our counselors are trained to help you work through difficult emotional problems as well as many other issues. To make a first appointment, call us at (601) 362-7020 or send us a message.