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Detaching from Destructive Thoughts

In a previous post, I wrote about a single question we can ask ourselves to identify thoughts that keep us in a negative spiral. A common response I received from this post was, "Okay, now what? How do we keep these thoughts from entering our minds over and over again?"

letting go and taking the risk

The answer to that is similar to the answer of many other questions; it depends on who you ask. There are many different frameworks that would offer different interventions. The one we will explore today is one we can do on our own. This framework is called, The Work, and it was developed by Byron Katie. (For a few others we could try together, check out the bottom of the post.)

The part of The Work we will explore today helps us detach from thoughts that no longer serves us by asking 4 questions and then identifying new thoughts. So, before we begin, let's reference one of our thoughts that we wouldn't say to someone we love. (If you need to check out my last blog for reference, click here!)

Do you have a thought you're trying to detach from? Alright, let's start detaching.

First step: asking the 4 questions:

  1. Is it true?

  2. Is it absolutely true?

  3. How does this thought make you feel?

  4. Who would you be without this thought?

This can be a helpful exercise to do after identifying destructive thoughts because new thoughts feel like lies; new, more positive thoughts don't feel absolutely true. But this exercise helps us see that our old thoughts that keep us stuck are not absolutely true either! So if we're running our lives based on thoughts that have equal amounts of truth, why not fill our minds with thoughts that make us feel better? Why not fill our minds with thoughts we would say to people we love?

Let's explore that with an example. My destructive thought might be, "I'm the last person people want to spend time with."

  1. Is it true? Of course it may feel true, we'll say yes.

  2. Is it absolutely true? In other words, is there a scenario in which this could be a lie? Yes, there is a scenario where my thought is not true. This makes my answer to this question, "No, my thought is not absolutely true." So, now that we have established that this thought is not absolutely true, one could call it a lie.

  3. How does this thought make me feel? (Remembering the relationship between thoughts and feelings mentioned in our previous post) It makes me feel small, sad, angry, and worthless. This lie makes me feel small, sad, and worthless.

  4. Who would I be without this thought? (This thought that we have established is not absolutely true.) I would be bolder, more outgoing, less anxious about reaching out to people. I would be less lonely and more willing to ask for connection. And because there's less scarcity about connecting with others, more in-touch with my authentic yes and no when other people reach out to me.

Your turn.

Second step: identifying new thoughts

Our discarded thoughts will leave a void we need to fill with an intentional new thought. So how do we find those new thoughts? Byron Katie has a suggestion: flip the statement around until it's a statement that leaves you closer to the feeling in number 4. Let's use my example, "I'm the last person people want to spend time with."

Flip it around:

- I'm someone people would like to spend time with.

- Some people like to spend time with me.

- Spending time with me is a joy for some people.

- My presence is a gift.

Is the statement, "My presence is a gift" absolutely true? Arguably no. Is it sometimes true? Absolutely. Does this thought bring me closer to feeling the things in my answer to the 4th question? 100%

This thought is going to take practice and will become a mantra. "My presence is a gift." I believe we get better at whatever we practice. If you have spent a lot of hour practicing a different thought, have patience with yourself as you practice a new one.

If you're willing, I'd love to hear your first thought and the flipped version of it! If you're feeling stuck and want support, click "Contact me," I'd love to hear from you!

Other frameworks to interrupt destructive thoughts:

- Internal Family Systems developed by Richard Schwartz, would suggest that a protective part of you needs to be unburdened. The intervention there would be one -or several- IFS sessions to support this process.

- Healing Circle developed by John Mosher, would suggest a rupture occurred that needs reframing. Both of these frameworks greatly benefit from a practice professional guiding the process.

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