Editor: Dimitris Vagenas
Everyday we encounter situations less or more important, that affect our emotions. A word we hear, a confrontation with a friend and the reproach from a supervisor at work, are adequate to make us angry, to disappoint us and to make us unhappy even for a few minutes. We usually think that these emotions are a natural consequence of these situations, but the negative emotions are due to negative thoughts that we make for a particular incident, and not for the incident itself.
As an example, let’s imagine a student that calls his friends to go out and no one can, resulting spending his night at his house. It’s very likely to think that he has sacrificed a lot for them, but they are ungrateful and reluctant to arrange their time in a manner as to be able to go out with him. Maybe they’re not interested a lot for him, they may even be bored of his company or have other arrangements that don’t include him and lied to him. In that case, one can think that as long as they avoid him, it’s probably better to stop hanging out with them, that unfortunately, he never had enough friends and probably that is happening because others find him boring, so he will not be able to have new friends and he will be left alone. These particular thoughts are born from a real event, but refer to a situation that is not true – like the possibility of seclusion – and may never be realized. Most of the times, the thoughts that we have for a particular event are assumptions and it’s much more preferable to focus on how to deal with what is happening now rather than plot ominous scenarios for the future. So, how are we to manage our negative thoughts? Given the fact that these thoughts drive us to emotions can we try to name these emotions, and find their source? Referring back to the student example, all the above thoughts would have made him feel lonely. But for what reason is he experiencing such emotions? Trying to understand the cause of the feeling and after having excluded phrases like “I feel lonely because I don’t have any friends” or “I feel lonely because I didn’t went out today”, he will understand that he feels lonely because he believes that his friends are indifferent for him and sooner or later he will be left alone. So he will realize that his thoughts are based on mere assumptions, and although they’re hasty and have not been confirmed, they managed to bring up such painful emotions, leading him to the point of believing that his future – a difficult and lonesome future – is predefined.
Very often, a negative experience doesn’t only lead us to false assumptions, but to the self-assignment of negative characteristics. For example in the case that we confront a failure or behave badly to another person, it is important that the opinion “I am a looser” and “I am selfish” to be replaced with thoughts like “I failed today in that particular activity” and “I was selfish today”. Thus we will realize that the particular incident occurred in a particular time and that our inability and rudeness are not inseparable characteristics of our personality, while at the same time we will understand what happened and we behaved in such a way, and reduce the possibilities of behaving similarly in the future. If we are also used to blaming ourselves we can write a letter in second singular in which we will frown on ourselves and then think if we would ever talk like this to someone we like. Certainly to a friend we would not say that “you’re no good” or “you’re good at nothing”?
Is there a reason to turn such thoughts against us ?
Regardless of what is previously written, it is meaningless to censor our own negative thoughts, or to seek consolidation in phrases like “Everything is going to be O.K.” since certain situations are truly very difficult and the consequent emotions make sense. What we can do though is to search alternative ways of reaction and interpretation of the facts and to realize that by crafting imaginary situations and proceed to self-accusations we maximize our troubles instead of looking for solutions to deal with them.
Chaskalson, M. (2014). Mindfulness in eight weeks. London: Harper Collins Publishers
Germer, C. K. (2009). The mindful path to self – compassion. New York: The Guilford Press.
Seppala, E. (2011). Self – compassion: The secret to empowered action is learning not to beat yourself up. Spirituality and health, 59–65.