If you want to change the way you feel, the first step might be understanding that the way you feel isn’t the problem. This is also true for negative thoughts or if you are stuck on thinking about something negative.
Suppose we take a step back and think that our internal actions are motivated by some purpose. That something in our design is causing us to feel or think negatively. That there is some reason for us to think painful thoughts repeatedly or to complain.
Stop and think about this for a moment; why do you think negative thoughts or complain? What is the purpose? It might not make you feel better, and it may annoy other people. You might even get frustrated with yourself for thinking negative thoughts, so why do you do it? Are you broken? If so, many other people are broken too. It stands to reason that there might be something in thinking negative thoughts and experiencing negative emotions, and it might extend beyond survival.
What happens if repeating our thoughts were some signal, some mechanism that helps us process our emotions, some way of dealing with our world. Perhaps it is time we developed a new relationship with our thoughts. Instead of pushing them away, we dive in headfirst and learn what they are trying to tell us about our emotional selves. Perhaps some self-discovery.
There are many different types of negative or painful emotions. There are no "negative emotions or thoughts"; rather, some emotions and thoughts that might be painful or uncomfortable. There are several different reasons why we have these experiences.
For example, anger is a way of avoiding pain or sadness. Often in situations where we don't have the control to change the outcome. Distracting thoughts can help us to avoid problems where we might not feel capable. There are several different variations.
The purpose of this activity is to help you understand WHY you are thinking or feeling a certain way. Once you can understand what is behind the thoughts or the feelings, you will manage them, move past them, and deal with the real problem, whatever the problem might be.
To be clear, the only way to move past difficult or painful thoughts and emotions is to deal with them and understand what caused them. We must learn that uncomfortable feeling and thoughts are there to help us understand the world and that by understanding our emotional selves, we will have more control over our behaviors, decisions and actions.
Here is a simple journaling activity that can make a huge difference.
- Think about a recent experience that you would describe as unfavorable.
- Write down the story of that experience in the most factual way possible. Try to focus on telling the story from an objective, clear perspective. Add as much supporting detail as possible. You want to write in a way that the reader could see the situation playing out.
- Now write down all of your thoughts and feelings about the situation. You can also explain why you thought or felt the way you did or maybe still do.
- Ask yourself this question "Were my thoughts and feelings reasonable given what happened?
- Do your best to explain why they were reasonable? If you think that it was unreasonable to feel or think something, prove that it.
- Is there anything you can do? As in, is there anything you can do to change the things that made you upset?
- If so, what are they? List them and ask if there is anything you can do.
- If you can do any of those things, do them.
- Unfortunately, sometimes, things are upsetting, and there is nothing that can be done. But realizing that nothing can be done is okay because you understood what was bothering you and why you were upset.
- You may realize that it is okay to be upset when we can't change something that isn't right or fair.
- Do you feel different?
Here is an example:
Recently, I fought with a close friend of mine. We talked about a new job I had been offered and asked me why I hadn't gotten the job. I knew that he knew the answer, that I didn't go to the right school and the company wasn't hiring from my college.
I was incredibly frustrated with my friend. I didn't understand why he asked me the question when he knew the answer. His question made me feel worse about myself. I wanted the job and was so angry that they chose to hire with those criteria. It made me feel like I wasn't good enough and that my efforts didn't matter.
I think my thoughts were reasonable. It feels terrible to get turned away from a job, not because of who you are or your skills, but by the name of your school. The fact that my friend forgot only reinforced my feelings, but I don't think he meant it the way he said it.
Besides telling my friend how I felt, I don't think there is anything I could do. Sure, I could find a different job, but it doesn't change how it made me feel.
After thinking about it for a while, I realized that being judged and turned away for elitest reasons is hurtful, and it hurt me. It makes me sad that people can be that way. It isn't okay, but it feels less personal, and I feel less pain about it.