How to handle a negative thought spiral
Ever had a reoccurring thought that ate away at you all day, driving you nuts? You think, “I shouldn’t have had that peanut butter straight from the jar. I didn’t even want it.” Or “I can’t believe I said that to him. What was I thinking?” And you replay the peanut butter indiscretion or communication break-down over and over again until another, just as obsessive thought like, ”Argh, why isn’t my stomach flatter?!?,” takes its place.
The other day I was on the phone with a client. She was reeling from an overeating Thai food debacle that started after an unpleasant interface with her boss. “All I wanted was recognition. Simple praise for a job well done but instead he hammered me on the ONE thing that wasn’t exactly perfect.” I could feel her worthiness had been shaken to the core. She continued on, telling me that after leaving his office her thoughts bounced to, “I should have done better”, “If I had only gotten that one thing right,” and finished off with, “I’m fat and disgusting. No wonder I’m still alone.”
Big jump, right? Actually no. When in the spiral of the negative thought replay, anything and everything is fair game. You are in despair mode which always makes room for any worry or neurosis that happens to brush across your brain. And, of course, what happens when you are in despair mode? You stop off at the market, pick up a carton of cookie-dough ice cream and park yourself in front of the fridge to see what needs polishing off before you hit the pint. Or, you may not eat a darn thing, deciding you were a bad girl who already over did it with the peanut butter so you restrict dinner to only lemon water and crawl into bed.
As my client and I talked more about her replaying thoughts and despair mode she admitted that she also struggled with feeling defeated. Seriously defeated. And as a driven, get-it-handled type of woman, she has this idea that defeat was not an option. Interesting however, the more she waged war on her feelings of defeat and imperfection, the more they ate away at her worthiness. And then she said something brilliant. “On the outside people see a competent, high-accomplished self starter, and on the inside I’m a mess. I struggle so much with feeling defeated. And I shouldn’t feel defeat or despair. I have a really good life. I should be grateful. Which makes me feel even worse!
EXACTLY! She hit the nail on the head. If perfection is the instigator of self-defeat, your shoulds are the driver. Shoulds control from fear and guilt, making you feel bad for anything and everything that’s not in perfect alignment with how you “should” be. By believing she had no right to experience defeat or despair, she inadvertently asked both to pull up a chair and stay for a while.
The only way to stop the replay of negative thoughts is to fully and honestly acknowledge them, then consciously choose another thought pattern.
By seeing your despair and honoring its existence, it has room to shift and make way for feelings of compassion and tenderness. The exact feelings you were looking for the entire time.
So how can you begin to acknowledge your feelings?
When you get into the despair replay cycle, ask yourself:
Where is this feeling in my body?
What is the sensation attached to the feeling?
If the feeling could speak, what would it say?
What would the feeling ask for to comfort and soothe it?
As you ask these questions, notice how the ice cap of judgment begins to melt leaving a ring of compassion.
Be sure to leave a comment and tell me what throws you into despair mode and what’s your favorite tool to get out of it.