In this article from Psych Central, Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., looks at some ways to break free from negative thinking - what I might call non-adaptive parts - through reframing our perspective on those voices/thoughts (they originally existed to help us in some way).
All of us have these negative thoughts/voices - and the more trauma we have experienced, or the more neglect as children (physical or emotional), the more negative and destructive these thoughts can be, including compulsive self-hate, cutting, or even suicide.
The key to working with these parts of ourselves, rather than stuff them down or drowning them in sex or drugs/alcohol, is to try to approach them with calmness, curiosity, clarity, compassion, confidence, creativity, courage, and connectedness - when we can do that, we are coming from our Self, our Buddhanature, or our soul (the IFS model calls it Self Leadership, but it is whatever you conceive it to be). That is where the healing comes from.
If you are struggling with these thoughts and think you might need help, you probably do need help. You can find a therapist in your area through GoodTherapy.org and/or Psychology Today, or you can seek an Internal Family Systems therapist - they are trained specifically to work with parts.
~ Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in West Los Angeles and is author of the just-released book The Now Effect: How this Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life, co-author of A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook, with a Foreword by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and the author of several other apps, audio series, and training programs. You can join the Elisha Goldstein Facebook Community to keep up with important information, tips, and events.
I often write about the demanding and criticizing voices in our heads because they are so amazingly prevalent and I figure just about anyone can identify with that and almost all of us need support with them. Every day these voices arise out of habit, telling us “I can’t do that right,” “I’m never going to achieve that,” or “I’m not good enough.”
More often than not we indulge and get overwhelmed by these limiting beliefs or as Thich Nhat Hanh says,” we water the seeds of our own suffering.” The end result is we end up hating ourselves. But what if these voices were trying to help us in some way?
That may sound crazy, but really, consider it for a moment. What if these negative and limiting voices were looking after our best interest?
Many of us have past wounds in our lives, whether it was parent seeming too busy to pay attention to us or losing someone early in life, or being the victim of assault. Voices start arising inside us to help us maintain some control over our environments to keep us safe from being wounded again. These voices may judge us or others so we don’t get too close and run the risk the danger of either losing them or being hurt by them.
Or maybe the voices just criticize us so we don’t have to face the discomfort inside and spend all of our time taking care of other people. Although at the end of the day, these voices aren’t effective in maintaining a life of health and well-being, they can be viewed as really trying to help.
The moment we can see these voices for what they are is a moment of clarity where we step into the choice to relate to them differently with greater mindfulness. This space of choice is called The Now Effect and it gives us immense mental and emotional freedom. The end result is that we can learn to be more kind and caring to ourselves instead of damning and hating.
So, rather than damning and hating these voices that keep us down, we can learn to be a bit kinder to them, acknowledging their presence, and then choosing a different path. For example, if the voice arises “you’re not good enough, don’t even try it,” try and notice it and see it as a part of you that is simply trying to keep you safe from a past wounding experience.
Whether the negative voices come to you in relationship to abilities at work, parenting, traveling, procrastinating or issues with stress, anxiety, depression, addiction or trauma, you can acknowledge and view this wound coming to life and rather than entertaining it, thank it for trying to keep you safe and rather than cursing it, see if you can acknowledge the pain.
In that space of awareness you can get perspective, telling yourself that you know this is a difficult task, but that was then and this is now and you’re going to give it a shot anyway.
Easier said than done, but in practicing and understanding that even our damning voices have the intentions of keeping us safe, we can begin to “water the seeds of happiness” by breaking the habitual cycle of sending hate into ourselves and instead sending compassion and care.
See if you can put the Now Effect to work for you and notice how past wounding in your life may be sending you messages that keep you from getting too close to others or risking success to keep you safe from harm. When they arise, thank them for trying to keep you safe. Notice what a difference this can make than struggling with the messages.
As always, please share your thoughts and comments below, you additions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.
***Announcement – The Now Effect: How This Moment Can Change the Rest of Your Life hit bookshelves Tuesday, February 21st 2012. Order your copy now.