Sunday, June 7, 2015

Monthly Topic #29: Beat Those Negative Thoughts

You've been promoted. He told you he loves you. You got that apartment. Congratulations! There's just one problem... a niggling little voice in your head that won't let you enjoy your success. Here's how to silence those negative thoughts for good.

~Image Source: Lifehack - Tips for Life~

Life was going well for Jean, She'd been promoted, received a fabulous salary increase, and her incredibly romantic boyfriend proposed by placing a gorgeous diamond ring on top of her dessert at a swanky restaurant - just like in the movies. So why did Jean call her best friend the next day and practically break down on the phone? "I felt so good, so incredibly happy, that I was terrified it would all go wrong. When you really want something badly, it keeps you going. When you get it, you just get scared it'll all be taken away again," she explains.

You're Not Alone

Jean has a very understanding friend who, rather than tell her to grow up and accept her good fortune, agreed and told her, "I know exactly what you're talking about. You're suffering from the Big Foot syndrome." The Big Foot Syndrome, or what I call the "Where d'you think you're going" syndrome, is when life unexpectedly gets good or simply stops being awful. You start to think, Oh yes, when's the Big Foot gonna drop on my head and squash me flat? The Big Foot is very clever. It knows when to leave you alone. And it knows when to strike - just as you think your life is turning a corner, bang! Down it comes. You didn't think you'd get away with any real happiness now, did you? Most people have some degree of self-doubt and question their own worth, especially when success has come to them. There are some arrogant souls who act like they deserve the best and mean it. But nice people - people like you and me - question the randomness of good fortune far more than we question the bad. In a society where hard work is supposed to be its own reward, we expect to earn favors and even when we do, we still question our own worth.But there's something more insidious to this Big Foot fear: for some women, women like Jean, there's a message from childhood that says she doesn't deserve to be happy. So, rather than enjoy the success she worked hard for, she's full of self-doubt. Taken to the extreme, this can be a self-fulfilling prophecy - you don't think you deserve happiness, so you work like a demon to ruin it for yourself.

Stop Self-Doubt

Fortunately, Jean's great pal assured her that she was indeed entitled to her success and warned her not to blow it with too much self-analysis. Carol was not so lucky. The eldest child of three sisters and one younger brother, Carol had always grown up in her younger brother's shadow. "My parents wanted a boy first, so I was a huge disappointment to them. When the longed-for-boy, Alan, arrived, he was treated like the eldest and received all the favors and accolades a first-born usually does. Then, when my sisters Leanne and Margaret came along, my parents accepted them as girls because they had their boy then." This might sound like sour grapes but I know Carol well and I know her parents too. The favoritism towards Alan is painfully obvious. You don't need to be a psychologist to recognize it. Example: when Alan started work, his adoring mother dressed him from head to toe in Armani to ensure the world knew her boy was going to amount to something. A year earlier, when Carol had graduated from university and found a decent job, her mother reluctantly gave her a $0 gift voucher with a grudging "well done".

Alan has found love, happiness and career success. Carol? Now the other side of 30, she's never had a relationship that's lasted more than six months. As soon as a man tells Carol he loves, or even likes her, she does her damnedest to ruin it. Or so it seems. Carol didn't recognize this until Alan's wedding last year. Then, like suddenly acquiring vision for the first time, she felt desperately lonely and left out. She pulled her best friend aside - typically Carol had taken a girlfriend to the bash, not a boyfriend - and wept so copiously her friend nearly called an ambulance. Her friend had never seen such heartbreaking distress. "I wanted to smash her smug, self-satisfied parents in the face for making Carol feel so bad," says her friend. But Alan's wedding was a huge turning point for Carol. Tired to trying to compete with her younger brother, she dropped out of her well-paid publishing job and opened a New Age center. Here, she came in contact with therapists for the first time, and realized that rather than helping others, she desperately needed to help yourself. "I know my case is probably a bit extreme but in many ways, that actually makes it easier to 'cure', because the messages I got from my childhood were so blatant and cruel," she says. For Carol, the answer has been to distance her self from her family. That means avoiding traditional get-togethers and keeping all contact to a bare minimum. "There's no point trying to explain to my mother. Not that I haven't tried. But I've realized now that it's easier and much less painful not to see her at all."

Removed from the cause of her low self-esteem, the cloud above Carol has gradually, though not completely, disappeared. When something happens that makes her happy, or she catches herself enjoying a special sunset or simply feeling good, she tried to savor the moment and silence the "it won't last" voices. "If you can literally live in the moment, rather than worrying about the next one, the fear of everything going wrong is easier to handle," she advises. These negative thoughts that tell us we don't deserve happiness or success are not only the voices of our parents or our teachers. They are all around. Psychologist Louise Beech explains: "It's part of the human make-up to find it easier to be negative about someone or something than positive. No-one knows the reason for this, but it's why we tend to believe the criticisms and not the praise. An actress will read 58 great notices but cry her heart out over the 59th that is mildly critical. In the same way, we all tend to believe our bad critics over our good."

Positive Thinking

Even the great and good can be afraid that their happiness will be snatched away from them. Talking about his mid-life crisis, which he explored in The Information, author Martin Amis told an interviewer that although the crisis was over, better times bring their own concerns. "Happiness has a very strong mixture of paranoia. Beforehand, when you're struggling and you have worries, it kind of toughens you up. Makes you resilient. You think, They can't throw anymore at me now. But when you're happy, you expect a 747 to land on your head or a building to collapse on top of you. Disaster is around every corner," said the award-winning novelist. So what to do? If, like most people, you accept the randomness of bad luck, then why not accept the good too? Because fortune is indeed random. We can work hard to win that promotion, plum jo or the kind of social life we've always wanted. But no matter how hard you try, luck will always play some part. Sometimes it will go against you, but like tossing a coin, it's equally likely to go your way.

No-one has only bad luck or good. It's merely a matter of interpretation. Lottery winners might say, "Why me?", but why not them? Those who think they go through life experiencing nothing but bad luck simply ignore the times when fortune has favored them. They color their life black, not because it is, but because that's how they view it It's familiar and safe. But even if things have always gone wrong, some people manage to stay optimistic. Take Joan, who as a child, grew used to disappointment. "I can't remember how many times I was promised something that never happened, like going to the theater, having an overseas holiday, or indeed any kind of holiday. "None of it ever happened because my parents never had any spare money. But I still manage to look forward to things now, long after the experience should have triumphed over anticipation." However, the disappointment when something goes wrong is still crushing. "And when something I've always looked forward to does come off, I suffer dreadful anti-climaxes afterwards," Joan adds. "But that's the price I am prepared to pay to remain an optimist. Even though w rarely got the treats we were promised, at least our parents had their hearts in the right place. They taught us to look forward to the future. Maybe that's where I get my optimism from."

Louise Beech has a theory about this apparent contradiction. "Not all aspects of our personality can be explained by reference to childhood experiences. We still don't know the whole story on what makes a person's character. Perhaps some of us are born optimists or maybe we inherit this trait. Psychologists used to think everyone was born with a blank slate onto which their upbringing imprinted their personality. We no longer believe that." That's brilliant news because it means we're not prisoners of the way we've been told to be, or what we've been told will happen. We can always reinvent ourselves the way we'd rather be. And wouldn't you rather believe you deserve whatever good fortune comes your way than believe you don't?

Get Your Hope Back

As well as taking Carol's advice about living for the moment, you can send your black clouds of doubt packing by doing some simple self-esteem exercises (see 7 ways To Sink Self-Doubt), because believing "It will all go wrong" is a classic sign of low self-esteem. Everyone is entitled to happiness. If life appears to treat you badly, it's not because you deserve it or that you've done anything wrong to bring it about. Events are haphazard and rarely follow any kind of pattern. A spot of what psychologists call cognitive restructuring - I'll explain in a minute - can turn such negativity around in a flash. All that fancy expression means is, "see things another way". Interpret events to suit you. So if your roof falls, your boyfriend leaves you and your boss sacks you, don't shrug and say, "Serves me right, I'm a failure, I'm gonna go eat worms." Restructure it and tell yourself: "So I'm going through a rough patch, but I'll get through this and it will make me stronger because I'm a survivor." Then, when things do start to go well - and they will, they always do - accept it wholeheartedly instead of peering at the ceiling, wondering when the roof's gonna cave in again. I can't promise you that the roof won't ever cave in ...but why spend your life looking upwards waiting for the world to crash about you? None of us can make the Big Foot vanish forever, but why give it more room in your brain that it deserves?

7 Ways To Sink Self-Doubt

» Keep your birthday and Christmas cards. Whenever life cuts up rough, get them out and remember how much you are liked and valued.

» Each morning, tell your bathroom mirror reflection how wonderful and worthy you are. It might seem silly but it does work. This is what psychologists call "affirmation".

»Write down at least 10 aspects of yourself that you like or find admirable.

» Join forces with a friend and tell each other how special you are.

» When you need some kind of appraisal, say at work, ask for your good points to be given first.We always hear what is said first more clearly. It'll take the sting out of any criticisms that may follow.

» Give up dieting and take up exercise instead. It works better and releases endorphins into the system; these are the body's natural opiates and they're better than any illegal substitutes.

» Try to find something that you can laugh at, at least 10 times a day.


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