We always have a choice when it comes to listening and believing our thoughts. Why would you want to pay attention to a thought that is self critical? How is that helpful to you to listen to your inner bully? Why would you want to believe that the world is an awful place? This will keep you mistrustful and fearful. Sure – be realistic about the dangers of life out there but keep a balanced view that there are good people too.
I have put together a list of techniques to help you distance yourself from your thoughts. They are just thoughts, not facts. You don’t have to believe everything you think.
Defusion involves distancing, disconnecting or seeing thoughts and feelings for what they are (streams of words, passing sensations), not what they say they are (dangers or facts).
STOP, STEP BACK, OBSERVE (the thoughts and feelings, what’s happening to/for the other person).
Notice what’s happening – your thoughts, physical sensations, emotions, images, memories. Notice the way you’re interpreting what they mean, and how that’s affecting you.
Notice the unhelpful thoughts. It can help to say them differently, in a non-threatening way: slowly, in a squeaky or comic voice or write them down.
Identify the emotion you’re feeling, and label the unhelpful thoughts
- an evaluation or judgement
- a prediction
- a feeling or sensation
- a memory
- an opinion
- an unhelpful thinking habit: mind-reading (assuming we know what others are thinking), negative filter (only noticing the bad stuff), emotional reasoning (I feel bad so it must be bad), catastrophising (imagining the worst), the internal critic etc.
Learn more and practice mindfulness so that you can be aware of when you are in the present moment rather than being ‘in your head’ – perhaps thinking about the past or worrying about the future.
Notice what you don’t normally notice – sights, sounds, sensations, thoughts, textures etc.
Passengers on the Bus
You can be in the driving seat, whilst all passengers (thoughts) are noisily chattering, being critical or shouting out directions. You can allow them to shout, but you can keep your attention focused on the road ahead.
The playground is fenced in and the children have to learn to live with the bully. This bully uses threats, mocking and abusive words to upset his victims. We can’t stop our thoughts, but perhaps we can react to them in a different way, as these victims show us.
Victim 1 – believes the bully (the thoughts), becomes distressed, and reacts automatically. The bully sees this as great entertainment and will carry on targeting this victim. This is how we normally respond to our thoughts.
Victim 2 – challenges the bully, and bully eventually gives up on this victim.
Victim 3 – acknowledges then ignores the bully, changing focus of attention, and the bully soon gives up.
Items floating down the river – perhaps leaves or bits of mucky debris (thoughts, feelings, images) – instead of struggling to stay afloat, we can stand on the bank watching our thoughts, images and sensations go by
The Beach Ball
We can try to stop our thoughts, like trying to hold a beach ball under water, but it keeps popping up in front of our face (intrusive distressing thoughts). We can allow the ball (our thoughts) to float around us, not intruding, just letting it be.
We can think about sitting on the train, watching the scenery (thoughts, feelings, sensations) go by as we look out of the windows, or we can be standing on the station platform watching the thought train pass by – we don’t have to jump on it. We can stand and watch as it goes by.
When we get anxious driving through a tunnel, the best option is to keep going to the other end, rather than stop or look for an exit in the tunnel. This feeling will pass – there is an end to this tunnel.
Whatever the weather, or whatever happens on the surface of the mountain, and even within it – the mountain stands firm, mostly unaffected. Strong, grounded, permanent. We can be like that mountain, observing thoughts, feelings and sensations, and yet know inner stillness.
Any one of the above techniques can be useful in helping you to see your thoughts as separate to you. Just because you think it, does not mean you have to focus on it. Accept that you have intrusive thoughts, we all do, then dismiss it.
Photo by Lord Of Pixels