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  • Writer's pictureMarie Simonsen

How to deal with recurring negative thoughts - in 5 steps

Framework inspired by Dr Gabor Maté(from his book In the realm of hungry ghosts)


Recurring negative thoughts can be hard to deal with and it can sometimes be difficult to get out of this dysfunctional pattern. Here is an easy 5 steps method to break this dysfunctional thought pattern.


How to deal with recurring negative thoughts - in 5 steps

Framework inspired by Dr Gabor Maté (from his book In the realm of hungry ghosts)

Recurring negative thoughts can be hard to deal with and it can sometimes be difficult to get out of this dysfunctional pattern. Here is an easy 5 steps method to break this dysfunctional thought pattern.


Essential for all the five steps is conscious awareness

Step 1 : Re-label the thought

Rename the obsessive thought for what it is. I’ll give you an example : « I am not capable » or « I am a bad person » or « I am not worth anything». Re-name the thought for what it is, tell yourself : « This is just a false belief », « I may have the feeling that it’s true but it is not ». Take the posture of the impartial spectator : Imagine that you stand outside of yourself observing yourself in action. While doing this don’t try to make the thought disappear. The point is to observe it with conscious attention without assigning the habitual meaning to it – it’s no longer a judgment, just a dysfunctional thought. In other words, it’s not the truth, it’s just a belief.


Step 2 : Re-attribute

Put the blame on your brain. Tell yourself : « this is my brain sending me a false message ». It represents a brain circuit that was created a long time ago. It also represents emotional needs that went unsatisfied. It is just the effect of circumstances over which you had no control. What you do have some control over is how you respond to the thought in the present. You were not responsible for the dysfunctional circumstances that shaped your brain and worldview, but you can take responsibility now. The re-attribution step allows you to put the thought into perspective. It is only a thought, an attitude, a belief, a feeling arising from an automatic brain mechanism – You can observe it consciously, with attention. And you can let it go. The thought will probably come back soon. When it does, you will relabel it and reattribute it : « Hello, old brain circuits, » you say. « I see you’re still active. Well So am I ». If you change how you respond to those old circuits, you will eventually weaken them. They will persist for a long time – perhaps even all your life, but only as shadows of themselves. They will no longer have the weight, the gravitational pull or the appeal they once had. You will no longer be their marionette.


Step 3 : Re-focus

In the refocus step you buy yourself time. Thoughts are never permanent. It will pass, but you have to give it time to pass. The key principle here according to Dr. Schwartz is this : « it’s not how you feel that counts, it’s what you do ». Rather than engage in the negative thought (Example ; I am not capable so I will accept abusive behavior from others), find something else that you can think about, a positive belief about yourself (for example an achievement you are proud of or something that you like about yourself, or simply I am doing the best I can, I am good enough as I am). Try to replace the negative belief with this new thought. The purpose of refocusing is to train your brain to think differently and to create new brain circuits. Your brain can actually chose something else. This can be really hard and try not to be too hard on yourself. If you are able to sustain the alternative thought for just a couple of minutes in the beginning that’s completely fine, just exercises patiently to increase the time of avoidance from the negative thought progressively. It will take time, that’s completely normal. As you exercises practicing positive thinking, stay aware of what you are doing. You are doing something difficult. No matter how simple it may seem to others who do not have to live with your particular brain, you know that holding out for for even a short period of time is an achievement. You are coaching your old brain new tricks.


Step 4 : De-value

Devalue the destructive thought. It’s purpose is to help you put into your thick skull just what has been the real impact of the negative self-beliefs in your life : disaster. You know this already and that’s why you are engaged in these five steps. It’s because of the negative impacts, the false beliefs have had on your life. Do all of this without judging yourself. Devaluing helps you shift the behavioral gears ! »

The negative beliefs and thoughts will most likely return. There is no final victory – every moment these thoughts are turned away it’s a triumph. What is certain is that with time these negative beliefs will be drained of energy, if you continue to apply the five steps and also take care of your internal and external environments. If there are times when it reappears with new force, there is no reason to be disappointed or shocked by that. And accept that this exists not because of yourself, but in spite of yourself. You did not come into life asking to be programmed this way, it’s not personal to you – millions of others with similar experiences have developed the same mechanisms. What is personal to you is how you respond to it in the present. Keep close to your impartial observer and take back the power.


Step 5 : Re-create :

Life until now has created you. You’ve been acting according to ingrained mechanisms wired into your brain before you had a choice in the matter and it’s out of these automatic mechanisms that you have created the life you now have. It is time to re-create : to chose a different life. You have values, passions, intentions, talent and capability. In your heart there is love, and you want to connect that with the love in the world, in the universe. As you re-label, re-attribute, re-focus, and re-value, you are releasing patterns that have held you and that you have held on to.


What is the life you really want ? What do you chose to create with your thoughts and your mind?


Write down your values and intentions and, one more time, do so with conscious awareness. Envision yourself living with integrity, creativity and presence, being able to look people in the eye with compassion for them – and for yourself. The road to hell is not paved with good intentions. It is paved with lack of intentions. Re—create.


Are you afraid you will stumble ? Of course you will : that’s called being a human being. And then you will take the five steps – again.



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