Negative thoughts are far from uncommon, which is why it’s so shocking how dangerous they can be. This danger is because negative thoughts often grow over time, leading to more negative thoughts and ending in an endless downward spiral. This destructive cycle of negative thoughts becomes hard to overcome.
When you’re in those spirals, getting out of them seems impossible, but it can be done. You need to break out from these ever-growing sources of negativity. Here are four ways to break the destructive cycle of negative thoughts.
1. Recognize Automatic Negative Thoughts
Automatic thoughts are the natural thoughts that occur when you’re confronted with different situations. They aren’t necessarily negative; for example, your intuitive thought upon being given a gift may be positive, such as “Oh, they were thinking of me! How nice!”.
But the problem, of course, isn’t with positive thinking as a form of automatic thought. Negative thoughts can happen automatically, too. For example, if instead of the previous positive thought, when you receive a gift, you may think, “Oh no, they’re so nice to me, and I don’t deserve it at all.”
Automatic negative thoughts are the catalyst to many destructive cycle thoughts. Many studies have showcased how these thoughts are instrumental in helping individuals with depression and mood disorders. If your thoughts are often automatically negative, you’re going to get caught in downward thought spirals – and that’s why recognizing them first is essential.
To recognize these automatic negative thoughts, you’ll need to start reflecting and looking back on times when you were caught in negative thoughts. Here are the questions to ask yourself in your reflection:
· What Is The Inciting Situation?
Ask what situation triggered these negative thoughts. What were you doing at the time? Who was around you and interacting with you? When did it happen, and what other circumstances were in the backdrop of that? Where were you, and what external factors were involved? What is the full scope of the situation, as you’d view it on the outside looking in?
· How Did You Feel In That Situation?
Find one apt word to describe the most considerable emotion you felt in that situation. Then, rate that emotion in terms of its severity and intensity. Rate it with a scale of your choosing – a scale of 1 to 10 works, as does a percentage-based scale. Then, do the same with the rest of the more minor emotions you felt. Name them all and face them directly and try to determine what influenced what, then link them to different factors of the inciting situation, so you know what triggered them.
· What Thoughts Came From Each Emotion?
Now, you can recall the automatic negative thoughts you had and link them back to your emotions to tell what triggered them. This moment gives you the chance to accurately and adequately trace the individual source of every single automatic negative thought. You will then be better prepared for each trigger in the future.
· How Can You Combat These Thoughts?
Now that you understand the automatic negative thoughts and where they come from, you can evaluate these thoughts and determine the best ways to shift your mindset away from them. How can you pause those thoughts, and what are some positive ways to reply to them?
· What Non-Automatic Thoughts Can You Fight This Way?
Not all negative thoughts are automatic, but you can apply these same principles and questions to thoughts of any kind. So start pinpointing natural thought patterns you have and pointing out the way that you can counteract them.
2. Practice Existential Digging
To break destructive cycles, sometimes deeper digging into the very root of your problems is essential. This is a process known as existential digging, and getting to those depths is important to managing and changing destructive thought patterns, say studies.
Existential digging takes the pattern of asking questions to understand negative thoughts, but it makes them even more profound. Here are the questions you can use when digging existentially to break the cycle of destructive and damaging thoughts:
· How Did You Respond To A Situation?
What was your way of responding externally and internally to the situation that you were faced with? How did other people respond in turn? Did your actions help or harm your endeavors? Are you proud of how you handled it? How significantly were your actions affected by your thoughts?
· What Did You Learn From That Situation?
Negative thoughts can make it very difficult to learn. When you’re trapped in a spiral of flawed thinking, it’s almost impossible to be able to examine the situation to take lessons away. That’s why you need to dig deeper to find those lessons.
· How Can You Grow From That Situation?
Once you find the lessons, ask yourself how you can grow with these lessons. Envision yourself to learn from those mistakes and improve, then visualize yourself reacting to these situations with the kind of positive thinking you desire.
· Is This Situation Part Of A Pattern?
Sometimes, people get stuck in repetitive cycles of negativity because it’s what they’re used to and how they naturally handle things. Pay attention to the situations you find yourself in and ask if you’ve been in those situations before, even in a more abstract or general manner. If you have, it may be time to examine the patterns you’re often trapped in more closely.
3. Acknowledge and Embrace Thoughts
Many people fear their negative thoughts, and if you often find yourself in destructive cycles of those thoughts, they may seem even more frightening and overwhelming. The ability to acknowledge those thoughts and face them is a bold and brave thing to do and is essential for fighting those thoughts.
Think about it – if you don’t face your thoughts and acknowledge them, how can you address or change them? Research has even found that your wellbeing will be negatively affected if you repress your emotions, so there’s even more reason for you to express and face your feelings.
But to truly break destructive cycles, you’ll need to do more than acknowledge your emotions. You’ll also need to embrace them. This means validating how you feel, accepting that you feel this way, and welcoming those emotions.
It sounds a little counter-productive, but this is a really positive way to look at your thoughts! Emotions will happen whether you want them to or not. Feeling accepted is essential to manage and handle those emotions appropriately. When you think that your feelings are okay and fine, you’ll be able to counteract them or correct them as needed gently.
Better yet, embracing how you feel is much easier and takes up much less energy than fighting those emotions. Instead of wasting your energy on denial and repression, you can repurpose it for using compassion for yourself, which will leave you with a lot more energy leftover.
Embracing and acknowledging your thoughts also allows you to work together with how you feel. Ask yourself and your emotions how you can work together, and you’ll find that you’re able to manage them in a much healthier way.