In one of my recent therapy sessions, a client requested that I help them with their negative thoughts. They didn’t want to go too deep into it at that moment; they just needed something to hold on to like a saying, a word, or a sentiment that would help get them through until our next session. I came up with something simple, just one word that packs a big punch.
Although not everyone is in therapy nor needs this level of guidance, we can all get caught up in our negative thoughts from time to time. For many women (both those in therapy and those who have never been), negative thinking can be more than just a fleeting moment in time; it can be debilitating and frustrating. We can get stuck in our negative spirals and many times, it feels impossible to stop the downward dive.
In the search to even things out emotionally, there is one word that can be used. This is a word that is used hundreds of times per day, yet, most don't typically use it in this manner...for balance...for self-compassion.
The word is "AND".
Before I dive into how to use this word to help balance thoughts, let's first understand why some people think and feel more negatively than others.
Biology: including one theory that some people are genetically wired to perceive emotional events more vividly than others, especially negative life events.
Emotion Regulation: some people are better than others at identifying feelings and knowing how to cope. Distinguishing between anger and sadness is a skill and not everyone has learned these skills. Once we know what we feel we can apply the most appropriate reaction/behavior to it. The goal is to do this by choice, but sometimes emotions are stronger than logic!
Anxiety or depressive disorders: negativity isn't just an annoyance, it impairs functioning and is overwhelming. Therapy and/or medication can be of help to many suffering from clinical psychiatric difficulties.
Chaotic upbringing: during early childhood if we did not have a safe, consistent, loving, and/or positively-attached upbringing, our brain can wire itself for survival. Watching out for the negative is a survival "tactic" in order to be prepared for the next emotionally (or physically) dangerous event.
Negativity can be contagious: have you ever been around others that are happy and positive? How do you feel when you leave their presence? Conversely, how do you feel when you are around people who are consistently negative? It can bring us down even if we were not down in the first place.
Negativity is not the enemy. Sometimes things in life are just negative. You get in a car accident or you lost your wallet. A tornado rips away your home and years of sentimental belongings. Someone you love dies. Life has its fair share of negatives. Some days are just negative, and let’s be honest, so are some weeks.
It's when pervasive negative thoughts can't seem to find relief that the use of the word AND can help.
So now what? The best way to get better at recognizing negative thoughts and finding balance is to practice.
First, we acknowledge the initial automatic negative thought..."I am really bad a cooking" AND then continue the sentence with a more balanced logical statement that is also true such as "When I practice something I typically get better."
Most people will stop at the first half of that sentence and just let the negativity fester. Somehow, we forgot about all the times we were bad at things (like walking, talking, pooping in our pants) and with practice we got better.
Let's try another one. "Today life was just coming at me from all angles" AND "I'm going to take a moment and breathe and clear my head to come up with a plan to make it a better day tomorrow."
Sometimes things are hard (or it seems like everything doesn’t go well) AND you have coping skills for how you are going to balance it out. See? I just demonstrated another example. Now it’s your turn. Get out a piece of paper and write down two columns.
Column A = Automatic Negative Thoughts.
Column B=Balanced thought after the AND.
See how many you can come up with. With a little practice, it gets easier to do. I recommend writing this out to begin.
Just to be clear, the use of the word AND may not work for every negative experience or emotion we have, but if you can focus on and pay attention to the negative automatic thought and add something to the negative phrase after the AND, you will be surprised how often you can come up with something realistic to be more balanced.
We can’t eliminate negative events, but rather want to try to balance how we think about these events with self-compassionate statements - using AND can help us do just that.
Lisa Herman, PsyD, LP, Founder of Synergy eTherapy www.SynergyEtherapy.com