So, I’ve recently figured out that my front door is wide open, the lock on my gate is broken and my Neighborhood Watch group has fallen asleep on the job; uninvited guests are running around my house like they own the place! OK… so, I’m speaking metaphorically… the front door to my house is always locked and I don’t even have a gate. Truth be told, there isn’t even a real person I’m trying to keep out. So, you must be wondering what locks and gates have to do with anything. Well, it’s a strategy I’ve used for keeping only well-meaning and productive thoughts in my head and the less-than-desirable thoughts out.
Back in the day, I would entertain all sorts of negative beliefs. I pretty much left my front door wide open. Sure… Come on in! Mi Casa, Su Casa! It was like every PG-13 movie when the parents go away and the unsuspecting teen has a party for a ‘few friends’. We know darn well that it’ll be a free-for-all sooner than later. That’s what happens when we don’t self-monitor our inner conversations and feelings. We end up entertaining all sorts of cruel thoughts. Once they have free reign in our head, it’s almost impossible to get rid of them.
Over the years I’ve learned to personify the negative thoughts. I began to see them as separate from myself. It’s so much easier to win a battle when you can ‘see’ what you are fighting. Once I was able to visualize that these attacks were coming from someone who was intruding on my peace, I realized that I no longer had to allow them the courtesy of space in my head. No more entertaining the unwanted guests! You know the saying: Party’s over folks… you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here!
I realize that it’s hard for us to admit, but I’d wager that most of us have had negative internal conversations that no one else is even remotely aware of… unless, of course, you’re like me and you’re comfortable taking your comedy routine on the road (or on the page).
As I mentioned in my previous writings on depression, the negative thoughts in our heads can be dangerous and horribly mean! They say things to us that are completely false. They take our greatest fears and ‘perceived’ shortcomings and make them seem as if they are our reality! They pretty much ‘suck’! It is obvious by the abundance of memes available on this topic ~ that I’m in good company.
Keep in mind that these negative thoughts are not mutually exclusive to people with clinical depression. They can show up uninvited to anyone’s door just like those unwanted party guests. I consider myself a positive person. I am a glass half full type of gal. Keep in mind that just because you have negative thoughts running around in your head doesn’t mean you are negative. It simply means you have intruders!
I used to be well trained in spotting a negative intruder a mile away. OK… so maybe not a mile away, but at least 50 feet away. I had learned to spot the negative thought before it came anywhere near me. I learned to be ‘on the lookout’ for the mental and physical warning signs that told me that if I wasn’t careful, soon I’d be entertaining unwanted guests. I was so good at it that as soon as the negative thoughts came close to me, I’d feel ‘out of sync’ and I’d know it was time to protect myself by not only locking the front door, but also going a bit further to lock the gate that leads to the front door. I even made sure to have a good view of the street so that I’d spot these negative thoughts as they walked toward my house with their arrogant attitudes! That’s the trick ~ you need to see them coming. You need to be prepared and proactive!
Well, I will say that I believed that I had made it a pretty permanent habit to keep an eye on the comings and goings of the thoughts in my head. I should have seen the warning signs. I should have felt an unwanted presence tip-toeing its way back into my daily thoughts. But, sadly, I didn’t!
Apparently, I’d become careless and had let my guard down! It happens to the best of us. As time goes by, and we become comfortable with our surroundings, we forget that we need to lock the doors. Sometimes it takes a rude awakening to shake us up enough to bring back the ‘neighborhood watch’ mentality.
The other day I was at the gym when suddenly all hell broke loose both mentally and emotionally! Of course, on the outside, I just looked like a woman on the twisty Ab machine, but inside the battle of ‘me against them’ had commenced. The little negative voices in my head (we’ll call them Martha and Penelope) were having an all-out brawl to see which of them could break me first!
Honestly, if I look back now, I can admit that I’d heard them whispering for quite a long time. I guess I was too busy to pay attention to them. But today they did not speak in whispers and I had no choice. Today they were not trying to hide their judgment of me. They were going back and forth deciding my worth and my future! If I wasn’t careful, soon their opinion of me would be my dark new reality.
The first voice I heard was Martha as she yelled, “She’s wasting her time working out! Why does she even bother? It isn’t helping her at all.” Then Penelope chimed in and said, “You do know, don’t you, that she has actually gained weight over her 6 months of working out… look at her! What a pathetic mess!” Martha jumped back in to add two more cents, “For goodness sake, can she even see the girl on the treadmill in front of her. Now, that girl is obviously more dedicated to her work outs because she can actually wear shorts that are above her knee. LOL!!!” Of course, Penelope had to get the last word by saying, “She seriously just needs to go home and sit down with a bowl of popcorn and a glass (or two) of red wine because she’s hopeless! This just isn’t for her. She’ll just have to face the facts that it’s all downhill from here!” They went on for quite a while, but nothing else is appropriate to share right now.
So, there you have it!! BAM!!! They were back with a vengeance. Negative thoughts are pretty sneaky like that. They sneak in quietly through the back door. One minute you think you’re a champ at defending yourself against negativity, the next thing you know you’re knocked on your backside!
As I twisted back and forth on the Ab machine, I had a choice to make. It had to be now at this exact moment. This was nothing that I could wait to tackle later. I had to step up and fight them immediately. I had to find a way to stick up for myself and tell them they were wrong. But, they were so strong and it was almost impossible. I tried and tried, but they always had a snarky comeback! I was on the defensive, but if I wanted to beat them and send them away, I had to be on the offensive.
This is one time where fighting fire with fire wouldn’t work. Every time I defended myself against their words, they’d just throw more at me. It was a vicious cycle. They’d say something demeaning and I’d tell them they were wrong. That obviously wasn’t working. They had no conscience, and they were fighting for their existence. I had to find another way to get rid of them.
I decided that everything they said about me was either based on a past experience or something that hadn’t yet happened. That was their secret weapon. I had to fight them in the present. That was my secret weapon. I had to look at my own reality based on what I was doing in this moment. I had to be in the ‘present’. So, instead of defending myself against their words, I came up with my own. I shouted loudly at them (inside my head of course, because contrary to ‘their’ belief, I was NOT giving up on the gym or myself, so I had to hold it together). I allowed my inner voice to rise up and shout:
So, once again, the doors are locked. That’s awesome, right? I’m all set! Well, yes… in theory. However, it takes practice. You have to start small. You will begin by noticing how you feel throughout your day. Are you at peace in your own skin? If not, then it’s time to check the locks on the doors. Begin to pay attention to that which you allow to enter into your conscience mind. It’s great to evaluate which thoughts bring you joy and which thoughts bring you pain. Eventually, you’ll be able to fine-tune your ability to evaluate your thinking so you’ll be alert and proactive when even the weakest of whispering starts.
Keep in mind that the negative thoughts, your personal intruders, will always try their luck again. They want to catch you unaware! If the gate is not locked, they’ll smile as they walk (slow motion) up the sidewalk to your front door. What do they look like? What are their names? Keep in mind that they will not be all too happy when they realize that the door is locked. They can knock on the door all they want because you are not letting them into your happy place. Send them away! They will have to find lodging somewhere else! Only positive thoughts will unlock the doors!
With faith and belief,
Don't leave me alone with these thoughts in my head
They fill me with fear ~ they scare me to death
They darken my mind ~ they poison my soul
It's blackness I feel and I remain in this hole
The choice is not mine ~ the venom runs freely
My body is paralyzed as my mind is left reeling
I barricade myself and huddle in the dark
I know it's not me ~ the contrast's too stark
There can be no witness to this dark other side
It's momentary emptiness that I'll not let abide
I will ride out this storm ~ I know soon I'll be fine
As the venom runs its course and I walk this fine line.
I am usually pretty good about avoiding the passing of judgment on people or situations. It's not that I'm a wonderful and wise person; it’s more that I've learned the hard way what happens when I do pass judgment. Over the years Karma has found creative ways to teach me a lesson or two on that which I've mistakenly judged. I've also found that I hate, hate, hate to be wrong! It's worth it to keep my mouth shut... but it's just as important to keep my thoughts out of the shadow-world of judgment.
So, I try to be careful to make sure that I am not dressing my judgmental thoughts up in 'observational' clothing. For example, I might see two people in a deep conversation. The observation is that they are talking. The judgment comes in when I try to build a story around the 'why' or 'what' they might be discussing. Then I treat my 'story' as fact and start discussing it with others.
So, how can you tell the difference between making an observation and making a judgment? I believe it's all in how the thought makes you feel. You see, judgments will not only hurt others; they also hurt us! Last week I found myself thinking about a situation that has been dancing through my mind for a bit. At first I thought that these were merely observational thoughts. However, then I realized that these thoughts spiraled into other more negative thoughts! Those thoughts left me with a feeling of negativity and being a victim of circumstances... which I loathe! It's then that it hit me that I was not making an observation. I was passing judgment on a situation that was not only none of my business, but also had no actual effect on me.
I have learned to monitor my thoughts in relation to how they make me feel. If I find that my mind is wandering into a place where it doesn't belong, I make it turn around. It's not easy to pay attention to how your thoughts make you feel, but you'll get the hang of it with practice. It's sort of like the feeling you might get if you were walking home and it was getting late. The short cut you usually take, which seems harmless during the day, just feels wrong now that it's getting dark. It feels risky and maybe dangerous. So, you decide to go the long way around to avoid the shadows. That's what you do with negative judgments. Just don't go down that risky, dark path.
I know what you're thinking... judgmental thoughts are not dangerous. However, this is where I'd disagree. As I mentioned earlier, more times than not, we find that what we thought we 'knew' was indeed incorrect. Who wants to be seen as the person spreading false or harmful information? It ruins your character. Judgment takes up prime space in your brain that should be reserved for more important thoughts. Also, keep in mind that Karma has a way of putting you in a similar situation to the one that you found yourself judging not too long ago (I know this from experience!). Now, you'll learn the hard way what it's like to be in the other person's shoes. Dangerous? No! But harmful? Yes!
So, I guess the whole idea is to be careful when you find yourself looking into someone else's world. Are you simply observing and letting it go... or are you passing judgment and allowing those thoughts to take up residence in your daily thinking. Only spend your time on that which you can be certain will move you to a better place.
How do we, as 'grown ups', protect ourselves from the chaos that life often delivers. We all have days when we are overwhelmed with everything going on around us. It can be something as simple as walking into a messy room or standing amidst a group of happy, chatty people. Sometimes we just need to step out of the room and close the door or walk away from the group of people and go to a quiet corner. That's where we can take that deep breath to calm the anxiety that is the BFF of chaos.
What happens when the chaos is internal? How do you escape it? If you are an adult, then hopefully you've found a 'healthy' way to re-direct your thoughts. Perhaps you exercise or meditate... maybe you sit with a good book. We, as adults, usually have a box full of strategies that we've collected over the years to help us.
However, when you are a child with this type of internal chaos, you may not know what to do. You may scream at everyone around you. You might try to harm yourself to trade one type of pain for another. You may cry or sink into a dark hole where no amount of light can reach you. You feel hopeless. You might not see any possible escape. You probably even know that the chaotic, anxious thoughts are irrational and overly exaggerated, but that doesn't matter. They are too strong and you don't yet have a way to 'walk away' from them or 'shut a door' so you can find a safe place.
So, how do we help a child develop these coping skills? There are tons of books on this topic! I believe that the best place to start, the only place to start, is to validate those feelings. Listen if they'll talk to you. Don't judge their fears and say they are silly. Be as patient as possible while they express themselves, even if it's in anger. Get them professional help if just talking doesn't do any good.
There is so much more to say on this topic. I have to stop here for now, but feel free to comment below if you have any strategies that have worked for you or someone you know. Every child and situation is different, so there is no one universal fix. The more ideas we share, the more chance of we have of helping equip a child with needed coping skills.
In caring partnership!
Cindy Gagne Teixeira
Just like you, I wear many hats. I'm a mom, a teacher, a friend, a daughter, a sister, and a writer. I choose to laugh (and talk... and write) about my problems because crying takes too much time.