I wish I knew who said this as just these five words contain so much wisdom! We cannot control everything that comes in and our of our minds, as much as we may attempt to. Negative thoughts can be normal! What we can do, though, is strive to build curiosity about our experiences and refocus or reframe our conclusions of these experiences.
Let’s say one of your best friends announces her engagement and your immediate internal response is sadness and maybe even anger. The thought that follows is a painful blow to the self: “I’ll never find someone.” And then you feel guilty for your emotions and thoughts and wonder why you can’t just be happy for your friend. And of course you are! Feeling happy for your friend and sad for yourself can coexist. This is normal. The thought that you’ll never find someone is likely a type of negative thought called a cognitive distortion and best looked at with a compassionate curiosity. Types of cognitive distortions include all or nothing thinking, overgeneralizing, mind reading or even minimizing.
First, just noticing the thought can be helpful. That takes a sense of emotional security in just holding space for uncomfortable thoughts. Second, asking yourself what emotions go with that thought may be helpful. And you may ask that more than once in the sense of “yes, and what else?” For example, the first emotion may be frustration, but perhaps underneath that is fear or hurt. And then you can ask yourself what may have happened that you are feeling these emotions that led to this thought? An earlier rejection, fear of being vulnerable, or maybe a failed relationship contributed to these feelings and this thought.
It is also important to exercise self-compassion at this point and validate where these feelings are from and that negative thoughts would likely ensue. And then you may be in a more neutral and self-compassionate space to ask yourself what you’d like to think instead. It may not be something particularly heartwarming, but could it be something that is not distorted? For example, a thought of “I’m happy for my friend and sad for myself. I feel pain that I have not found a signifiant other yet. I hope I will find an incredible person one day.” You could even go a step further to ask yourself “Am I contributing to not having found someone?” This may have a variety of responses. The key is to adopt multiple perspectives and to eliminate any assumptions, generalizations or all or nothing thinking.