Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Turning molehills into mountains - Toxic Thinking.

This *extended column was first published in the York Press on Tuesday, May 30th 2017.


It was a great gathering, everyone was happy and everything went well. There was a small incident. Did I sense a slight insult? If I did, it was unintentional and easily explained. Nobody said anything and the incident went to the back of my mind while we all continued to enjoy ourselves.

Except some people thought that it was insensitive and discussed it together. A few hours later it was mentioned to me. I didn’t feel a discussion would be helpful, but started to feel emotional. I begun to replay the incident, over and over. The tears weren’t far away. My imagination got going and I started to build up various negative scenarios. Little was based on facts, just my imaginings.

A day passed and it was all I could think about. Now, not only did I feel hurt, bewildered, embarrassed, but angry too. The tears seemed permanently lodged behind my eyes. I desperately tried to put it out of my mind, but I had become emotionally hijacked and the memory was on replay. The molehill had become a mountain. I wanted it to stop and reminded myself that ‘if you pick it, it won’t get better’. As a therapist I know that picked over memories can become toxic and do great damage to oneself and others and I didn’t want that. In the end I decided to just let the tears flow. Alone, I bawled my eyes out. The dam of emotion had burst and I felt better, which slightly surprised me. I haven’t felt upset since.

Shakespeare gave some wise words to Hamlet in Act 2, Scene 2.

“…for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so. To me it is a prison.”

Emperor Marcus Aurelius lived centuries before Shakespeare. He should have an entire therapeutic approach to life built around his many insightful quotes.  

“You have power over your mind - not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” 

“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts.” 

(*Look for the book 'Meditations' - the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius.) 

To bring it up to date, I will finish with a quote from Disney: “Let it go!”

* Since the column was published, the memory has come back a couple of times and tried to make mischief in my mind. Being busy  and using diversionary tactics, I have been able to 'let it go' or push the mischief maker away. In the past I have been known to shout very loud and very rudely at an intrusive negative thought. It somehow can break the trance state of introspection and works. I choose a suitable time and place, just in case I'm overheard!

In my practice, I made a poster of one Marcus Aurelius quote. 

2000 Years Ago

"Many of the anxieties that harass you are superfluous, being but creatures of your fancy, you can rid yourself of them and expand into an ampler region letting your thoughts sweep over the entire universe."

Stop imagining the worst and look at the bigger picture