How to deal with unproductive thoughts
The Problem with Living Inside-out
Whether pulling up to a dormitory for the first time, turning the key on a shared apartment in a new city, or posting a spare room on Craigslist – most of us have entered into a roommate situation at some point in our lives.
It’s a karmic crapshoot: Even if you know and like a person as a friend or colleague; moving in, setting up, then dealing with them adds a whole new level of strategy and cooperation to your daily shuffle.
- If your roommate is too familiar too fast – you learn to politely close the bedroom door behind you.
- If s/he bangs around the apartment at all hours – you call a meeting to formulate ground rules.
- If s/he continuously spits-out unsolicited beliefs about anything and everything – you eventually tune them out.
Managing the realities of these relationships offers not only a rite of passage but also becomes pivotal to your own internal wellbeing.
The Roommate Within
Psychotherapists have many terms for “the voice inside the head” – Ego, Introjections, Automatic Thoughts…. I refer to this internal chatter as ones’ Roommate because such labeling helps clients recall and enlist the skills they have previously polished while cohabitating with others.
Ironically, while we’ve learned to treat overzealous, overstepping, or overly opinionated roommates rationally, most of us are still held captive by our internal mutterings – never questioning the validity of these thoughts or stopping to manage them appropriately.
Taming the Monster Within
As clients call these voices from their shadow selves it becomes blatantly apparent that these are not psychic monsters devilishly baracading the sunny side of the street. Rather, these voices are the frightened echoes of the little children we once were.
Children are fragile and must fling their needy bodies onto someone who can give them nurturing and protection. However, as adults we have reached a level of maturity that no longer requires such desperate tactics. Just as you wouldn’t allow an eight year-old to take hold of the wheel and drive you around town, giving your internal roommate – your inner-child – the keys to your life is equally as foolish.
You Know Better
The next time you find yourself overwhelmed, fearful, or frustrated, step back as any seasoned roommate would and call attention to the true source of your conflict. Credit yourself with the experience you’ve collected and act from this mature and knowledgeable place.
It is far easier to run an adult life from an adult perspective.
The next time your internal roommate throws a tantrum, realize that engaging in a wrestling match would constitute “child abuse:” Better to act as any loving parent would, by gently sending the child to bed
– It’s obvious who you were is exhausted and needs a good long nap.
When Negativity Knocks
My family and I moved to Europe a few years back to regroup after the economy collapsed. We rented (online – at a great price) an apartment on a very popular and chic street.
Waking up that first morning, we instantly understood why what seemed like a true bargain really wasn’t: The top floor of our building was being gutted and the place next door demolished. It certainly curbed our late night appetites knowing the sounds of sledgehammers awaited us at 7am each morning….
After a few weeks, however, we realized how to drown-out the chaos. We got hip to disguising the noise so that it sounded more like the rattle of a subway under foot than World War III: This involved loud music, long hot showers, and – if early morning escape was implausible – headphones!
Your Internal Construction Site
I have found that if one focuses on the “hammering” created by negative thoughts, not only is a headache likely and anxiety almost guaranteed, but these sounds take on a higher psychological decibel-level – becoming quite destructive.
I propose a four-pronged approach in ridding this emotional noise:
- Drown out the negativity: Quickly distract yourself with thoughts of equal intensity.
- Replace them with positivity: If 747-sized pleasant feelings are on the runway, baggage is left behind.
- Remove yourself: Abandon unproductive beliefs by physically altering them – go for a walk; call a friend; even take out the trash(!) Sometimes we just need to switch gears to regain our clarity.
- If all else fails: Promise the negative thoughts in your head that you will schedule them in at “x-o’clock” but until then, they must wait in the sound-proofed lobby. – If your day takes a turn for the better, feel free to reschedule this meeting….
The techniques we developed during our European adventure are still helpful when negative thoughts knock at the door
– Vive la difference!