We appreciate thoughtful people, and we aspire to be counted among them. That is, within the context of the standard definition of the word: “showing consideration for others” or “showing careful thought.” But within the context of “being occupied with thought,” in today’s anxiety-riddled society, a negative thought life can hijack the best of thoughtful intentions.
A thoughtful person thinks ahead, saying and behaving in ways most beneficial to all involved, from family and friends to colleagues and supervisors. For those with a negative thought life, however, thinking ahead most often leads to the worst-case scenario. Instead of staying focused on thoughtful things that can be done about what is, negative thinking seizes on the most negative extreme of what if.
From our home lives, to our work lives, to our social lives, we can become haunted by what if’s. What if I’m wrong? What if I make a mistake? What if I make people angry? What if I get angry? What if they stop liking me? What if they stop loving me? What if things fall apart? What if things never get better? What if this is as good as it gets?
At the core of these anxiety-driven fears are hidden assumptions we may have carried with us since childhood….
“I am not worthy.”
“I am not able.”
“I am not enough.”
“I am alone.”
These hidden assumptions lead to false belief systems that influence our behavior in ways that illustrate anything but considerate or careful thought, rather an unhealthy occupation with it:
- Personalization — accepting yourself as the epicenter of everything bad as a preemptive strike against the bad things you know are coming
- Control — the need to control everything around you to reduce the number of and damage from the bad things
- Perfectionism — the desire to be perfect in order to cut down on the number of bad things attributable to you
- Dependency — using the shield of others to avoid dealing with bad things all by yourself
- Affirmation — working for the favor of others so they’ll continue to be your shield against the bad things
Of course, we can only endure the heightened states of these anxious behaviors for so long, before it leads to:
Stress. Eventually, the stress of anxiety takes a toll on our bodies, our negative thoughts often serving as the source of physical ailments. Long-term chronic stress is linked to health problems of the head, heart, lungs, stomach, muscles, skin, immune system, reproductive system, and body weight.
Depression. Living in a state of anxiety means heightened awareness of every thought, every feeling, every fear. We can only take so much before it becomes more than the mind, body and heart can handle, choosing instead what seems a preferable alternative — shutting down into the numbing state of depression.
Paralysis. Living with the chronic fear that the worst is bound to happen, we may avoid situations and people that trigger worst-case what if’s. Procrastination becomes our best friend, as the longer we put off the inevitable need to deal with something or someone, the longer we avoid the associated anxiety that’s just too much to take.
Self-medication. Desperate for relief from anxiety, many turn to self-medicating behaviors that distract from anxious thoughts and numb anxious feelings. These include, of course, alcohol, illicit drugs, prescription drugs, and nicotine, but also non-chemical “medications,” including food, anger, self-harming, and hoarding.
Relational isolation, attachment, and codependency. A relationally-isolated person is one who deals with anxiety by withdrawing from the relationship, avoidance being their main coping mechanism. A relationally-attached person is just the opposite, transposing their individual anxiety onto the relationship, requiring constant reassurance that everything between them is okay. Codependency results when these two types of people come together — the avoidant, isolated person drawn to the attachment person, and vice versa.
Fortunately, there are a number of practical ways to overcome anxiety, worry, and fear, and one of the most effective means among them is learning how to objectify your thoughts:
Start out by asking, “What are the facts?” Separate objective knowledge from subjective perceptions.
Based on the facts, ask yourself “What are the odds?”
If the first two steps don’t alleviate your anxiety, ask yourself, “If this is true, what can I do?”
If and when this process fails to silence your negative thoughts, try turning down the volume. Say to yourself….
“I hear you, but you’re wrong; I have amounted to something.
“I hear you, but you’re wrong; I don’t have to be perfect to be loved.”
“I hear you, but you’re wrong; I don’t have to be in control to be safe.”
So, the surest way of becoming a thoughtful person — whose thoughts and subsequent actions reflect consideration of others — is to start with considerate thoughts of yourself.
Close up of a worried woman thinking Microsoft Office Clipart Collection
Happy woman Microsoft Office Clipart Collection
Guest Author Bio:
Dr. Gregory Jantz
Dr. Gregory Jantz has more than 25 years experience in mental health counseling and is the founder of The Center for Counseling and Health Resources, near Seattle, Wash. The Center, “a place for hope,” provides comprehensive, coordinated care from a treatment team that addresses medical, physical, psychological, emotional, nutritional, fitness and spiritual factors involved in recovery. He is the best-selling author of more than 20 books, including Overcoming Anxiety, Worry, and Fear: Practical Ways to Find Peace along with Ann McMurray. If you’re concerned you or a loved one may be depressed, visit www.aplaceofhope.com and click the “Are You?” tab for a self-evaluation.