Negative Thoughts When Faced With Discomfort: What Sense Do They Have?

Bad thoughts in the face of discomfort

It is our daily life in the office that, whether they suffer from depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress or work stress, all the people who ask us for help have negative or unpleasant thoughts about themselves. These thoughts are like “I don’t do enough”, “I’m stupid”, “I can’t achieve it”, etc.

The school of positive psychology sends this message, “if you think well, you will feel good,” as a mantra that, if you do not take into account the context and your circumstances, will fulfill the purpose of being happy. Although this school has evolved and currently has very valuable references, In a large part of the population, the idea persists that unpleasant thoughts should not be allowed to enter. and, automatically the transformation must be towards thoughts of value towards oneself. Given this, it is worth asking: if you do not allow the unpleasant to flow, how do you transform it?

In this article, I will explain the functions of negative thoughts and considerations about when to pay attention to them and when to seek professional help about them. In a sentence the answer would be, you always have to pay attention.

Negative thoughts and brain anatomy

Thoughts are generated in the prefrontal cortex, one of the most specialized brain areas of the human being. Every thought tries to manage an emotion, which is born as an unstoppable cascade from deeper areas of the brain, specifically the limbic system. This means that first we feel and then we think. As Benjamín Libet said, “800 milliseconds before making a decision, electrical potentials have been triggered in limbic areas of the brain.”

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When faced with unpleasant feelings (anger, guilt, sadness, fear…), the rational brain needs to interpret what has happened, and it takes time. Logically, part of the thought will be directed to “What have I done to solve the problem?” That’s where these thoughts appear; That is, if the feelings are not channeled or resolved, the interpretation itself will be of the type “I am not capable” and self-deprecating messages will appear.

Although this article focuses on negative thoughts towards oneself, it is important to note that the same thing happens when negative and automated thoughts are directed towards others or the world. The difference would be that the tone of the message would no longer be impregnated with fear or guilt, but with anger or resentment. In short, it is important to learn to separate our perception of ourselves from that of others or the world.

Language constructs a reality, but also represents it

If we remain fixed on a way of speaking or thinking, it usually changes our perception. and, all information that enters us (what we see, hear, feel) will be conditioned by that way of speaking or thinking.

If, for example, your way of thinking is “everything goes wrong, I don’t do anything right”, the moment you carry out an activity successfully, your own perceptual system will mark it as “you have been lucky”, not the personal ability. This way of thinking and perceiving reality makes learning difficult to grow and develop.

It is also true that the environmental situation is important and that we do not always make good decisions when interacting with it, so negative thoughts there can become a very interesting analysis of the type “what should change so that it does not happen in the same way.” new?”. Returning to the previous example, if when faced with failure in a task, you distinguish that the lack of time and pressure from others has played a role in that feeling of failure, It will be easier for you to separate “what I am capable of doing” from what “I have been able to do.”.

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When bad thoughts are functional

When there is mental flexibility, you allow yourself to learn from mistakes and you let unpleasant thoughts flow about yourself that help you learn and not beat yourself up.

For you to develop this flexibility, it is important to have an intimate and safe space (at home, in the town, in the mountains, etc.) where you can relax and give yourself that time for reflection, which is also a way of loving yourself. Learning must lead to satisfaction, even if the road is paved and rough.

When bad thoughts are dysfunctional

When there is mental rigidity, you can be like an iron beam, trying in any way not to let anything bend or weaken you.. The problem is when something or someone manages to “bend” you and one of two, either it is very difficult and painful to straighten yourself again, or you experience a “break glass” effect, feeling like you are divided into a thousand pieces and you lose hope.

Just as we have said before about language, everything is conditioned, either you are tough, or you isolate yourself so that you do not break. From that point of view it is very difficult to give you a chance again.

If thoughts block you, repeat themselves incessantly, do not allow you to learn, and even the same situation that generates the problem appears again and again without changes, it is time to call a professional and ask for help.

Author: Juan Fernández-Rodríguez Labordeta, psychologist at Terapéutica en Alza.