Kara Vermaak. Provisional Psychologist
We all have thoughts, that’s part of what makes us human. Sometimes these thoughts are pleasant and helpful, but sometimes they’re unhelpful and unpleasant. Our natural response may be to want to get rid of those unhelpful thoughts as soon as we can. Why would we choose to feel pain and discomfort?
Unfortunately, trying to control these thoughts often has the opposite effect. They just keep coming back.
Imagine you’re throwing a party. Everyone is having a great time, but there’s this one unwelcome, uninvited and somewhat obnoxious person who shows up at your house. You’ve decided to take charge, and show them out the door. But despite your best efforts to get rid of them, they keep finding a way back into your house. You become increasingly agitated as you see them annoying your guests, but they just won’t stay away.
You soon realise that trying to get rid of them is futile. So what could you do instead?
1. Recognize the guest: Just like you would recognize the unwelcome party guest, recognise the unhelpful thought without judgment. Acknowledge that it's there and that it's causing you discomfort or distress.
2. Accept the guest's presence: Rather than trying to force the guest out, accept that they're there for now. Recognize that, just like the guest at the party, the unhelpful thought may stick around for a while, even if you don't want it to.
3. Observe the guest without judgment: Instead of getting caught up in the guest's behaviour, observe them without judgement. Notice what they're doing and saying, but focus on what you’re doing instead.
4. Let the guest be: Just like you might let the unwelcome party guest be, let the unhelpful thought be. Don't try to change it or control it, just observe it and let it exist without getting caught up in it.
Eventually, you find that you’re so busy having fun, that you’ve forgotten all about the unwelcome guest, and your friends don’t seem too bothered by them either. After a while, they get bored, say goodbye and leave.
Remember that just like an unwelcome party guest, unhelpful thoughts may arrive uninvited and unwanted, but they don’t have to define your experience. By accepting their existence and letting them be, they eventually pass by as just another thought.
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