Monthly Archives: September 2014

How We Can Cause Our Own Suffering

I am amazed sometimes by how we can cause our own suffering with ‘what if’ thinking. So often I catch myself in negative thoughts, ‘catastrophic’ thinking. Research has shown that 60-70% of mental chatter is negative. So what can we do about all these doom-and-glooom scenarios? First, notice how they make you feel. Anxious? Overwhelmed? Frightened? Second, it is important to entertain the idea that these thoughts are no less true than imagining a good outcome. Third, to turn these  thoughts in a better direction, you can use three quick statements to help calm youself and move on. They are:

1. ‘It’s not happening now.’ Yes, it is possible that a catastrophe could occur in the future, but it’s not happening now. This phrase may help you see that at this moment you are safe.

2. ‘Whatever happens, I can cope.’ This statement reminds you of your own inner resources and gives you the determination to meet the challenges of life.

3. ‘I am causing my own suffering. Could I stop?’ The question, ‘Could I stop?’  helps you see you have a choice.

Of course, if there is a truly a catastrophe headed your way, such as a hurricane, a death or a divorce, the best thing to ask yourself is, ‘How could I best prepare for this event?’ Action steps relieve anxiety.

If you are causing your own suffering with ‘what ifs’, acknowledge those thoughts, tell yourself one of the comforting phrases above and move on. When you find your thoughts returning to your favourite catastrophic fantasies, don’t get discouraged. Changing mental habits is hard and relapses are part of the process. In fact, curbing catastrophizing is a project that can take a lifetime. Still, better self-talk will help you get through the ‘what ifs’ faster. Then you can focus your thoughts on what really matters to you.


Tolerating Others’ Pain

I’ve been thinking about the Rotherham abuse scandal: all those girls suffering for so long, so visibly and yet so many people (care workers, police, teachers, relatives) seemingly turning a blind eye. What was it about those girls that they didn’t want to see? Something about them made them invisible, or at least easy to rationalise away. Those people may well have told themselves, ‘She was asking for it, dressed like that’ or something else on those lines. And the girls themselves may well have been hard to reach. Already excluded from their families, their suffering may well have been masked by anger, aggression, detachment and even violence. People who are hurting emotionally aren’t fun to be around. Of course, none of this makes ignoring what was happening ok or justified. It does remind us how it can often feel easier to blame the victim. That way we avoid getting in touch with their pain, anger and torment – and when we get in touch, really in touch, with their pain we can’t help but feel some of our own, even if it’s very different in its origin. Perhaps that is why it can be so hard for us to tolerate others’ pain; and to take responsibility for whatever it is we can do to try to help them with it.