Transforming Trauma: Pivoting From Automatic Thinking
A large part of every day is spent listening to thoughts and allowing them to direct our actions.
We're hardwired into listening to the thoughts but miss the fact that aren't coming from the original source of negativity anymore. Those are our thoughts, in our head and we can give them as much or as little power as we choose.
How Can I Change The Negative Messages In My Head?
Persistent negative thoughts can create profound impact on our mental health, mood and even physical well being. It can be extremely difficult to disconnect from these thoughts and we become tangled or "fused" into our psyche. How you can tell if you're looped into a damaging mindset?
- You identify with the thoughts.
- You belive the thoughts are "truth".
- You base actions on those thoughts.
- These thoughts negatively impact your mood and rob you of happiness.
Self awareness is the first step in helping to figure out how to change those messages and diffusion is a productive method of helping to change them. Diffusion exercises weaken the bond between automatic thoughts and behaviors and while they make be techniques you have to work on diligently they can be tremendously beneficial. Below are 5 items that can help you pivot away from these negative automatic thoughts.
3 Ways To Change Unwanted Negative Thoughts
1) "Name it to tame it"
A phrase coined by Dr. Daniel Siegel and a powerful diffusing strategy.
When a negative thought pattern and associated emotion pops up, create a label for the story. This is similar to the labeling we teach in our weekly womXn's program.
For example, one of my own negative messages is "You aren't exactly the picture of having it altogether. Shouldn't you have moved on and healed yourself completely before you try to help anyone?" This narrative jams up my own ability to continue my work in supporting survivors and our lgtbqia+ community. When this pops into my head I use one of those latenight fm dj radio voices in my head and say, "ooohhhh, there's the I'm supposed to be perfect story." I know, it's not true but I need a moment to acknowledge that and realize it's tied to messages I've heard through toxic individuals throughout my lifetime. Once we give that story a label and step back, our frontal cortex is able to step in and give perspective.
To me, the tone is just as important as the label itself because it brings me back to a more centered state of consciousness. For our purposes labeling the narrative is all about retaining the neural pathways; and it really works!
2) Purposeful Defiance
Sometimes playfulness goes a long way. This exercise is based on one of the earliest defusion techniques. An experiment in Ireland explored acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) interventions on pain interference where participants were able to increase their tolerance to discomfort 40% longer, by verbally defying their perceived pain. In short, saying one thing while doing the exact opposite.
You can try this yourself right now by picking up your phone and typing out a text message that reads "I cannot type this sentence!" repeatedly, while actually typing. So maybe next time you're hearing that message that tells you that you won't be able to get your workout in, you get down on the floor and start doing some crunches, or body weight exercises at the same time.
Even the smallest exercises in helping you realize the power of mind over matter can make the biggest difference.
3) Acknowledge and Respond
Sometimes especially unhealthy messages pop into our mind and jam up our entire day. So many of these messages are things we've directly heard from other individuals; usually people who have been closest to us. Hurtful words or phrases that get twisted in our heads and repeated back at the most inopportune moments.
The next time one of these negative thoughts crops up listen, acknowledge and answer back. This is one of my favorite exercises.
The trick is listening with sincerity, acknowledging as if it were someone giving you bad advice. You can even give the voice a name. Then thank them and respond. You can do it out loud (something I personally have found to be most beneficial), or internally if you're around other people.
The exercise could go something like this: "You're never going to be able to accomplish that. Everyone doing this is so much older / younger and more experienced than you are. You're going to look ridiculous." You can respond with "Thanks for sharing, I can see how you're trying to be helpful and are maybe concerned about how I might look, but I've got this covered."
Chances are your mind (or the toxicity of the messages) is going to push back hard so make sure to respond again firmly. You can even consider eganging further and asking "Is there anything else you need to say?"
Learning to think of that negative voice as bad advisor instead of a dictator is a tool that can help dramatically in changing our internal messages.
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The More We Practice The More Resilient We Become
As time goes on we find that our own healing is like an ocean. Sometimes we stay right on the surface and manage our day to day on gentle waves; with sunshine on our faces. On other days the waves are rough and crash over us quickly; seemingly endless. The important thing to remember is that we have tools and concepts to help us navigate life and we aren't ever in it all on our own. If you don't know where to begin drop a comment below and we'll help you locate some like minded communities.
The more we reach out to each other share our own stories of healing the more we can accomplish in a variety of social impact issues. From domestic violence to coming out; leaving toxic relationships once and for all. There are so many inspiring stories. We're always here to share yours!
About the author: Reneé Rose is co-owner and brand manager for Shaan Saar LLC and Board President of The Shaan Saar Foundation 501(c)3 non-profit dedicated to providing services and resources for violent crime survivors and our lgbtqia+ community. She is an trauma informed support specialist and the lead instructor for the WomXn's program at Shaan Saar Krav Maga. Reneé is a survivor of violent crime and domestic violence and creator of the Transform Fear™️ project.
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