Have you ever been going about your day when suddenly a thought so out of left field and hurtful jumps your brain then runs, leaving you bewildered and unsure of something you’d previously thought ironclad?
Or perhaps you have wondered what life would be like without you? Or you were hypercritical of something that had absolutely nothing to do with you?
Usually we think debilitating thoughts of this nature are the domain of artists, the unhappy, or the depressed, when the truth is we all have what can be called “Ants” (automatic negative thoughts), “Aunts” (automatic unnecessary thoughts), and OWs (obviously wrong assessments).
They simply strike so fast and with such frequency that we’ve accepted them as life’s usual background noise without realizing how harmful these small, scurrying mental infestations are to our sense of self.
Let’s take pen and paper and check off how many we’ve been influenced by.
1. I’m Not Good Enough
The Supreme Leader of them all. Who hasn’t measured where they want to be against where others are and come up with “I’m not good enough” as the sole reason for non-matching accomplishments?
This pernicious bit of poison serves to give us permission to stop trying and thereby avoid the specter of failure. It is Satan’s whispering voice in the desert, ever ready to be carried by our mental winds.
Less poetically, it is the lizard brain in us playing with our fight or flight response. It tells us to run from our own shadows. But if we’re doing that, aren’t we also running toward what we think is a source of light; one which actually only blinds us? I say take “I’m not good enough” and turn it into “I can learn more.”
2. No One Likes Me
This one’s lightning fast; so quick it’s usually only detectable by how we compensate for it rather than its actual strike. We might go a bit overboard in trying to be helpful, or even the reverse and become uncooperative. Keep an eye out for this one. It likes to sneak up when the interpersonal ego feels slighted.
3. This Is Pointless
As in life. As in the universe. As in everything. But here’s the thing, sunshine, YOU are ALIVE right NOW. That kinda makes you a god of all your things. Use that power for good.
4. I’m Never Going To
Get married. Be rich enough to buy an island. Date Rosario Dawson. Write a bestseller. Have David Beckham’s body. Make a decent lemon meringue pie. Never going to reach one of a shifting mass of goals, large or small.
But there’s never actually a reason behind this, is there? Just a nebulous footstamp and pout. Have a bit of patience with yourself, luvs. Know what? You might, you might not, but odds edge clearly into the Not if your primary cheering team (you) is telling you to give up and go have a beer.
5. I Always
The conjoined twin of I’m Never. Absolutes are the worst seeds we can plant in our heads, serving only to drive us deeper into whatever quicksand a moment of time flung us into. “I always screw things up,” usually tops the list of I Always. You’re probably less a screw-up than the current presidents of most countries. That counts for something.
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6. I’m A Terrible Person
Really? Are you? Bodies in your basement, food withheld from a hungry child? You are likely so far removed from terrible that we’d have to give FedEx extra time to deliver this message to you.
Granted, you’re not perfect; you slouch, you eat the last cookie, you stopped caring about pop culture a long time ago… but you’re hardly terrible. So why think it? Ah, because you think you’re being judged for some small failure to uplift another person (or the entire human race).
Guess what? You get to say no, you get to disagree, you even get to disappoint: you’re human, and anyone holding you to a higher standard than that is using you.
7. Wishing Ill On Others
People piss us off. A lot. Often. And part of having the lizard brain is having this tiny little Zeus tucked under our skulls who gets to throw lightning bolts. Zeus, however, is better suited to seducing people as a goose, which is entirely another kind of problem (well done if you get that nod to Greek mythology).
We’ve all hoped the driver who cut us off takes an immediate wrong turn off a cliff; we’ve all imagined a supervisor or two inexplicably crushed by filing cabinets; I have personally had fantasies of running through my neighborhood with a phaser dematerializing loud neighbors at will.
These thoughts come, these thoughts go, usually unremembered a few minutes after an offense has passed. Don’t worry about them… unless you begin to cackle and hunch. Nothing good comes from cackling and hunching.
8. I Hate
Hate’s a word that overrides reason to the extent that we do dangerous, harmful things to others in order to cover our fears. Examined, most of us will find we don’t hate at all, we get annoyed, kind of like the Zeus thing but flung about more willy nilly. Don’t you just hate that?
At what specifically? See, this one likes to cocoon itself in a thick ball of generalities so as not to get truly examined. Failure at what? How do you, personally, define failure? This is an extremely important definition to consider; your entire outlook on life will likely flow from it.
Also, did you truly want whatever you reached for and missed? “Forever conditioned to believe that we can’t live here and be happy with less,” sang Sting in the song “If You Love Somebody Set Them Free.” Consider that. Free yourself.
10. Life Sucks
Otherwise known as the Security Blanket of Woe. This thought pops up everywhere. Not just your life, but life itself. Does life suck? It does. But it also unsucks. Quite a lot. Probably way more often than any of us will allow ourselves the opportunity to notice.
But this is the thought that every single one of us entertains from time to time. It zips in, lowers our serotonin levels, and zips out, which leaves us open to invasion by all the other destructive thoughts.
The thing is, however, that if life truly sucked, none of us would be wisdom seekers, thrill seekers, journey takers, bemused bystanders, or lantern bearers for others along the way. Life’s an amalgam of lightning-fast impulses colliding with bits of reality every day. We create life with our thoughts and they can be truly wicked sometimes, truly detrimental. It’s a big world of whizzing thought-highways, so let’s be careful out there.
These examples are different from clinically diagnosed, anxiety-based intrusive thoughts, which can have a higher and more immediate negative impact on a person’s daily life. These are the thoughts we all think from time to time, most of the time never bothering to examine them, but the unexamined life is a type of living doom, one full of automatic negative thoughts.
Nobody wants ANTS. You’ll find, though, that identifying these thoughts as what they are (ants, aunts and ows) proves extremely beneficial. A little exterminating from time to time yields surprisingly lasting results.