Are you or have you ever felt lonely, overwhelmed or hopeless? Many people can answer yes to at least one of these at some point in their lives, but what about when the feeling becomes chronic and overwhelming? What about when the feeling expands to unwantedness, unworthiness or both? What about when the external loneliness turns into internal loneliness and it seems worry or sorrow has cast a shadow over your core self? No amount of band aids or bootstrapping will make these intense feelings or intrusive thoughts disappear. And no, it is not your fault that you can’t “just get over it”.
Our emotions are incredibly powerful, yet we can’t actually “control” how we feel. We can’t say “be happy” and suddenly we feel happy. We can’t say “stop feeling sad” and suddenly we stop feeling sad. We do, however, have the ability to influence how we feel. We need some awareness about how to do that though.
Our thoughts impact how we feel, yet we can’t fully “control” them either. We can choose which thoughts we focus on and which we devote our energy to. EVERYONE has crappy thoughts sometimes. The general population tends to have more negative thoughts pass through their minds, than positive thoughts. It is normal to experience a variety of thoughts. The difference between those who are able to embrace, enjoy and thrive in life and those who struggle to do so, are which thoughts they choose to focus on, and how frequently they make this choice.
Although we can’t control our every feeling, our thoughts have a way of influencing the way we feel, which impacts the way we choose to behave. The results of our behaviors tend to feed into the thoughts that initiated the whole process. We often use the results of our behaviors as information to feed our negative or unhelpful thoughts, and the unwanted cycle continues. There is no doubt that there are things in our environment that influence our thoughts, and that plenty of these things are outside of our control, especially if you are a minor. Of course, we do not get to control everything that happens to or around us. Trying to control the things you can’t will cause you pain and suffering. You do, however, get a say in how you are going to navigate the “good”, the “bad” and all the in between- by using the power of our thoughts.
By focusing on different thoughts than we are used to, so that we can influence how we feel and behave, is much easier said than done. However, it is possible. It takes some brain training, but it is totally doable.
Let’s consider the differences between a commonly used pathway and a lesser traveled one. We know that the commonly used path is likely easier to travel. A path has been paved from the passing of others. The common path is cleared and is much more appealing than the lesser traveled path, which has stones and tree shrubs blocking it at various turns. For ease of transport, which would you choose to travel? The paved road, right? Well, our brain works similarly. The thoughts and behaviors we most commonly use, are like the highly traveled roads.
Sending messages to yourself, like “No one will ever want me”, or “I can’t do anything right”, or “There’s just no place in this world for me”, and then acting in a way that feeds into these thoughts (like withdrawing from the people and things we love) builds pathways in our brain that make it easier and easier for us to continue to think it. The more you think it and make choices based on these thoughts, the more you believe it, and the stronger you feel it (lonely, depressed, anxious, etc). Your cycle to inadvertently act in ways that feed into these thoughts, gets stronger.
Even when we recognize that our thoughts are unhelpful or our behaviors are counterproductive, that commonly traveled road is hard to avoid. We created a road well traveled in our brain- a habit. It takes awareness and practice to change these. Paving new pathways takes time and patience, just like moving shrubs and stones from a less traveled path would. It requires some level of self compassion, because changing from a well paved road to a bumpy one means that you are likely to fall, trip, or otherwise mess up along the way. You have to find it in yourself to forgive yourself for slip ups, learn from them, and keep moving forward. Without the compassion for yourself, you are likely to get stuck instead of pushing yourself to move forward when things gets hard.
Your feelings are real, and there are reasons you have built these pathways. Loneliness, anxiety and depression do not need to be experienced as chronically overwhelming. You have the power to influence them, and to devote more energy on positive thoughts, but you have to relieve yourself of the pressure to “control” it all. It is not possible to control all of your thoughts and feelings; they are part of the human experience.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one therapeutic method that helps people bring their thought patterns into awareness; it recognize the pathways we created in our brains, and the need to rewire some of them. CBT is a very well researched therapeutic modality, and it is commonly used for treating depression and anxiety in all ages. There are work books, articles, and reading books that can be helpful in gaining more information about CBT. Often, CBT is used in combination with other therapeutic modalities. Hybrid therapies consider both the strengths and needs of the individual client, as well as the style of the therapist.
At Authentically Me Psychotherapy, some parts of CBT are used with clients who would benefit from some of the tools and concepts in their treatment, but all clinical care is individualized based on your own personal strengths and needs.