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    The Anti-Optimist Therapist

    The Anti-Optimist Therapist?

    Doesn’t that sound kind of negative?

    Well sure, but it doesn’t have to. I find it tiresome to scroll through Psychology Today profiles and see the same canned, pithy phrases over and over. Quotes about the journey you are going on and how thinking happier thoughts will fix your life. It’s cool if you are into affirmations, but if you need them, do you really believe them?

    At some point, it gets tiresome to be shoved self-help books and be told that if you repeat affirmations in the mirror every day all of your problems and fears will magically disappear. You may spend five minutes in the morning reciting your affirmations in the mirror, but where are they the rest of the day? Where are they when the self-doubt creeps in? Or when the deep-seated thoughts and feelings of inadequacy pop up? Suddenly all of your perceived failures play like a feature film in your head and out the window the positive affirmations go.

    And haven’t we already tried that? I think if positive thinking fixed everyone’s problems I and all the other therapists would be out of a job. Clearly, we are not.

    Don’t get me wrong, being positive is not inherently wrong. It’s okay to be an optimistic, upbeat person. Calling myself the anti-optimist may make me sound like a grump, but I love to laugh and joke like anyone else. I probably just have a darker sense of humor than some. 🙂

    Sometimes positivity simply does not help. I’ll never forget experiences in my own life when I have been struggling with something and to only have someone respond with, “Well at least you’re not a starving child in Africa.” That phrase makes me want to say, “Well thanks, clearly I am at high risk for becoming a starving child in Africa.”

    Optimism is all good and dandy, but sometimes it minimizes or invalidates emotions or the severity of a situation.

    The truth of life is that it is normal and healthy to experience a wide range of emotions. Everything from joy to despair and all the mundane feelings in between. Spending all of your time ruminating on emotions like sadness is not helpful but trying to minimize your struggles with positive thinking is also not a long-term fix.

    So, then what? What can you do if positive thinking is not the end-all-be-all?

    One thing you can start with is called cognitive defusion.

    A funny human tendency we have is to over-identify with many of our thoughts. Instead of being thoughts, they become facts, the absolute truth. When we are “fused” with our thoughts, particularly the unhelpful thoughts we tend to get lost in them.

    When we are working on defusing from thoughts, we are trying to look at our thoughts instead of from our thoughts. We want to simply notice our thoughts instead of buying into them. It is about letting a thought simply come and go instead of holding onto them or “fusing” with them.

    Cognitive defusion is about helping you to be aware of your actual thought process so you can reflect objectively, and problem solve effectively before taking actions.

    Some ways to practice defusion include:

    -Instead of thinking, “I am a failure,” you can create some space by instead thinking, “I am having the thought that I am a failure.”

    -You can also say the thought to yourself slowly, sing it to the tune of a common song like, “Jingle Bells,” or say the thought in a silly voice like that of a cartoon character. Does that thought of failure have as much power when Scooby-Doo is the one saying it?

    -You can also consider imagine putting your unhelpful thought on a leaf on a stream, watching it gently flow away.

    Instead of arguing with yourself through unhelpful thoughts, you can practice acknowledging them and creating space with them to help them to have less power over you.

    As you are practicing defusion, remember to have patience with the process. Just like any skill, it takes time and practice.

    Are you interested in learning more about cognitive defusion and creating space from your unhelpful thoughts? Contact me today for a free consultation to see how I can help you with dropping the struggle with your unhelpful thoughts.