Are you plagued by negative thoughts? Here's how you can break the cycle and create a safe space

A mind that tends to attach negative assumptions to events will interpret every environment and the people inhabiting it as hostile and terrifying

Somi DasUpdated: Sunday, September 25, 2022, 11:41 AM IST
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Pic: Freepik

How we interpret an event, be it a sensation in our body, the instance of a person staring at us, or someone we know walking past us without noticing, decides the emotions we feel and consequently the mood we experience following the event. Everything happening around us can be interpreted in multiple ways. A person we know walking past us could mean two things - they ignored us deliberately, or they were too busy to notice us. In case we interpret the event as "they were busy" we close the loop of thoughts around that event. On the contrary if we choose to believe they ignored us we enter a maze which has no end in sight.

Why did they ignore us? Did they ignore us because of something we said? Is there something wrong with us? Have they developed an aversion towards me for some specific reason?  These thoughts could further lead to a negative assessment of the person - "anyway they are not worth having in my life" resulting in me ending a relationship or developing acrimonious feelings for someone without knowing their side of the story. It could also lead to a black and white conclusion about the self - "I am not a likable person."

The logical progression of thoughts, however, is not a one way process. A person who believes that they have an unlikable personality would interpret the "walking past" event as "they ignored me deliberately."

These underlying assumptions about the self and the world around are called "core beliefs" in psychotherapeutic literature. We all have such core beliefs which impact the way we interpret an event. When we do not recognize them and immediately take charge of the direction in which our thoughts are headed, we might end up misinterpreting events and lose our grip over reality. A mind that tends to attach negative assumptions to events will interpret every environment and the people inhabiting it as hostile and terrifying. However, there is a way to break the cycle and create ones own safe space.

A safe space is a place where we can recede when we feel threatened, isolated, lonely, powerless, worthless and other emotions which are triggered by negative interpretation of events based on our core beliefs. You have to operate in the world and be on your own and you need to carry your safe space everywhere you go. It would be of great help to know that our own body and our intimate awareness of our environment are our safe spaces.

You have to practice being in a safe space before a crisis strikes so that it becomes our second nature. How do we practice being in the safety of our body and environment, then?  One may seek therapy to unravel their core beliefs. When we are so entangled in the labyrinth of our thoughts, it is impossible to find our safety inside our body by ourselves. We need an external support system. Therapy provides exactly that. It works because it gives us a solid foundation to reorient our belief system bit by bit by being the safe space, which we lack currently inside us.

It would also help one to practice mindfulness techniques throughout the day to feel present and safe. When you feel isolated and lonely, feel the buzz in your room, take your attention to the sound of honking cars, the smell of food being cooked, or the whistle of your pressure cooker. You feel "normal" with the knowledge that there is nothing threatening at the moment.  It is a myth that mindfulness can only be practiced in the woods, beside the waterfall or amid chirping birds. You can take the help of any sound, texture, colour that exists for real around you to experience mindfulness and presence. Watching your breath and feeling the rising sensations in your body can also be very helpful in bringing you out of the loop of negativity. Further, knowing your core beliefs and slowly working to dismantle them intellectually helps in top down processing. Knowledge combined with mindfulness will help you sign out of eternal panic and negative emotions that you experience because of your deep rooted beliefs.

(The writer is a mental health and behavioural sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter)

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