OUR MIND CAN BE VERY CONVINCING
I remember going out for a meal with two friends many years ago. I was driving, so not drinking. One of my friends decided that she would have sake as she hadn’t had it for many years. It arrived in a little spouted pot, with a small napkin over the top. She poured and sipped as we began to eat saying that it was delicious – would I like a sip as I had said that I had never tasted it. I declined. A short while later, as she assured me that she was getting squiffy from the sake, she persuaded me to have just a taste. I did. It tasted just like warm water to me, but she again assured me that it was delicious. I lifted the napkin to reveal a small carafe of sake sitting inside the pot of – warm water - which was what she had been pouring into her glass. The sake remained undrunk. Yet, presumably influenced (pun intended!) by her previous supping of sake during time spent in Japan, she had convinced herself that she was getting squiffy, even though all she had been drinking was warm water. Her mind over-ruled her taste buds, her feelings – and she believed its lies. It was very funny at the time – you can imagine the comments along the line of ‘cheap date – can just give her water’. But, an interesting example of how our mind can lie to us.
HOW OUR MIND’s LIES CAN SUPPORT US
There are times when our mind’s lies can be really helpful. For many, these are very much thought patterns that are long-standing ones. The messages that tell us that we can do things, that we are just as good as anyone around – if not better than most. Why lies – well, we may, in fact be very much an average person, but our positive thoughts, leading to a general positive mental attitude can lift us to a place above the average, above what may have been expected. It can lead at times to a biting off of more than can be chewed, but again, the mind can continue with the lies that everything will be fine in the end. They frequently are for such people – eventually, if not straight away. Their thoughts are a fulfilled self-prophesy, which goes on fulfilling. As for those original lies, they have seemingly converted to being truths. A case of mind over matter?
HOW OUR MIND’s LIES CAN COUNT AGAINST US
However, I have worked with lots of clients whose minds gave them many problems as they also convinced them that their messages were true. Sadly, their lies were not positive ones as above, rather negative, bringing-you-down lies which were believed. Often all too readily believed, as a part of a spiral down into anxiety. The anxiety eventually becoming their more or less constant companion. A companion fed by those negative self-lies whose validity was never questioned. A pattern of untruths, cognitive distortions. A pattern which can in fact be turned around. Turned around by the recognition of just what those thoughts are, how they are false and then moving on to kick them in to touch.
OK, we all get a bit anxious at times – before exams, a medical appointment, taking a new first step in any area of life. This is quite natural and normal and usually short-term. It this form, it serves a useful purpose. However, it is when the anxiety, backed by those lies, is fanned from a tiny glimmer into a conflagration that it becomes a problem. The amount of negative stuff can also create a log jam that filters out glimmers of positivity (and, probably, truth) from getting through. Any glimmer that does get through can be readily spun by a ‘yes but’ into something negative. You know the sort of thing – you find £5 in a coat pocket. Most of us would think ‘whoopee’, but the person with the mind well-armed with negative lies jumps in with – ‘yes but I could have done with 10!’ The lies are able to have a field day in your mind – and they also affect your physical well-being too. Don’t forget that ever-present mind-body link.
WHAT SORT OF LIES ARE THERE?
The following frequently come up in the work carried out with clients struggling with anxiety:-
Should – One of the most common lies minds can tell are that we should have done/not done, said/not said something. A word ready on the lips as well as in the mind and one that leads to feelings of failure, of letting yourself and others down. A good excuse to bring out that big old stick and begin berating yourself. We cannot undo or unsay things, so the berating goes on.
Personalising – It can become easy for any of us to focus on the world around ourselves. Those who struggle with mind-lies and anxiety can really develop tunnel vision and consider that things happening around them are solely about or because of them. The find it hard to accept that ‘they’ maybe had no influence at all on what family or friends have said or done, especially if things happen to have gone wrong. A case of EVERYBODY hates me, blames me, wats to keep away from me.
Catastrophising – Add in to the above that there can be a tendency to focus in on the worst case scenario rather than considering all options. For example, if a friend doesn’t straight away respond to a text, the assumption is that this is because they no longer like them. Options such as their phone was out of charge; it switched off as the friend is unable to talk; that they may be driving are not considered as possibilities.
Black and white thinking – There are no grey areas in thoughts – the lies focus only on the extremes in an all or nothing way. The fact that those grey areas are not considered as options mean that the lies can lead to stress levels being high if frequently unattainably high targets or standards are not met.
Fortune telling – or an assumption that it is known what others think of us, or what will be going to take place in the future. A good way of helping worry to become a bosom buddy and adding more grist to the mill of stress.
The lies lead to deep negative emotions which are very real, though the reason for their existence is not. These deep emotions can lead to a downward spiral into anxiety, which in itself can add to further gloom, doom and negativity.
DO YOU HAVE TO ACCEPT THE LIES?
No, you don’t, especially as your thoughts are not you and you do not have to accept that they are always true and/or right for you.
OK, there are times when it may be beneficial to focus in the negative thoughts. When you are trying to solve a problem, work through something by focusing on areas that aren’t working for you. So long as these thoughts are truthful. At such times, some good old down to earth self-talk comes in handy – in order to sort the negative wheat from the chaff of the lies. You can then set about problem solving. In this instance, the negative thoughts have been useful.
So, back to those negative lies. I have to say that if it has been a problem for some time, it is usually best to seek professional support with this work. If, however, you are nipping the situation in the bud, there are some strategies that you can try.
First of all, some self-reflection to identify which of the types of negative lies you make use of, as listed above. A thought diary can help with this. It helps to pick out patterns of thinking. Do you include more self-lies at any particular time of day, or any particular day? What was happening for you at that time – was the thought work related, personal, social? It can take the form of notes (maybe using a different coloured ink) in your diary or journal. You can also buy journals specifically aimed at thought recording, or simply download sheets to help you to focus in on your thought patterns and to tease out specific thoughts from everything else that is going on in your mind.
Having recorded your negative thought, consider any trigger that may have set it off, as well as your emotional response to it. Record these too. Also include any physical reaction to the thought. You could well be surprised at just how much one seemingly little negative thought has on you. This can serve as a good kick in the pants to change your acceptance of the validity of all that your mind tells you! You may be surprised that one of those lies, such as ‘I always think bad things’ – doesn’t, in fact, happen that often. Because you catastrophise, never have shades of grey and maybe throw in fortune telling for good measure, these have led you to wrongly feel that it was a way of thinking that took up most of your waking moments. The positive and the truth can seem to be banned from your mind.
Thought recording is the sort of thing that a CBT therapist would make use of. However, many other therapists (including myself) include such a strategy as part of the work with their client rather than focusing solely on CBT.
You can then work on swapping, reframing, those negative ways of thinking – the lies that you are telling yourself that are holding you back, holding you down, spoiling life for you.
At the same time, it is important to learn how to accept criticism from others. Yes, you can cut right back on the negative stuff your mind sees fit to share with you, but you cannot stop others being critical of something you do or say. You need to be able to accept such as a comment that hopefully has been given with the best of intentions.
You also need to develop strategies to prevent any nastiness thrown at you take root in your mind. These things happen to most of us. The aim is not to replay it over and over in your mind, or re-read it as a text or email. Delete the latter. As for the former, accept it was said – and set it aside. This is basically taking a Mindful approach. It takes some practise, but once you have done this a few times, it can become your preferred method of not letting nastiness keep on affecting you. Trying to wipe out, delete, nasty incoming words can be difficult as you can’t unhear them. It is more effective in the long term to acknowledge then set aside. OK, you may have to do this more than once, but be kind to yourself and repeat the process of taking control of your emotional reaction to the words.
Your mind is the most amazing thing. It can help your body if it is struggling by giving positive assurances. You can delve into its memory bank of happenings if you are alone and lonely. You can let it have free rein when it comes to creativity through words, crafting, art, flowers, gardening ….. whatever.
However, at times it can click over from being your greatest ally to being your worst enemy by giving out those lies. Recognise them as such and reject them, by dealing with them. I guess that like the rest of us, our minds are flawsome, so we need to accept them as such.
If I can help with any of the issues raised, please don't hesitate to get in touch with me.
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