“I don’t want to have any more bad thoughts”
This is a statement to which most people can relate, and it’s the kind of statement many people make in therapy. We work very hard to identify the thoughts that make us feel sad, angry, jealous, frustrated, and afraid, and when we find those thoughts we want to delete them from existence. We want them emptied into the trash like yesterday’s garbage! It’s natural and normal to feel that way…. and completely unrealistic to accomplish. Not only is it unrealistic to delete all negative thoughts from our minds but it’s unhealthy too.
Negative thoughts serve an important purpose for our functioning and development. The presence of negative thoughts acts as a reminder to be aware of danger around us. Visualize how a person would act with no negative thoughts at all. They would constantly leave themselves open to being hurt in relationships because they couldn’t remember the feelings of sadness and anger that comes with a breakup. In addition, they would feel no sense of fear causing them to constantly putting themselves in danger, life-threatening situations. Negative thoughts serve a valuable purpose, no matter how uncomfortable they make us.
The idea is not to eliminate all negative thoughts, but to reduce them to a level with which we can life and feel happy. The only negative thoughts that we want to get rid of are the broken ones that cause us to feel false feelings.
In a study conducted in 1989, a group of patients in the psychiatric wing of a hospital were given a questionnaire to determine how often these individuals had negative thoughts. This same questionnaire was given to individuals with no history of any mental illness. The ratio of negative to positive thoughts in the depressed group was 50% to 50%. That means that they had one negative thought for every positive thought. In the group with no history of mental illness, the ratio was of positive thoughts to negative thoughts was 38% to 62%. So for 100 thoughts identified, people with no mental illness have 62 negative ones while people with mental illness have 50. That means the difference between being depressed and being happy is just 12 thoughts per 100!
Think about how changing just 12 thoughts out of every 100 you have in a day could turn you from a depressed or angry person to a happy, fulfilled person! How much energy would it take to change just those 12 thoughts? When we look at our negative thoughts from this perspective they don’t feel like such a mountain to climb. Changing out negative thoughts is achievable and realistic. Eliminating them completely is its own negative thought- and there’s one thought we can change right now.
“While we may not be able to control all that happens to us, we can control what happens inside us” – Benjamin Franklin
Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor