Wednesday, January 16th, 2019

Cleaning Out Your Psyche: How To Release Negative Thinking

Published on February 17, 2016 by   ·   No Comments Pin It

We all feel at times like we aren’t good enough.  Sometimes it’s because we’re in an impossible situation where there simply isn’t enough of us to go around.  (Anybody out there the parent of multiples, or very closely spaced children, or really, any two children?)

Like this letter from a reader named Amy who asked;

“Dr. Laura….When I stop and take a breath, I am amazed at the amount of negative thoughts in my head—typically criticizing my ability as a mom, or a wife, or an employee, or a daughter or a friend. It’s so hard to feel like I’m doing anything well at all.  How do we get out of the negative thought patterns?”

But often — regardless of the objective situation — we get stuck in negative thought habits. We beat ourselves down, which makes a bad situation worse.  If we could only support ourselves to feel like we were more than enough, we might be able to make peace with our situation. That’s the first step toward making it better.

The bad news is, the mind’s negative thought patterns are constantly “on.” The mind thinks its job is to analyze, judge, run scenarios, and set off alarms. The mission of the mind is survival, so it’s motivated mostly by fear. Happiness is barely in its job description.

Worse yet, the mind’s tendency toward negativity is often reinforced by the messages we receive in childhood. In fact, as Peggy O’Mara says, our parents’ tone of voice with us actually becomes our inner voice.

But even if we’re raised with a generally positive self view, the mind has a tendency toward worry that wears us down.  Brain research shows that our minds are constantly looping through patterns that get etched into our neural pathways with frequent use.  This often shows up as “My child is doing X… I must be a terrible parent ….and a worthless human being…This is an emergency…I have to MAKE my child act differently!”  Sound familiar? Some people call that the monkey brain, or the lizard brain. I call it the inner critic.

The good news is, you can disarm your inner critic.  You can even transform it into an inspired inner parent, which is something we all need. It isn’t your mind that’s the problem, it’s those bad habits the mind gets into. So as we head into spring here in North America, I’ll be devoting some of these daily posts to mindfulness practices that together add up to a Blueprint to Transform Your Inner Critic.

These aren’t my ideas — they’re time-honored mindfulness traditions designed to address this most fundamental challenge all humans face.  But I can testify that practicing any or all of these strategies over time will help you to live a more peaceful, loving, and happy life with your child. I think you’ll find life inside your head happier, too. Think of this as “ Spring-cleaning for your psyche” (a gift to yourself at any time of year, for those of you in parts of the world where spring isn’t here!)

Image via Lilly Greenblatt

Image via Lilly Greenblatt

Strategies to disarm your inner critic tend to fall into three categories:

  1. Bring awareness to your mind
  2. Change what your mind thinks and says.
  3. Give your mind a vacation.

We’ll be exploring multiple strategies and giving you tools in each of these areas.

For today, let’s begin by simply noticing your inner world.

1. Notice your thoughts. Stop. Take a breath. Just sit for a few minutes, with your attention turned inward and notice the thoughts that arise.

2. Observe how your thoughts trigger small waves of emotion. You suddenly remember something you forgot to take care of, and you feel a bit anxious….One more thing to add to the list…All this work, taking care of everyone else….you feel so tired, so unappreciated…a bit hurt and resentful….It’s time to get your kids to start helping more…but you can just imagine the fight that will result… are your kids growing up lazy and undisciplined?….You must be doing something wrong….fear clenches in your belly…Maybe a muffin would make you feel better?

Don’t worry.  Negative thoughts are completely normal.  What’s useful is to see how quickly they can spiral into more negativity. Each negative thought triggers upsetting emotions, which lead to more negative thoughts and anxiety. (And then there are the coping mechanisms we all use to manage that anxiety, like eating or pulling out our phones.)

3. Consider that maybe you don’t have to believe your thoughts. Really. Your thoughts are not gospel. Many of your thoughts are not even true, they’re just fears, or habitual reactions, or conclusions you came up with long ago based on limited evidence.  (Who says you’re not good enough?!) Once we become aware of our thoughts, we can stop automatically believing and acting on them. It’s like sunshine melting away the fog.

Suddenly, once we’re not so anxious, we have a choice about how to respond, instead of just getting triggered.

For today, just take as many opportunities as you can to stop, breathe, and notice the chatter in your mind.

Ask yourself: “Is that absolutely, definitely true?” (Hint: If it’s about the future, it cannot be absolutely true.)

Ask yourself: “Is there another way to see this situation that is also true and that empowers me to act more positively, or helps me see things from the other person’s perspective so we can find a win/win solution?”(Hint: There always is.)

You’re choosy about who you spend time with, and what you put into your body. Why not choose to simply refuse admittance to any thoughts you don’t want darkening your doorstep?

There. Isn’t that liberating?

Dr. Laura Markham is the author of Peaceful Parent, Happy Siblings: How to Stop the Fighting and Raise Friends for Life and Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting and – you can visit her at

We highly recommend her books:

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