I have a fair amount of psychological knowledge and have had some therapy to deal with issues in my relationships and bad moods. I have a general optimistic view of life, however, I also tend to spiral into negativity, fear and resentment quite easily, especially when I encounter a conflict or get bad news. Talking about it helps a bit, but when I am alone, I find myself returning to the negative feelings. I am wondering if there is anything I can do to build a more positive base to my character?
I am not sure how serious your bad moods are and whether your negativity has a proclivity towards depression? This is worth looking into since that would require some deeper therapy and lifestyle changes that help support a happier state.
The tendency to drop into negativity and fear is often related to a lack of support in dealing with challenging feelings or life circumstances. Especially as children, if we didn’t have supportive, positive and helpful guidance and reassurance, then it becomes hard to actually build a solid base to encounter new challenges and grow into a confident and trusting person. Fear and a shaky sense of self can take hold more easily then.
Some kids get very motivated to fight their obstacles and inhibiting self-images, however, in mid-life, these compensatory attitudes and efforts can break down, exposing the more vulnerable, fearful and moody layers beneath the survival tactics.
Given the current economic, environmental and relational challenges that many people are facing, it’s easy to focus on what we don’t have, how things are going wrong, or what we might lose in the near future. Our brain and nervous system get wired in these negative patterns and can keep us stuck and bound in limited thoughts and disappointing feelings. The neuropsychologist, Dr. Rick Hanson says that, “neurons that fire together, wire together,” and presents his four-step process:
i) Think of a positive feeling such as gratitude. What are you grateful for that gives you feelings of satisfaction, trust, joy and relaxation? Name the situation or quality and begin to feel gratitude.
ii) Let the feelings expand into your body and allow them to become a precious and special state of mind that you care about and want to protect
iii) Steep into these feelings, allowing their intensity to increase and get absorbed into your psyche and nervous system more deeply. You want to let these “neurons fire” for 10—20 seconds.
iv) Go a step further and link these positive feelings with a disappointment or challenge. While staying with the feelings of gratitude, let the negative experience find a space in the periphery of your mind. This begins to infuse that negative state with positive energy.
Some people include their connection and experiences in nature to drop further into a healing experience. Visualizing yourself sitting under a tree, on a mountain, at a beach or walking through a forest adds strengthening and nourishing qualities to your inner state.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com