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Controlling our Thoughts

Thoughts have been my greatest nemesis my entire life long. Not all thoughts, just those that make me feel miserable, those with which I would torment myself for long periods of time. Often they'd result from my own actions--I'd do something or say something I regretted, and I would spend hours or days feeling miserable as my mind went over all the possible negative repercussions for doing what I had done.

Say, for example, that I said something that offended someone else, and that person let me know that he or she was offended. In my mind, that person was extremely angry with me, and wouldn't want to have anything to do with me any more. Furthermore, my thoughts would take me to other scenarios that were even worse--that person would tell others what a jerk I was for having said something, and other people would look at me more judgmentally and wouldn't want to be around me anymore.

Or say a friend called to cancel something we had planned to do. In my mind, it wasn't just a cancellation, it was a reflection of what that person felt about me. He or she had heard something about me and didn't want to be around me any more, or they had originally agreed to do something with me just to make me feel good, so as not to insult me or hurt me. But when it came time to doing something with me, they really didn't want to go through with it. There were other, more interesting people around to do things with.

Or say a friend didn't show up at all--that was the worst, for then I'd have plenty of ammunition with which to make myself miserable. I'd start going through all of the possible negative explanations in my mind, always looking at the action as a reflection on me, not on the friend. Any harsh word from a friend or family member led me to think that things were over between me and that person, that that person wanted to have nothing to do with me any more. Even now, there are times when my wife says something to me and I start to think that she's fed up with me and doesn't want to have anything to do with me any more.

These are, of course, ridiculous thoughts, and I'd even recognize that while I was having them. I've found the origin, I believe--they come from a mixture of having an alcoholic father and moving around constantly. With an alcoholic parent, love always seems to be conditional, if there at all, and the children often feel they have to prove themselves. Mistakes are often treated much more harshly than the situation demands. Being in a military family, I changed schools eight times in twelve years, and I never had a chance to develop any sort of long-term friendships, so I never experienced any sort of behavior involved in such a relationship--never saw the forgiveness or the tolerance or the getting-back-together. To me, everything always just ended, and I've carried the fear of that with me my whole life long. I also grew up without any sort of church, any sort of faith-fostering, and I never had the chance to experience or witness the strength that a deep faith can give us.

But recognizing the source doesn't make one feel better when one's beating oneself up over something that truly doesn't deserve as much attention as it's getting. Sometimes I can't believe all of the hypothetical situations I dreamed up to make myself feel horrible, when the very nest day things were fine, and I had just lost an entire day or evening to feeling miserable. I feel fortunate that I've broken the pattern, even if it does return now and then. When those thoughts return now, I can usually deal with them rather quickly, and there's little chance that they can trigger depression as they used to.

The fears I grew up with are still in there, but I choose to view them as what they are: negative thoughts that mean nothing. I don't fool myself into thinking that they can't come back just as or even more strongly, and I pay attention to them, just in case. But now I know them, and I can recognize them sooner. I'll never be a person who can function well in a crowd of complete strangers, but that's who I am. At least now, I know that I can't function well in such a group because that's who I am, part of my nature; I no longer fear the people because they probably won't like me or because they'll judge me harshly. I want to get the most out of life, and allowing such thoughts to control how I feel will make me miserable, not happy. I know this from experience.

� Tom Walsh
Living Life Fully

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened. Mark Twain

Our great misfortune is that we have no organ, no kind of eyelid or brake, to mask or block a thought, or all thought, when we want to. Paul Valery

Anger and worry are the enemies of clear thought. Madeleine Brent

The quality of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts. . . take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature. Marcus Aurelius

The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven. John Milton

Life is a mirror and will reflect back to the thinker what he or she thinks into it. Ernest Holmes

A man is what he thinks about all day long. Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unhappiness indicates wrong thinking, just as ill health indicates a bad regimen. Paul Bourge

The greatest discovery of my generation is that people can alter their lives simply by altering their attitude of mind. William James

Don Juan assured me that in order to accomplish the feat of making myself miserable I had to work in the most intense fashion, and that it was absurd. I had now realized I could work just the same in making myself complete and strong. "The trick is in what one emphasizes," he said. "We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The amount of work is the same." Carlos Castaneda

Drag your thoughts away from your troubles--by the ear, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it. It's the healthiest thing a body can do. Mark Twain

The biggest quality in successful people I think is an impatience with negative thinking. . . . How many opportunities come along? If you wait for the right one, that's wrong, because it may never be right, and what have you got to lose? Even if it's a disaster, you've tried, you've learned something, you've had an adventure. And that doesn't mean you can't do it again. Edward McCabe