Tackling painful thoughts
that the unhelpful coping strategies we use often serve to keep our problems going, it frees us up to do things differently and find new ways of responding to our thoughts.
One way we can free ourselves from the trap of trying to avoid painful thoughts is using a technique called defusion. When we defuse from our thoughts, we learn to relate to them in a way that means they have much less impact on how we feel and much less influence on our behaviour.
Below are three simple techniques you can use to help you defuse from your thoughts.
LABELLING THOUGHTS: To help you get some distance from upsetting thoughts, such as “I’m a bad person”, insert the phrase “I’m having the thought that…” in front of it and repeat this several times. Then extend the phrase further to “I’m noticing that I’m having the thought that…” and repeat this several times.
MUSICAL THOUGHTS: Take an upsetting thought and sing it to the tune of a familiar song such as “Happy Birthday”. This is a great way to hold your thoughts more lightly.
THANKING YOUR MIND: Spend some time reflecting on the stories your mind tells you. For example, do you have an “I’m a failure” story, an “I’m not good enough” story, an “I can’t cope” story or an “I’m unlovable” story?
When these thoughts arise, try saying “Thanks, mind!” – not sarcastically or aggressively, but with warmth and humour and notice what happens.
Dr Ellie Milby is a counselling psychologist