Be Thankful for Those Negative Thoughts
I’m writing this blog the week before Thanksgiving. So, of course, gratitude and thankfulness are broadcasted everywhere these days—at Target, on your favorite podcast, in your feed, and in those pesky pop ups when you are shopping online. Yet, I want to take a completely different spin on Thankfulness this time.
During this long stretch of coping with COVID, I’ve worked with hundreds of clients and families who notice that the holidays feel a bit different in the midst of all this crisis and unrest. While many ARE thankful, many of us are also fatigued with how much we’ve had to cope with and recover from over the past couple of years. Why? Because positive feelings and negative feelings often coexist–They live side by side. This fact may seem annoying, yet you can learn to use it as a useful tool.
One specific technique in a certain kind of therapy does just that. In one particular therapy method that combines mindfulness strategies and cognitive behavioral skills, ACT [Acceptance Commitment Therapy] uses the defusion technique to say thank you to negative thoughts when they arise. Defusion is a skill or technique that is primarily used to detach, separate, or get some distance from our thoughts and emotions.
Have you ever noticed that when you try to share something that you are grateful about that sometimes a negative thought or feeling arises? That’s because thoughts and feelings are often connected, and positive and negative feelings and thoughts can be tangled up at times.
During a prolonged stressful time like COVID, it would be natural to remember negative events while trying to appreciate positive occurrences and experiences. This method teaches us that we can untangle our thoughts from our feelings and detangle our positive intent from our aversive feelings. It is less about what we think and more about how we relate to our thoughts that changes how we feel and experience events and others.
ACT is careful to instruct us to detach playfully from negative thoughts–If we bully ourselves into feeling better and being nice, we will only cling to our negative experiences rather than release them. To truly defuse our negative thoughts, we need to kindly and playfully say “Thank you very much for coming…..ANGER, SADNESS, PAIN. I notice you, and appreciate you.” And then we decide what those feelings might need at that moment and choose whether to keep feeling those feelings or un-invite them to the party.
So this Thanksgiving, try the Defusion Method if you start to re-experience negative feelings from the past year or two. Playfully invite those feelings to your family dinner. Perhaps be grateful that they showed up to remind you that they needed care and attention. And then ask yourself how you’d like to feel this Thanksgiving~