We tend to believe our thoughts. After all, we each have this voice in our head, thinking thoughts incessantly. Since our thoughts are always with us, it doesn’t naturally occur to us to question whether they accurately represent reality. We assume our thoughts tell it like it is, but they actually veil a deeper truth, that we are all beautiful and perfect souls. We just don’t see it, so we think and act far from perfectly.
Our identification with untrue negative thoughts and beliefs causes us pain and holds us back from healing our addictions and compulsions, including skin picking, hair pulling or other body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). As we learn to become more conscious of our picking or pulling habits and work to reduce them, we can simultaneously become aware of our negative thought habits and train ourselves to change them.
How do we train ourselves to change a thought? Firstly, we can become aware that there are certain negative thoughts that are common to many of us, and may be habitual in our minds. I have classified common habitual negative thoughts in several categories, which may each be the subject of future blog posts. When you notice yourself thinking a negative thought, ask yourself, “Can I be absolutely sure this is true?” Usually, you cannot have objective evidence proving that it’s true. For example if you find yourself thinking “I’m a loser,” does ALL evidence point to you being a loser? Are there no other explanations for your situation other than you being a loser? I bet your dog doesn’t think you’re a loser. Next, think about what is happening to you when you believe the thought. What is it doing to your emotions? Is it making you feel badly?
Realize that with awareness of the thought, it is only a choice to think differently. It may feel unnatural to you at first, but see how it feels to replace the thought with its opposite. For example, next time you catch yourself thinking “I am a loser,” answer that with, “I am a winner”. Probably at first you don’t believe the new thought, but notice how badly the thought, “I am a loser” makes you feel. How would you feel and act differently in life if you thought, “I am a winner” instead? Can you see how it may make you feel more able, and have more energy to apply to the process of learning not to pick or pull? If “I am a winner” is extremely dissonant for you at first, you don’t have to use it, but at least objectively inquire whether what you ARE telling yourself is true.
Years ago I had a friend who, whenever she heard me saying something bad about myself, would say, “Hey! Don’t talk about my friend that way.” Be a good friend to yourself. Catch yourself when you have negative thoughts or say bad things to yourself. Catch yourself and practice replacing the thought with the opposite, or at least something better. Even if you don’t believe it yet, you’re opening the door to believing it.
Positive thoughts make our bodies feel good – nice and relaxed. Negative thoughts change our body posture and our body chemistry. Thoughts of gloom and doom make us feel depressed. Thoughts of anger and frustration make us tense. If you tend to pick your skin or pull your hair more in states of depression or anxiety, can you see how questioning your thoughts and introducing new ones, over time, can make a big impact in decreasing your picking or pulling?