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Dysfunctional thoughts

'Our thoughts can affect our emotions. Conversely, emotions can affect our thoughts. In addition, what the body feels is influenced by emotions and thoughts, just as what we feel in the body affects our thoughts and emotions.'

Our mood by nature is variable. Some patterns of thoughts, however, can turn a moment of decline in our emotional well-being into something more enduring such as anxiety, sadness and stress.

Today studies have determined that it is not in itself negative emotions that do the damage, but the way we react to them. The effort we make to try to free ourselves from negative states, research at all costs of a cause or a solution risks making things worse.

The effect you get is that of quicksand: the more you struggle to get out and the more you sink.

This happens because our mind is intricately connected to memory. In the face of a negative emotional state that arises, we trigger a process that is self-feeding. If, for example, we feel sad, we begin to think about finding a cause, with the aim of finding a solution to the problem of sadness. This research triggers a process that can easily lead us to dig out of the past regrets, disappointments, painful experiences. Or to raise concerns about the future.

Our memory automatically sets out in search of memories that reflect our emotional state of the moment. The reason is to be found in the evolution of man. Memory and emotional states are linked to provide us with an elementary survival weapon.

Applied to emotions, however, instead of making us feel better, it causes a worsening of our mood. This mental activity, in fact, means that, to the malaise of the moment, the pains of the past and fears for the future are added.

What is more, this generates a sense of guilt in us, because we sink further into sadness, rather than being able to get out of it. As a result, we begin to generate self-critical thoughts and judge ourselves negatively: "It is our fault. We're not strong enough. We're not working hard enough. We should do more. We're never going to make it..."

In this destructive cycle of recriminations and self-criticism, we end up blaming ourselves more and more for not being who we would like to be, not to match our ideal in person.

This whole process happens in a very short time, without us being aware of it.

This is how our way of reacting can transform temporary and not problematic emotions into persistent and problematic emotions.

In fact, every effort we make to get rid of unpleasant emotions and feelings, trying to solve the problem, only backfires on us.

The reason is to be sought in a very powerful tool of the mind: critical rational thinking, based on the elaboration of the discrepancy.

What does it mean? The mind analyses the distance between his state in the present (e.g. sadness) and how he would like to be (happy). It does so by continuing to apply the mode of doing: dividing the problem into so many small pieces, trying to solve each of these pieces and, subsequently, returning to look at the problem as a whole to see if the distance between what it is and what should be, and if we have therefore approached the goal.

If this works well in practical matters, applied to the emotional sphere, it can make the situation considerably worse.

This happens because our attention focuses on the distance between how we are and how we would like to be, raising dangerous questions in us, such as "what is wrong with me?", "why am I always wrong?", "why do I always make the same mistakes?".

These questions initiate a destructive cycle of recriminations, self-criticism and guilt, which undermine our self-esteem and self-confidence.

The dense interconnection between thoughts, emotions and body, causes this approach to be disastrous when applied to the emotional sphere. An approach that leads to continuous mental rumination, in the naïve belief that, by continuing to reflect obsessively on the problem, we will soon find a solution to our state of mind. Just think about it a little more...

Research shows exactly the opposite: brooding is the problem and not the solution.

Therefore, assuming that it is not possible to prevent them from triggering:

• Unhappy emotions and memories

• Self-critical thoughts

• Negative thoughts

The only way we have to intervene is to stop what happens after the onset of a negative emotional state, so prevent the vicious circle that self-food is created and that triggers a whirlwind of further negative and hypercritical thoughts.

This can only be done through awareness.

Being aware that we are thinking when we are thinking, allows us to observe our thoughts remotely, without identifying ourselves, without following them. The same goes for sensations and emotions.

Being aware means taking a step to the side, which allows us to get out of the continuous negative chatter of the mind and the emotions that are triggered as a reaction.

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