Do we create our own suffering?

We cannot control the things that happen to us, and we are not to blame for the bad things that occur. However, we can reinforce or focus on the negative occurrences and therefore further our suffering. By constantly thinking about the bad things that have happened, we can make our emotions more intense and powerful.

If you hear that someone is speaking badly of you, the reaction you have is a choice. If you choose to be hurt or angry, you yourself will destroy your own peace of mind. If you are able to rise above it and are confident in your own worth, then you can protect yourself from negative feelings. You may not be able to avoid the negative feeling completely, but through continuous practice you can lessen the effect. “We can see that there are many ways in which we actively contribute to our own experience of mental unrest and suffering.” The Dalai Lama, The Art of Happiness.

We can also add to our suffering by being overly sensitive to minor things and by taking things too personally. This may be due to a past trauma which results in a reaction that is disproportionate to an event. Catastrophising is when we imagine the worst possible outcome of a situation and we think about it as having a catastrophic outcome. For example, after one bad night of sleep you catastrophise that you'll never sleep well again.

Our emotional response to an event or experience is determined by the conscious meaning we have placed upon it. The meaning placed on the event governs our feelings about it and therefore our reactions to the event. If the meaning or belief we have placed on the event is wrong or inappropriate then our response will also be inappropriate. This belief can spread and become worse.

When we are stuck in a pattern of negative thinking we tend to personalise every challenging situation and see things in extremes “things always go wrong for me”. If you are really stuck in a negative spiral, try the opposites exercise. If you find the possibility of the extreme positive unrealistic, it may help you to see that the extreme negative is also unrealistic, and you may then be able to see that a mid-point is a more realistic way of thinking.

Viewing the situation from a mid-point provides greater understanding of both the extreme negative and extreme positive positions. When we are trapped in negative thinking it is easier to see the extreme negative, but by looking at how unlikely the extreme positive would be, it can help us see more clearly. For example, if you are having a bad day and thinking that everyone hates you, you would explore the notion that everyone hates you or everyone loves you and this should help you to see a mid-point is the more likely reality.

To learn more about the effects of negative thinking and how to combat them, book onto the How to harness the power of positive thinking workshop.

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