We all do it. We all fall into the trap of happiness-hindering thinking sometimes. It is easy to do. Peace and Love squashing drama sneaks in many places in our lives. The news is full of it, television shows bank on our interest in drama and twisted plots of people and their struggles. Even a feel good story with a happy ending still has some kind of negative life struggle in the middle to yank on our emotions and give us that feeling of relief when it all finally works out. Difficulty and struggle are a part of life…but they do not need to be part of our regular thinking patterns. In fact, people who have fallen into the habit of negative thinking patterns are also the people who tend to have more physical ailments, heal slower than others, feel less motivated to succeed and have the least satisfying relationships. None of that sounds good to me.
When working with couples who want to be happier together and enjoy each other more, one of the tools I use is to look at each partners thinking patterns and help them identify what is stealing or repelling the happiness that could be happening instead. Learning to replace negative thinking patterns with positive ones is a tool of every relationship counselor I have ever met (trade secrets!). I am no different – how you think about your life and the people in it matters and affects your happiness and your ability to fully experience the joy of loving another person.
Avoid Negative Thinking Patterns
So, how do we avoid destructive thinking patterns? Just like most things, avoidance is done through awareness (like seeing the pothole in the road before your tire hits it). To help you see them clearly, here is a list of common but unhelpful thinking patterns that steal joy and damage the intimate closeness of relationships. I hope this list will help you identify any negative thinking patterns that you may have so that your raised awareness of them can help you catch them early and eventually avoid them completely.
- Negativity: The belief and/or thought that certain occurrences or events are negative by nature. Example “Money is the root of all evil.” or “All guys just want sex” or “All women really just want a rich guy.”
- Avoidance: Not facing difficulties or not taking personal responsibility for your own thoughts, feelings, actions. “Ignore it and maybe it will go away.” This includes not talking about the harder conversations with your partner out of fear, such as not talking about how to handle the finances together and then quietly feeling vulnerable or uninformed.
- Needing Approval: “I love you because you love me – because if you didn’t love me, then I would feel unlovable.”
- Outsourcing the Source of Problems: This is the belief that there is always someone else or something else that is at the root of your problems (instead of taking personal responsibility, accepting what is and moving forward from there). This sounds like, “If only _____ were better, I would be happier.”
- Needing Perfection: This is a thinking pattern that does not allow you to be human and make mistakes. What often happens with someone who has thinking pattern of needing to be perfect is that they also have an unusually higher need to be RIGHT (even though there is almost always more than one right answer to most questions). As my mother used to say to me “would you rather be happy, or right?”. Unless it is a really important matter (like life or death), I tend to choose to be happy.
- Being In Charge of Others: This thinking pattern happens when someone sits in the judgment seat and feels the obligation to change others who act unfairly or obnoxiously. Unless the person who are trying to correct is a child of yours and you are doing this in the realm of parental responsibility, give this thought pattern a second look and see if you are really the one who needs to be in charge.
- Dramatizing: This thinking pattern takes the worst case scenario and tries to take it up another notch. If everything feels like a crisis, or a personal affront, or if you automatically assume to worst about the intentions of others or the possible outcomes, then you may want to take a look here. Make sure that one bad experience can’t ruin the whole day and make everything seem miserable.
- Competition: This pattern creates a constant state of competitiveness between the thinker and everyone else. People with an overgrown sense of competition don’t leave much room for anyone else to travel with them as partners. If your worth feels wrapped up in your need to always be the best, then this pattern may have crept in on you.
- The Past: The habit of thinking about the past robs many people of experiencing the possibilities of the now. If your thinking pattern slips backwards and you find yourself often in a state of describing your present as it relates to your past, or if the story you tell yourself about yourself is heavily dependent on things that happened awhile back, then you are closing you and your partner off from creating a new story today. What happened before is over, unless you choose to bring it with you.
- What-If Worrying: One of the most common thinking patterns is the “what-if” pattern of worry and fear. In recent studies, anxiety has edged out depression as the number one emotional struggle being experienced today. It isn’t overly surprising that anxiety in relationship thinking patterns exists strongly when you consider the messages we get from music lyrics, tabloids, television shows and the frightening statistics of the high divorce rate. Fear of failed relationships is fed to us whether we are sitting at the dinner table or not. However, what is important to remember about What-If Worrying is that it is all future based thinking and the reality of whatever is being worried about hasn’t actually happened. Worrying about it won’t stop it from happening either. Getting present in the moment where you actually have some level of influence and control is your best shot
If you have successfully identified with any of these negative thinking patterns in your own thought processes, then congratulations! Not only have you been honest with yourself, but you have also begun to raise your awareness!
If any of these common but destructive thinking patterns are creating difficulty in your life, now is the time to call them out and kick them out. If you are having trouble doing that, you are not alone…at least you sure don’t have to be. Coaches and counselors are trained and skilled at breaking these patterns and helping you create new, productive, love producing patterns that will change your life experience. If these patterns are negatively affecting your love relationships, please don’t wait.