Why Is Your Mind Not Always Your Friend (But Also Not Your Enemy)?
“You are so stupid!” Does your mind ever say things like that to you?
Take a minute to think about other unhelpful, not-so-nice things your mind is sometimes doing. For example;
- Has it ever compared you to others or judged your efforts, or told you that you couldn’t do what you want to do?
- Does it still attract negative thoughts from the past?
- Do you find yourself criticizing your life as it is now, conjuring up experiences that would make you much happier if you changed it?
- Do you sometimes find yourself drawn to scary situations in the future, warning you of the potential problems that could go wrong?
If so, you have a typical human mind (contrary to what most self-help gurus claim)!
The truth is that the chatter of an ordinary human mind is often negative and can easily become harmful. Sooner or later, our mind creates psychological misery for us.
In other words, our own mind and the language it utters is itself the source of suffering.
Language is a double-edged sword
Let’s look at what language is and how we use it: it’s a highly complex system of representations that include words, images, sounds, facial expressions, and body gestures.
We use language in two domains: public and private. Public language is what we use externally to express ourselves and includes speaking, reading, and gesturing. Singing, representing, and acting are also public language.
Private language use is what’s going on in your mind, including thinking, dreaming, organizing, visualizing, fantasizing, and so on. It can define extraordinarily complicated cognitive processes, such as evaluating, comparing, reviewing, preparing, remembering, visualizing, etc.
And it’s all based on language and imagination. This way, your mind can speak to you.
But here’s where it gets complicated. Language and imagination are helpful for many reasons, but if we don’t know how to use them effectively, they are abilities that can harm us.
The positive and negative sides of internal language
The positive thing about language is that we can use it to create maps and models of the world. It allows us to predict and plan for the future, share knowledge, and learn from the past.
It lets us guide our actions efficiently and allows us to succeed as a community, connect with others, and learn from our ancestors.
However, the negative side of language is that we use it to deceive, exploit, and intentionally mislead, to spread accusations and ignorance, to incite anger, hatred, and violence.
We also use it to reflect on and realize the painful events of the past and to intimidate ourselves by predicting a negative future.
Since language is both a gift and a curse, it’s true to say that your mind is not your friend, but it’s also not your enemy.
That’s why language is a double-edged sword, it can cause much pain if not handled effectively.
Why does life ultimately involve pain?
No matter who we are, we will all face our own death and the loss of loved ones. We will all experience illness and disability. We all feel anger, dissatisfaction, rejection, defeat, and failure.
In addition, certain simple human emotions that each of us regularly encounters are inherently painful: anxiety, grief, regret, anger, and shock, to name a few.
These are all natural feelings every human being is experiencing. So it’s true – life is tough, and it ultimately involves pain.
Your mind can conjure up misery at any moment
As if all that were not enough, each of us has a mind that can conjure up misery at any moment. Thanks to human language, wherever we go, whatever we do, we can immediately feel pain.
At any time, we can relive a traumatic memory or lose ourselves in an ominous prediction of the future. We can get caught up in unfavorable comparisons– ‘Her job is easier than mine’ – or pessimistic self-esteem – ‘I’m too fat’ or ‘I’m not good enough.’
Thanks to language, we can feel pain even on the best days of our lives. For example, let’s say it’s your birthday, and you’re having a party with friends and family. Of course, it’s a happy day.
But suddenly, you say to yourself that you wish your father were here, who died a few years ago. Now, on one of the happiest days of the year, you suddenly feel sad and lonely!
All we have to do is imagine a moment when something terrible happened or imagine a future when something frightening will happen. Or we judge ourselves unfairly or equate our life with someone else’s that seems more substantial, and we suffer.
Because of our minds’ sophistication, even the happiest human life inevitably involves considerable suffering.
Our response to the negative internal language is ineffectively
Unfortunately, most of us handle our grief ineffectively. When we encounter unpleasant emotions, feelings, and sensations, we often react in ways that are self-defeating or self-destructive in the long run.
The problem begins when the internal chatter becomes rigid controls of action. For example, you may believe your thoughts, ‘I can’t do it because I’m not smart enough.’
Interpreting thoughts as facts rather than an ongoing thought process often causes people to become trapped in bad habits.
The other problem is the suppression or avoidance of feelings. Efforts to suppress inner discomfort may only reinforce it, while other prevention methods, such as alcohol and drug use or procrastination, might give your some relief short term but are definitely not helpful in the long run!
The internal chatter is only words that you may or may not believe
Therefore, we must educate ourselves on managing mental pain more effectively. A better approach is to monitor unwanted internal perceptions and to treat them as what they are: only words that we may or may not believe.
This skill is about recognizing and interpreting emotions, images, memories, and other behaviors for little more than parts of speech and images, rather than what they sometimes appear to be: dangerous events, rules that must be obeyed, or factual realities and evidence.
Mindfulness helps you to unhook from your thoughts and emotions
Mindfulness is described in many ways, but basically, it boils down to focusing your attention on your experience in this moment, rather than getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.
This mindful approach requires an attitude of openness and curiosity. So if the encounter at this moment is painful or troubling, be open to it and curious about it, rather than running away or struggling with it.
Mindfulness requires accepting your emotions and feelings as they are and committing to facing them instead of trying to avoid the tension they may cause.
Mindfulness increases your life satisfaction
We can use mindfulness to communicate with ourselves and understand the fullness of the moment of life. We can use it to develop our self-knowledge and understand more about how we feel, perceive and react.
This way, we can use our thoughts and feelings effectively to make meaningful decisions and connect with those we care about, including ourselves. They help us actively influence our actions that are aligned and consistent with our core values.
So mindfulness is much more than the popular media hype and its reputation for ‘reducing stress.’ It’s a profound approach to improving your psychological strength and increasing your life satisfaction.
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