Your negative thoughts and emotions may have been part of your life for so long that you think they can’t be changed, but this is false. Changing deeply ingrained patterns of emotions, states, and traits (all referred to as “issues” for the sake of brevity) may be more difficult and require more effort than changing more recently acquired ones, but the process is the same for both. Long-standing behavior patterns may be more complicated and have more related behaviors or automatic thoughts than newer ones, so more vigilance and persistence may be required to spot negative thoughts or feelings – but they can still be changed.

When you become aware of negative thoughts or emotions arising in your mind, you can choose to:
* Dismiss the negative thought or feeling
Dismissing every negative thought that pops into your mind, whether about yourself, another person, or circumstance that upsets you means that you say to that demon “this is not worth my time or energy to think about”. Negative thoughts are typically unrealistic, out of proportion, and unhelpful; our emotions are children, having little use in negotiating through the world. Ask yourself whether a thought or emotion is beneficial. If it has no benefit, then dismiss it. Why would you want something that has no benefit in your mind? (Clue: harsh judgments of yourself or others are always worthless.)
Telling yourself that a negative thought is only your demons talking is often the fastest way to dismiss them. Just chanting ‘reject’ or “stop,” “peace,” “calm,” or “let it go” may be helpful.

* Counter negative thoughts and emotions
Countering negative thoughts isn’t mere positive thinking, but thoroughly and relentlessly de-bunking those thoughts. Describe how your negative issues are false and betray your best interests. Our issues are delusional in many ways, and finding these delusions will help you become free of them. Study your demons when calm; when agitated you won’t have the mental resources to find truth.
When countering negative thoughts and upsets, you may have to accept responsibility for some part of whatever happened. This should never lead to berating yourself but to trying to learn from the experience and discovering what you can do to prevent it from happening again. Since the only thing that you can control is your own behavior, this study may help prevent repetitions. It isn’t a matter of thinking “I really screwed that up”, but of telling yourself “Next time I will handle things this way” and visualizing yourself acting differently in detail. This approach requires a high degree of objectivity and calmness to prevent being overwhelmed by regret or guilt. Keep in mind that behavioral change is difficult, takes time, and requires persistence, consistency, patience, and compassion, but it’s well within your capacity to optimally care for yourself. Practicing the behavior you want to see yourself do in small situations that pose little or no risk can help you be more confident and more likely to act as you wish in situations that are more challenging.

* Express Gratitude
Giving thanks for all good things in your life is a great way to banish demons. Most negative thoughts and emotions are rooted in fear and self-pity, both extremely damaging to mental health. Counting your blessings reduces self-delusion and self-centeredness.
     Write a daily gratitude list for all the good things in life that you have, especially if your good things are things that others don’t have (such as vision when others are blind, hearing when others are deaf, etc.) to gain perspective. The more complete your gratitude list, the better. Take the time to really experience the beauty and glories of the things you’re grateful for. Taking things for granted by not consciously appreciating and experiencing them means that you aren’t really grateful for them.
    Part of gratitude may be adjusting expectations. Life is never going to unfold the just way we want and ever nothing stays the same. Appreciating your current reality rather than pining for the past or waiting for a mythical future will make you healthier, happier, and more truly grateful.

* Distract yourself from negative thoughts
Putting a pleasant, healthy thought in place, such as reading a (healthy) book, watching a TV program or movie, or doing a recreational activity you enjoy or engaging in any activity that occupies your mind, such as playing a game or going for a walk in a lovely spot, is often an effective way to dislodge negativity.

* Laugh at negative thoughts and emotions
Laughing at your demons is the most powerful way to banish them. Negative thoughts and emotions only have power if you take them seriously – they can’t survive ridicule. This approach requires advance preparation so that during times of stress, when you are less able to think of the most constructive approach, you will see the humor in the situation. Poking fun at your demons emotionally vaccinates you against them. Ridiculing your negative thoughts isn’t the same as ridiculing yourself. You are not your issues. They are just passing through. Allow yourself to let them go instead of falsely identifying with them.

* Transform the negative thought or emotion  
Transforming issues means using its energy to change it. Suppressing thoughts or emotions doesn’t work well because they go underground, simmering away in your unconscious. Resisting them may make them stronger (similar to a teenager who is more likely to do something if the parents object). Transformation harnesses the energy of a thought or emotion by keeping it front and center and shifting it, like martial arts techniques that use the force of an opponent to defeat him, someone who wants to lose weight eating fruit instead of sugary stuff, or a person with many fears using the concern about safety to form and implement a plan to reduce unnecessary real risks instead of phantom risks.
     Another way to transform thoughts is to identify what any thought, mood, or impulse is telling you about your deepest desires. Negativity often represents a twisted version of something that is basically good or neutral, but poor thinking and habits make these deeper feelings become harmful. Hoarding is a good example of this: people fall into hoarding because their anxiety keep them from knowing how else to express a desire for wisdom and learning (leading to collecting books and papers), or beauty (collecting art objects, crafts supplies, or many others), or security (piling up walls of objects). Finding the deeper need will support finding better, more appropriate ways to satisfy it and overcome the addiction to hoarding. Insights about your deepest yearnings won’t come from thinking, but from becoming calm and letting messages well up from the depths of your being.

You can (actually, need to) use a mix-and-match approach, simultaneously applying several different strategies. Negative thoughts are poison, so strong medicine (i.e., intensive effort using multiple strategies) is needed to counteract the toxins that they spread. The point is to do as much as is needed to make change possible in your life.

Always remember that NO THOUGHT HAS ANY MORE POWER OVER YOU THAN YOU GIVE IT.  All thoughts are created by your brain and you can just as well create healthy thoughts as harmful ones. Taking back power over your mind may be difficult because of deeply entrenched thoughts, emotions, and beliefs, so you can’t afford to let even the tiniest tinge of negativity go unchallenged. Consistency and persistence need to become some of your highest values in this work.

     Using writing to support change isn’t like keeping a diary. It’s not daily events that matter here. The benefit of reflective writing is to see your thoughts in a different light. Especially for people who tend to be isolated, writing is a way to gain a different perspective. Writing thoughts down as they come into your mind, then exploring their implications, limitations, and ramifications will help you rationally decide whether to go on believing that a given thought is true.
Asking yourself questions and answering them in writing (on paper or on the computer) will help you see through the thoughts and emotions that keep you mired in hoarding. At times you may feel stuck, unable to penetrate to the heart of your resistance to clearing or to stopping acquiring. Writing may help you see beyond that “stuck” point, to see the truth behind your issues.
      The purpose of writing to recover from hoarding isn’t analyzing character flaws. Although that may be valuable, it’s better to focus on more constructive concerns. Every negative thought or feeling is a liar, a cheat that will steal your health, recovery, and opportunity for a happy life. Writing helps to unmask these lies so you can be free of them by freeing you from the nonsense your mind generates. Challenge them all.
Another way to explore feelings with writing is to use basic information questions (who, what, when, where, why, and how) to reveal the issues that sustain behavior. Repeat the why question until you reach a deep level of insight with it. These questions can reduce impulses to act against your goals or best interests. The “who” question is useful for naming your demons, as in “my fear demon keeps me from doing ____” or “my anger demon wants me to ____.”
     “Peeling the onion” is a technique for asking ever-deeper questions about behavior you wish to change:
                  - What is the behavior?
                  - What is the stated reason(s) for the behavior?    
                  - On what beliefs are these reasons based?
                  - How did these beliefs develop?
                  - What feelings and actions do the beliefs cause?
                  - What feelings does the behavior cause?
                  - Are the beliefs and reasons factually true?
                  - What is the evidence to support that belief?

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Adapted from “Overcome Hoarding and Transform Your Life,
How to Choose Hope and Life Instead of Things”



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© Gloria Valoris, 2015

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