A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)
Many of you have just finished time with family at Thanksgiving. You are probably behind in your Christmas shopping, work has one or two projects that need to be accomplished before the end of the year, and children or grandchildren need more of your time. Meanwhile, you are trying to focus on making this Christmas the best ever. The pressure, lack of personal time, and other demands can leave you exhausted, which leaves you susceptible to negative thoughts.
When the negative thoughts start to scream, it is time to stop and address it, or Christmas carols will be drowned out with “Bah Humbug!” Nick Wagnall, in his article “How to Quiet Negative Thoughts with Self-Compassion,” addresses the issue of negative self-talk with rational support. He uses psychologist and researcher Kristen Neff’s scholarship to provide support. Neff “identified 3 core elements and skills behind self-compassion – self-kindness, interconnection, and mindfulness,” as a means of not only quieting negative thoughts, but also rebuilding any damage done to our psyche.
Self-kindness is something every pop psychologist affirms, but that doesn’t make it wrong. The self-help people tell us we should treat ourselves better. But Wagnall points out that often we don’t improve our self-talk because we believe the negative actually helps. “We’re afraid to let go of our negative thoughts and judgmental self-talk because we think we need them.” That is a misguided motivation. Most of us have succeeded in spite of our negative thoughts, not because of them.
Next, remember, you are not alone. Talking with a friend can give you perspective. Prayer allows the Holy Spirit to guide you beyond negative talk and helps you see life’s situations more appropriately. Receiving the realistic assessment that a trusted friend and God can provide helps us approach negative thoughts, not as a judge, but as a detective. Wagnall reminds us that “the capacity for self-judgment isn’t all bad…The trouble is when judgment and analysis is our automatic response to our own mistakes and suffering.” A detective’s process can help us know what is truthful about ourselves and how to respond in a way that make the situation better. Self-abuse cannot be a healthy motivator. Take responsibility with a detective’s attitude toward your thoughts this holiday season, and watch this Christmas be the best ever.