By Phil Le Brun
Dark Thoughts – Part 3
Digging down to the roots of dark thoughts helped explain their significance and connection for a man who had been thinking obsessively about drowning. Once he made the connection between these thoughts and his sister’s death his entire demeanor changed because all of a sudden what had been this unpleasant, inexplicable, frightening symptom all of a sudden made sense to him. The thoughts didn’t come back again.
So that all sounds neat and tidy. But let me give some under qualified challenges to this line of thought. Right, so that’s the traditional view of thoughts, probably how you think about your own thoughts.
But the tides have changed. And there’s now a new way of thinking about thoughts.
Maybe people shouldn’t always take their thoughts so seriously, particularly a certain subset of their thoughts.
Loyal readers, all 1 of you. You remember these thoughts from Part 1 right?. ‘I’m bad at this’, ‘I’m stupid’, ‘everyone is better than me’.
These are automatic thoughts – and this is true of everybody – people tend to accept them at face value. And they don’t look for alternative explanations or for what evidence is behind them.
This began what is now called cognitive behavioural therapy – or CBT – a new system of therapy that does not believe that the thoughts in your head are necessarily indicative of anything deep about you. And over the last 30 years, this kind of therapy has slowly but surely been displacing Freudian-based therapies that all our thoughts have some deeper connection.
Jesus… Freud, psychology and a three part SCAB. I’m fully aware that I’m crossing into new unchartered territories of knobbishness, but I’ve started so I’ll finish. I’m almost done I swear.
From what I learnt from this new way of thinking there is no good reason to focus on dark thoughts. Which finally brings us back to the surfer and the problem he had with his dark thoughts after watching City of God.
He went to a new therapist. Dr No.2 who has a very strong position on thoughts. Which is that most of our thoughts aren’t that important. He gives our guy with the violent thoughts a knife. Yes a knife. His dark thoughts were the problem. But his obsessive morality was the real problem. That’s the terrible irony of this condition. It’s exactly a person’s conscientiousness that makes the horrible thoughts return again and again and again. That’s where the knife comes in. Slowly over time, Dr No.2 encourages our surfer dude to take the knife, hold it to his throat. Together they’ll sit there for 10 minutes, for 15. Basically, it’s a form of evidence – really compelling evidence – that even though our dude has the opportunity to kill, he’s not going to do it. And therefore, he’s forced to confront the reality that his thoughts should not be taken seriously. It helps him move on.
So that’s a new way of thinking about thoughts, which, in a way, is a very old way of thinking about thoughts. The idea is you don’t engage the bad ones. They don’t matter that much. Just find the thoughts that are helpful, that help you to live the life that you want to live. Keep those thoughts in front of you, and the rest, just let float away. They’re not you.