Years ago when I was doing my post doctorate residency I saw a flyer for a depression group. It said “Fight Your Depression: Join Today.” In that moment, and even now, I thought that statement couldn’t be more wrong especially when the aim with overcoming depressive mood or thoughts is to come to peace, especially with oneself. Going to war with ourselves only increases our distress because as the saying goes, “what we resist, persists.”
Our conditioning can be so severe that even the thought of facing our uncomfortable feelings physically and/or emotionally leads to the automatic negative thought “I can’t do this.” Depending on your mood, that thought will seem more or less believable. In other words, a thought is not a fact but rather a product of your mood or feeling in that moment.
However, if we are able to slowly face our fears, and understand and accept this part of ourselves that feels insecure and in pain, we can begin to change our relationship to our feelings of hurt. The moment we notice we’re at war with our difficult emotions is the moment when we’re sitting in the space between stimulus and response. The choice, possibility, and freedom we experience in that space is what I call The Now Effect.
Instead of being at war with our pain, we can choose to take a radical shift and open up to it, be with it, and hold it in awareness without judging it. Practically speaking, this is a far more effective approach than feeding into our distress.
If you are experiencing an internal struggle at the moment, try making peace with yourself. Notice when your mind is littered with negative self-talk and inaccurate conclusions that “I’ll never get better; no-one can help me; I can’t help myself.” Notice any judgments and be aware that these thoughts are simply bad habits trying to maintain a status quo.
Ask yourself, “Did this thought just pop in my head automatically? If I was in a different mood would I be thinking differently?”
Acclaimed author and Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, tells us “Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World.” When I first heard this statement I thought about all the hate, antagonism, and violence on the earth and something about his statement almost seemed too simple to be true. But as I continued to sit with it and apply it to what I know about the process of psychotherapy it started to ring true.
One of the primary aims of psychotherapy is to support people in becoming at peace with themselves, so there can be an internal sense of security and freedom. It’s almost as if, more often than not, we’re at war with ourselves when stress and pain arise, and we react to these feelings as if they are enemies that need to be beaten. Instead, try to work on the practice of accepting and letting be, allowing your direct experience to be your teacher.
As always, please share your thoughts and questions below. Your interactions here provide a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.