Toxic positivity is a trending term — and if it doesn’t ring a bell, we wrote all about it in a previous article. Most movies have a narrator — often with a wise, powerful, attention grabbing voice. The narrator’s job is to captivate the audience, draw them in, and leave them wanting more. Believe it or not, everyone has a voice inside of their head designed to narrate the world, but oftentimes it can be caught rambling on in both helpful and unhelpful ways. When these musings turn toxic, some mental health professionals call it “A.N.T.s” or “automatic negative thoughts.” During the summer when vibes are supposed to be light, it can sometimes be particularly painful when these negative thoughts persist — especially if it’s related to your body, which is why we’re covering ways to combat + neutralize these negative thoughts. Read on for how to help neutralize negative thoughts this summer from a local Hoboken therapist, Heather Rafanello MSW, LCSW.
Negative Thoughts Aren’t Evil — But They’re Often Harmful
Maybe you’ve noticed that this voice often comes with a negative or sarcastic tone, or points out unhelpful things. Let’s be clear, the function of this voice is actually to protect, motivate, warn, and educate people about the world around them, but the reality is this voice can be anything but helpful at times. That’s why some professionals refer to these thoughts as “A.N.T.s” or “automatic negative thoughts.”
This narrator isn’t all bad though — even the negativity is adaptive. It’s important to try to understand what the hidden message is in these thoughts. Perhaps this thought is trying to motivate you, protect you, or keep you safe.
For example, one might think:
- “I feel so uncomfortable today.” The voice’s intention here is to make that person aware of their physical discomfort.
- “I looked like such an idiot.” This gives this person the opportunity to repair an error they made, or learn not to make that same mistake again.
- “I’m never going to find someone who loves me.”This might be a warning to someone that they are craving love, and if they keep things up they might not be able to find it.
While these thoughts are meant for self-preservation, they end up being counter-productive because they create negative thinking patterns, which can lead to negative beliefs about oneself and the world. Summer is supposed to be a happier season, but it can actually exacerbate a lot of these negative thoughts. During the summer months, seemingly more people are out socializing, making it tougher to stay home alone during a warm day if you don’t have plans — plus, body image issues can easily arise from wearing clothing that shows a little more skin. One common misconception is that people are complacent to these thoughts, that the voice in their heads is spitting facts — but the reality is that while the voice may go on, people don’t have to sit there and listen.
How to Neutralize These Thoughts
It’s important to try to talk back, recognizing an unhelpful thought is only step one. Step two is creating an alternative, more neutral thought. Some professionals encourage clients to reframe an unhelpful thought with a positive thought, which is an incredible goal — but oftentimes really challenging.
If one’s automatic thought is “I’m worthless,” reframing that to, “I am worthy” really feels like a stretch for some, but it’s important to still try something. Try starting with a neutral reframe, something that is a little bit less negative and most importantly something believable or something that you can at least buy into a tiny bit.
- “I can’t wear this bathing suit, it makes me look ugly.” → “I am feeling insecure right now, and I know that this feeling won’t last forever.”
- “I hate how my legs look in shorts.” → “I can appreciate my legs for walking.”
- “I wish my arms were more toned.” → “I’m having a difficult day, and I know that my loved ones love me for me and don’t care what my arms look like.”
This is hard and feels foreign at first because it requires breaking old habits. Moving thoughts from negative to neutral, rather than focusing on negative to positive, can be a powerful step. As most things in life, practice makes perfect. Write it out, ask a loved one to practice together, and remember this doesn’t have to be perfect — it just has to be believable to you.
This was a long one, with a lot of information, so here are the sparknotes:
Step 1: Recognize negative thoughts.
Step 2: Identify the twisted lesson or message that this thought is telling you.
Step 3: Reframe that negative thought in a more neutral way.
Step 4: Be gentle with yourself, and keep practicing!