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Lara Noik elaborates on why understanding the power of thought is so important to avoid mind traps.
I have so much support, I should be grateful. I will always see myself as a cancer patient. I will never be the same again. ‘Shoulds, always and nevers’ are a few examples of what therapists call mind traps. Otherwise known as cognitive distortions, mind traps refer to irrational thought patterns that we all experience. Theyare often extremely self-critical, judgemental, and unhelpful to our emotional well-being. They are also mostly untrue.
Navigating a cancer journey is hard, whatever stage you find yourself in. Sometimes it’s our own thoughts that become one of our biggest adversaries. Problem is, we tend to believe that what we think is absolutely true, when in fact our thoughts are just that…thoughts. The fact that they come from inside us makes them seem so believable that we can fall captive to them quickly.
Identifying mind traps
Let’s look at a few examples of mind traps and how you can identify them in your lives.
Fortune-telling and mindreading
Unless you really do have these gifts, nobody can tell the future or see inside other people’s minds. You don’t know what the woman at the counter thinks about your shaven head or whether your boss is actually irritated by all the time you’re taking off. You also don’t know what the future will bring,what new medications may be available and how you may react in any given situation. All you have is your perception of the present moment, but you become the director of your own make-believe movies and add judgment and commentary where none exists. You behave as if your assumptions are all facts.
Disqualifying the positive
It’s easy to see the negative when you have cancer. At times, it can feel like you’re drowning in your medications, doctors’ appointments, fatigue, and nausea. You’re so busy trying to stay afloat, you can allow the positive aspects of our lives (be it a warm bed, an excellent medical team, a feisty support group or a good friend) to be washed out of view, despite still being present and available to you. The pain and darkness are real; I don’t for a minute want to minimise that. Often, though, there is also so much good around you. You just need to consciously open your eyes to it.
I should be feeling better by now. I should have more energy for my children, should be grateful for the support of family, and so on. ‘Shoulding’ yourself isn’t a good idea. The judgmental nature of this type of thought is unhelpful and can leave you feeling inadequate. They make you feel bad, not only about your situation but about yourself as well. How about accepting whatever it is that you’re feeling instead, without judgment? Self-love and acknowledgment serve as the perfect antidotes to this mind trap.
You may repeatedly minimise or underestimate your ability to cope and just how resilient you are. I often ask clients, if someone had tapped them on the shoulder a year ago and told them what was in store, would they have thought that they would have been able to manage at all? The answer is usually an adamant ‘No’. Yet here you are. We don’t know how strong we are until we know how strong we are. It’s often life’s adversities that are the greatest teachers in this respect.
Escaping your mind traps
Jamie Smart, author of the bestselling self-help book Clarity, says that the first step to getting out of any trap is to realise that you’re in one in the first place. You don’t necessarily have to change your thoughts. The key is understanding that what feels like a very real view of your life may not be true at all. It may just be a transient thought, a passing cloud, a mind trap. Once you see it for what it is, it ceases to have that power over us, leaving us freer, wiser, and, most importantly, kinder to ourselves.
MEET THE EXPERT – Lara Noik
Lara Noik is a social worker in private practice and a cancer survivor. She has a special interest in the fields of mental health, resilience, and relationship work. She believes in the innate resilience that exists within each human being and spends her time counselling individuals, couples, and groups from this standpoint.
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