I’ve read an interesting thought in Kabat-Zinn‘s book “The Mindful Way through Depression: Freeing Yourself from Chronic Unhappiness“. He is writing about the mechanisms of depression, that our problem-solving capabilities can prove ineffective, or rather counter-productive when dealing with feelings, especially with negative feelings. Because the more we ruminate – trying to stop an otherwise fleeting feeling – the bigger problem we generate for ourselves. This hit me as a revelation because this is exactly what I am doing very often. I am trying to figure out and solve things, and keep ruminating about as if there was a rational solution for them.
That’s what my therapist is asked me to do lately: to identify usual negative thoughts and the feelings they generate. Just a short list of the most common ones:
- I am sick, I have some serious health problem: I am dizzy, I feel weak, I am going to faint, my heart is going to stop
- My stomach is aching so I must have some kind of cancer
- I hate being around people, I can’t stand it, I am going to faint the next time around them
- I just can’t take it anymore
- There is something fundamentally wrong with me
- I have never really been happy, and I will certainly never be
- My life is empty and meaningless
- I’d like to disappear from Earth
- Well, most of these thoughts come automatically to me time and again, and most of them are really hard to “figure out” and “solve”.
But on the other hand, traditional rational problem-solving thinking can work very well in certain situations, even if it is about feelings. The hardest thing is, of course, differentiating between problems where rational problem-solving is useful, and where it is counter-productive. Maybe the two categories are fleeting feelings that don’t need any solution, and “chronic” thoughts and feelings. I don’t really know.
For example, when I feel worthless, it must only be a fleeting feeling, because usually, I feel worthy. So this is a feeling that doesn’t need much thinking and “solving”, it just needs to be recognized, felt, accepted, and let go, knowing it is just temporary. On the other hand, if I can’t find joy in my work, or if I am unsatisfied in my love relationship, many times rational thinking and problem-solving can help, figuring out what I am missing, what I really need, then look for a new job or a new relationship to make my life happier. But it is really difficult to see when a solution is needed, and when not.