To read all posts in this series from the beginning, click here.
Last month I began this series of posts by writing about the addictive nature of negative thinking, which can make our lives unmanageable. As with any addiction, the first and hardest step is admitting there’s a problem. What comes next in a 12-step recovery program is to believe that a power greater than ourselves can “restore us to sanity.” The concept of sanity comes bundled with some thorny social constructs, so I’ll leave it aside for the moment and talk about belief.
In this context, belief doesn’t require professing faith in a particular church or creed; it has more to do with acknowledging that we don’t know all the answers and that we can’t do everything ourselves. The human ego often stubbornly insists on trying to do things without help. While that may be understandable when we’re four years old and struggling to master shoelace-tying, it’s not the most useful way to go through life as an adult in our complicated modern world.
Sometimes we just need to recognize that there are things we can’t handle on our own. We shouldn’t feel that it is a weakness to ask for help, whether we are seeking divine guidance or simply calling a friend when we’re feeling down. And when we have the attitude that nothing ever gets done unless we do it ourselves, we end up depriving ourselves of help that we might otherwise have gotten, and struggling under heavy burdens that we didn’t actually have to carry alone.
Why are we often so unwilling to look outside ourselves for help? I’d say that a large part of it is fear. We may try to convince ourselves that we are tough and don’t need any help, or that whatever help we might get wouldn’t be very useful anyway; but underneath that bravado, we’re afraid of showing trust and then finding that it didn’t work out. Not believing that we’ll get any help is a defense mechanism to protect against the risk of asking and then being rejected or otherwise hurt.
Now, back to the topic of sanity. It has both a subjective dimension (whether or not we feel in control of our thoughts) and an objective dimension (whether or not our society pegs us as having a mental disorder). Because of the stigma associated with the latter, which has persisted even into a modern era that otherwise embraces diversity, many of us are reluctant to describe ourselves as needing to be restored to sanity. And considering how much negativity our culture deems acceptable and normal in the mass media and other places, going through life with gloomy thoughts does not, in itself, fall outside the range of what is currently regarded as normal.
Put another way, having negative thoughts burdening our minds probably is not going to result in being diagnosed with a mental disorder, unless we become overwhelmed with so much depression and anxiety that it interferes with our daily functioning. But even if we don’t reach that point, negative patterns of thinking can leave us feeling out of control. So I would say that taking action to banish such thoughts is likely to improve our sanity, regardless of whether anything in our thought patterns might amount to a clinically diagnosable condition.