“Can Do” vs. “Oh, No!” Attitudes

Does thinking about your pain make it worse? Whether that pain is emotional, or physical?

Thinking about your pain comes under the category of worrying. Another word for worrying is “ruminating.”

Thinking about negative events means one of two things. One is to rationally plan or brainstorm solutions. The other is simply to think about how negative these things are. On the surface, it may seem there’s no difference. In either case, “I’m simply thinking about what bothers me.”

But there’s a world of difference. Replaying negative events or concerns, over and over again, is kind of like wandering around in the dark without a flashlight, and with no idea of where you’re going. If you become distressed, or negative, when doing such a thing, there should be little surprise.

But rational planning rests on the premise that “I can and will do something to change or curb concern about what’s bothering me.”

Think of it as the difference between a “can do” attitude and an “oh, no!” attitude.

Aimless worrying, just like aimless wandering in the dark, will get you nowhere. A lot of people drawn to seek psychological counseling are already in this mode. Without realizing it, they invite the psychotherapist into continuing this aimless wandering with them. The psychotherapist’s job is to listen and provide empathy, but also to start asking questions to help get the person out of the worry mode and into the solution/perspective mode.

Questions you can ask yourself to interrupt the worrying process:

Have I been through something like this before? What did I do? Did anything help, at least a little?

Who else that I know of (or even read about) has been through something similar? What did they do, and how might that apply to me?

How long do I think this problem will last before it plays out, even if I do little or nothing?

Who might have ideas on what I can do to resolve this problem?

Make a list of as many possible solutions I can think of. Ask others to help me add to the list. Knock off one item at a time in an attempt to resolve this issue.

It’s not enough to simply tell yourself, or have someone tell you, ‘Don’t worry.’ While this advice may be rational on the surface, it usually makes things worse and intensifies the worrying. The reason is that this advice gives you no constructive alternative.

Worrying is a symptom. It’s a byproduct of the fact that you’re not asking yourself constructive questions, and you’re not writing down or putting into action constructive, hypothetical solutions. Worrying is a symptom of being off track.

When you’re concerned about something, it’s hard to come up with constructive solutions. This is part of the reason for consulting others who are interested, able and have something constructive to offer. A lot of it is training yourself to ask good questions. Above are a few examples, but many others are possible. The key is to stop wandering in the dark without a flashlight, which is all that worrying is, and start focusing on areas where you can possibly engineer some change.

Once you’ve done this, you’re entitled to focus on other things. It’s not that you merely ‘stop worrying.’ You’ve done all you can, you acknowledge that the thing you’re worried about—physical pain, or whatever it is—is not the only relevant aspect of life.

I’ve seen people handle pain differently. Some acknowledge its importance but refuse to dwell on it. Dwelling on it is giving in to the idea that ‘the pain is all there is.’ But that’s almost never the case.

Life is a lot of things. Pain cannot be ignored or repressed, but it cannot be made the most important or all-important thing, either. If you allow that to happen, your mental state will never be what it might or should have been.

Emotional pain, in particular, is usually an indication that you’re in error or off course. Instead of worrying about the fact you’re suffering, why not attempt to find out your errors and make constructive corrections? If asking for help, that’s the kind of help to seek.


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