Five recurring, intrusive thoughts that halt my happiness

Real talk this week. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for a few months now just because I thought it might be a good idea. Initially, I sought help because I couldn’t stop living inside my head when I knew that the present moment was where I wanted (and needed) to be. Compulsive thoughts like “What are you doing with your life?” and “Shouldn’t you be more successful?” kept recurring throughout the day. The thoughts were debilitating and preventing me from being a productive person. I was THINKING and not DOING. A few months of therapy have helped me realize that I’m not alone with these intrusive thoughts—that nearly everyone has them—and, more importantly, it is something I can turn off so long as I notice what’s happening. This week, I thought I’d share some of my intrusive thoughts with you and how I struggle to keep them from taking complete control of my life. You have them too, right? 

“You, sir, are a LOSER.”
I adhere to a completely irrational belief that I am a total loser in every facet of my life, which is both irrational and just untrue. I have several good jobs and a beautiful girlfriend, and yet, I find myself reaching for more. The problem is I don’t know what it is I’m supposed to aspire to other than this. That uncertainty, in my mind at least, is why I feel substandard or inferior. I’ve found the more I work to live in the present moment, the more sporadic and intense these feelings of “loser” are. Reality is a bitch sometimes. 

“Everybody thinks you’re weird.”
I worry that people think I’m a bit weirder than everybody else, but I also don’t do anything in my private or public life to suggest that I want to be anything but. This is the very definition of irrational thinking. I have so much anxiety that people might think I’m acting weird that I can’t do anything but act weird. The desire to put forth to the world the “real me” is a daily struggle. What if the “real me” sucks? Maybe I should embrace my awkward weirdness? I think as long as people don’t associate me with Cooky from "The Bozo Show," everything will be OK.

“You just aren’t smart enough to do anything worthwhile.” 
I’ve read books and attended college, but my mind tells me that I’m not as smart as I pretend to be. This thought usually comes to the foreground when I forget to do something like take out the trash or neglect to remember to register my car tags. I’ve always thought that I should learn the simple things in life and then, gradually, expand my knowledge to the arts, music and literature. Whenever I forget something simple, I’m ridiculously hard on myself. Why is this? This article from Psychology Today suggests there are five basic payoffs for removing the “ego” from your mind. Most importantly, the idea that we can “avoid failure” is a real possibility if there isn’t fear involved in our actions. 

“Why would someone love you?” 
Always negative. I sometimes feel like Debbie Downer from the "Saturday Night Live" sketch. No matter how innocent a conversation topic or action, I can somehow find the only possible negative aspect of it and latch on like a pit bull. Of course I’m lovable. But I have a hard time seeing past my belly or that slight blemish on the right side of my nose. The crux of the problem is that I always have a problem. I can’t fathom in my mind how someone would want to love someone like me, and my mind certainly isn’t helping. I’m lucky in my life to have people who will tell me when I need to stop thinking and just hug the living hell out of me. 

“People can tell you’re uncomfortable.”
I’ve always been the type of person that felt uncomfortable being myself in social situations. This is why I always prefer to have my “media” hat on at concerts and public events. It gives me a role to play while I enjoy whatever it is I’m doing. But if for some reason, when I can’t wear a proverbial “hat,” that awkward, nervous feeling amplifies. A character in “The Pale King” by the late David Foster Wallace suffers from “the sweats”: a cycle of nervous sweating that begins when you think about sweating and continues to escalate as the mind notices the sweating. It’s a terrible thing. I always think, “If I could just not sweat this time ...” which, of course, begins the sweating.

You can contact Sean Phipps via email and Twitter with comments and questions. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not or its employees.

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