What do you do when you feel “stuck”?
When you are facing a marriage breakdown or are going through custody battles, it can feel like there’s no way out and no light at the end of the tunnel. Life can be hard, and you can’t think your way out of every problem—but you can learn to think more clearly and positively. And that makes it much easier to move through situational distress and find solutions to your problems!
How do our thoughts get stuck in the first place?
The world is a complicated place. Our lives are always changing. We encounter new situations that our cave-dwelling ancestors never had to deal with—taxes, dating, divorce work, driving… it’s all a lot to process.
Our brains take a lot of shortcuts. Most of the time, our mental shortcuts do a good job of helping us cope with life without getting overwhelmed by all the details. In fact, they work so well that we usually don’t even notice them.
But sometimes, we get stuck. The shortcuts that used to help us start to hold us back. We start to feel trapped in our negative thinking. We might feel anxious or depressed or have trouble solving our problems.
One example of a mental shortcut is overgeneralizing. Your brain relies on past experience to predict the future. If you failed at something on your first try, you might automatically assume that you will never succeed. The truth is that most of the time, we suck at new things the first time we try them. Trying again anyway is how we experience the satisfaction and pride that come from learning and growing—but it’s hard to remember that when your brain is trying to protect you from being disappointed or embarrassed.
Breaking free of thinking traps
Each of us is unique, and so are our thoughts. But people do tend to get stuck in similar patterns of thinking. These patterns are called thinking traps. Everyone gets caught in these traps sometimes—but with some help, you can learn to break free of them!
Breaking free of thinking traps is all about reframing your thoughts. When you reframe a thought, you look for new ways to think about the thing that’s bothering you. It takes practice to learn how to reframe your thoughts. But with time, you can learn to not only think more positively, but to actually change the things you believe about yourself. While you’re learning to reframe your thoughts, keep a couple things in mind:
Common thinking traps
Below are some common thinking traps, with examples and strategies for getting unstuck:
Filtering is when you ignore anything that contradicts what you already believe to be true. If you think, “no one ever appreciates me,” you might ignore all the times people have expressed appreciation for you (even if it’s not as often as you like). If you think, “I’m a failure,” you might think that everything bad that happens is your fault—while everything good that happens is just a fluke.
Black-and-white thinking is when you only see the most extreme possibilities: “Either I’m the best, or I’m the worst.” “I’m either going to become famous, or I’m a nobody.” “If I don’t get an A+, I might as well have gotten an F.”
Jumping to conclusions is when you skip steps in your logic. You might try mind-reading—guessing what other people are thinking without really knowing. You might take things personally when they really have nothing to do with you. When you catastrophize, you focus on the worst possible outcome and convince yourself that it will definitely happen.
Should” statements involve putting pressure on yourself to act in a certain way.
Tunnel vision is when you focus on just one thing and ignore everything else. When you feel bad now, it’s easy to feel like things have always been this way—and they always will be. It’s also easy to forget that your actions have long-term consequences.
Talk it out
Talking to a friend or family member can be helpful. Make sure to find someone who can give you constructive feedback in a positive, caring way. You want them to help you reframe your thoughts without invalidating your feelings.
Parents Beyond Breakup recognises that unfortunately not all of us have family and friends we can reach out to. Having a safe and supportive environment where you can express yourself without fear of judgment can be a mitigating factor in bringing about positive thought processes. If you or a family member is suffering with negative thought spirals due to family breakdown, please call our helpline 1300 853 437 or our website for peer support groups near you parentsbeyondbreakup.com/groups