We obviously don’t want our mind to jitter like a hyperactive oscillator, especially when our thoughts are tainted by anger, self-doubt, self-pity, bitterness, and defensiveness. It’s not a happy fate to become a worrywart, nervous wreck, or angry ogre.
When we become preoccupied with negative thoughts, our unconscious mind is the dynamo driving the process. In our unconscious, we have unresolved emotions from childhood that involve feeling helpless, deprived, refused, criticized, and rejected. We’re inclined if not compelled to experience ourselves and our place in the world in ways that recycle and replay such unresolved emotions.
Incessant negative thinking accompanies these unresolved emotions. This thinking often constitutes inner dialogue that tries to make sense of what we’re feeling. Often our thoughts are defending us from, or covering up, a conscious recognition of our own unconscious determination or willingness to experience our daily situations and circumstances through these unresolved negative emotions.
Almost everyone has intrusive, disconcerting thoughts at times, and these thoughts are often accompanied by anxiety and fear. Yet people might not realize they’re engaged in incessant negative thinking. Their dire considerations and grim speculations feel to them like normal mental processing. Their mind can be humming a low discordant tune they hardly notice, such as when they constantly feel that something has to be attended to, or when they dwell on some situation that they feel helpless to fix or improve upon, or when they’re preoccupied with the sense that some important benefit is missing from their life.
These are all passive experiences, in the sense that we let this negativity persist with no thought to stopping it or no idea how to stop it. If we don’t recognize our passivity, we’ll go on believing that everything’s normal, that our underlying disquietude is just the way life is and the way we are meant to be.
With incessant thinking, a person might be brooding about having no friends (even when he has plenty), dwelling on the feeling that he should be doing more productive work, emphasizing in his mind feelings of fatigue or futility, or berating himself for allegedly being defective or a disappoint to himself and others. Such thinking produces an experience of disconnect from self and others, and it has its origins in inner passivity.
We can bring this inner passivity into focus. As one example, a frequent reaction to inner passivity is anger, which itself can produce a “bounty” of negative thoughts. A person might generate angry thoughts related to a sense of victimization. We can drop the anger and the accompanying negative thoughts once we understand how the anger is serving as a defense. The defense, unrecognized by our conscious mind, produces a “justification” for the anger, along these lines: “I’m not looking for the passive feeling of being at the mercy of the insensitivity or malice of others. Look at how angry I am that I’m being mistreated and misunderstood.”
At some point, this anger can easily turn against oneself, in the form of negative thinking originating from the inner critic that berates oneself for, among other things, allegedly making bad choices, being socially inept, or for being a failure or loser.
People interpret hundreds if not thousands of everyday situations through a painful, emotionally embellished sense of helplessness. Once again, inner passivity is the primary villain.
Sometimes the negative thinking is frightening and gruesome. A reader wrote to say:
I sometimes obsess about suicide. When I had my first panic attack, I went to a therapist, and he asked me if I was suicidal. I replied, “No, that’s not me at all.” He then told me, “Well, people don’t choose to be anorexic or suicidal. It just happens!”
Since then, I’ve had a recurring feeling that one day I WILL be suicidal, or I will feel compelled to revert to suicide. My thoughts scare me because I don’t know if they’re just obsessions or, at times, actual suicidal thoughts … I’m letting these thoughts trap me. Suicide is not an option for me, but I don’t know how to get out of this irrational fear.
How do I officially stop fearing this, while also knowing that I will not commit suicide? I seem to have the “doubt disease.” I doubt everything, even myself. Food for thought: I once asked my mother how I behaved as a child. She replied, “You were great and you played with any toy that was given to you. The only thing is that you were very scared of everything.”
This person (let’s name him Jacob) needs self-knowledge concerning the source of his fears and his incessant, even obsessive, thinking. Both his fears and incessant thinking are symptoms of a deeper issue, and both also serve as defenses covering up that deeper issue, namely inner passivity.
Jacob is emotionally attached to a passive sense of himself. Figuratively, his psyche is tilted to the passive side, away from the naturally assertive or aggressive side. This tilt produces the emotional conviction that he’s incapable of stemming his fears and exercising power or self-regulation over his mind. The fear and obsessive thinking serve as defenses that go like this: “I’m not attached to the passive feeling of being unable to regulate my thoughts and behaviors. I’m not identified with that inner weakness. I want to stop those thoughts. Look at how fearful I am that I can’t stop them.”
When he becomes fearful that he will one day become suicidal, he is feeling emotionally weak in the present moment. That weakness is an experience of inner passivity. In other words, in that moment when he’s fearful of becoming suicidal at some point in the future, he’s entertaining or embracing the feeling that he’ll be helpless or powerless at that future time to keep himself safe from suicidal impulses. Like a worrier, he’s using the future as a way to suffer in the present.
Why would he do this? It defies common sense. Indeed, it’s all quite irrational, yet this manner of thinking is quite common in the human psyche. In Jacob’s case, he’s determined to experience himself and the world through inner passivity. Keep in mind, inner passivity is an emotional attachment, an old familiar identification, that causes us to know our self in ways that short-circuit our potential. It derives from the fear and helplessness that accompany childhood development, and in adults it can remain as their emotional default position.
Even though Jacob is not feeling suicidal in the present moment (he fears, as he said, “one day I WILL be suicidal”), he can feel intensely passive in the present moment by fixating on that grim speculation and its accompanying negative thoughts. Unwittingly, he has made the choice, in that moment, to suffer with that painful sense of weakness and helplessness. It is his willingness to experience himself passively that he needs to begin to become aware of. He needs to “own” his unconscious wish or choice to suffer in this way, which means he needs to take responsibility for the unconscious choice he has been making to experience himself through passive feelings.
I would say to Jacob, “Learn about the passive side of your psyche so that, in the moment when suicidal thoughts arise, or the fear of becoming suicidal frightens you, you understand exactly what’s happening. You become aware of how strong the pull is to the passive side and how ready you are to identify with yourself through that passivity. You begin to understand that your fear arises from inner passivity and that you are just using the idea of possibly committing suicide (supposedly at some time in the future) as a means to experience this passivity, right in the here-and-now, through your obsessive thinking. If you were to acquire this awareness, your suicidal thoughts would likely soon cease to arise.”
I might also say to him, “You said you doubt everything, even yourself. Indeed, self-doubt is one of the primary symptoms of inner passivity. Your mother told you that, as a child, you were ‘very scared of everything.’ This indicates that you possibly have more passivity in your psyche than does the average person. Still, you can likely break free of it, providing you see clearly what you’re dealing with.
“Breaking free of inner passivity involves seeing the passivity in all the everyday ways in which it intrudes into your life. If you read over the many posts on this website, you’ll understand how inner passivity is a major influence in many emotional and behavioral problems. Reading about it will help you to begin to identify the intrusions of inner passivity in your own life. Again, the more clearly you see it in yourself, the better the chances you’ll be able to shift away from it toward a stronger sense of self.”
Many of us are inwardly passive to an inner authority, a kind of commander-in-chief, that masquerades as our true center, even as our benevolent conscience, and as the master of our personality. This is a misleading sense of self. Under its influence, we experience ourselves through passive, mindless reactions to an inner voice or its derivative thoughts that set our marching orders. Obsessive or incessant negative thinking, or even just a rigid identification with one’s mind, can be a direct reaction to this inner subjugation, which is related to our failure to connect with our authentic self.
Insight and daily practices are solutions to incessant negative thinking. It’s important, by way of insight, to distinguish between the actual physical helplessness of being unable, at any given moment, to fix some work or relationship difficulty versus one’s unconscious willingness to experience an emotionally embellished sense of helplessness that is layered on top of the actual helplessness. Recognize and accept the reality of actual helplessness; at the same time, recognize the temptation to make matters worse by plunging into inner passivity, thereby emotionally embellishing one’s sense of helplessness. Success in doing this calms the mind and eliminates noxious inner chatter.
One practice involves checking in with yourself as quickly as possible when awakening in the morning. Start the day by observing your thoughts to determine whether they have a passive and negative bias. If your thoughts are passive and unpleasant, just recognize this, and then tell yourself that you’ll do your best to minimize the passive influence throughout the day. If it’s at all possible, you can try in that moment to connect with yourself through a sense of (or a belief in) your goodness and integrity. To whatever degree you can, try to like yourself and be your own best friend. Appreciate your humanity, respect your existence. At the same time, recognize the strong pull to the negative, passive side where you are still prepared to identify with a weak, unworthy sense of self.
With this morning practice, the intention is to take charge of your thoughts, bring healthy self-regulation into play, and set a good tone for the day. You’re claiming your autonomy over your mind, thereby indicating your determination to regulate your thoughts for that day and to keep them out of mischief.
This practice might be difficult for you, which is okay. Let it go. But look for another daily practice that has you making some effort to keep an eye on your inner passivity.
Throughout the day, watch what you’re thinking, and then catch the passivity in it. Don’t be upset about having this weakness. It’s part of our humanity—it is what it is. Watch for how your inner critic will take advantage of your inner passivity in order to harass and torment you with unkind, usually irrational, negative allegations.
You don’t have to try to make your thoughts agreeable and harmonious. That will happen on its own once you are freeing yourself from the influence of inner passivity. This is how you can stop incessant negative thoughts that are the toxic spillways of our passive side.