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Tolerating A Difficult Thought


Maybe there’s some big thing that you know that you need to do.

Maybe it’s changing your job, leaving home, separating from your mate or stopping your drinking. This thing feels so huge, dangerous, and consequential that you can’t get anywhere near tackling it. You have the thought “I hate my job!”, bite your lip, dismiss the thought, and get back to work. So it goes.

The habit to learn is to tolerate the thought for more than a split second. Just that. Just practice tolerating a thought like “I need to begin dating again” or “I need a divorce” or “I need a new line of work.” Notice the barrage of thoughts and feelings that assault you as you try to maintain that thought and implore yourself to stay with the process.

When you try to hold a thought like “I need a divorce!” you’re likely to be assaulted by “If I leave him I’ll suddenly be poor!” and “I’ve never worked in my life” and “I’ll feel like such a failure!” and “Children of divorce have so many problems!” and “What will I say to my priest!” and “My parents will give me such a look when I tell them” and “I’ll need a job!” and more. Try not to shut down. Try to keep tolerating the thought “I need a divorce!”

It may feel horribly hard.

So many consequences flood your mind. But in order to make the changes that you need to make the first step is tolerating thoughts. Don’t worry about “doing anything” with the thoughts and feelings that flood you as you try to stay with a given difficult thought. You don’t have to dispute them, answer them, handle them, accept them, or anything. You just have to survive them. You just have to tolerate them.

The activity of tolerating them creates calmness and an opening. You begin to see that you can survive the thoughts and feelings that come with thinking difficult thoughts. Decisions and action steps may come next. Whether or not they come, this is nevertheless the habit to learn: tolerating a difficult thought.

Big change is hard and trying to think about big change may be even harder. Bringing up difficult thoughts creates whirlwinds and hurricanes. Learn how to bravely weather those storms. In that way you give yourself a better chance to make changes likely to improve your emotional health.

Read more posts by Eric Maisel, Ph.D., a JenningsWire blogger.


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