Denying the Battle: Retraining Your Brain Away from Habitual Anger and Depression

Shifu

“The true nature of a man is determined in the battle between his conscious mind and his subconscious. The evil of my subconscious is too strong to resist. The only way to win is to deny it battle.”

– Shifu, Stargate SG-1 Episode “Absolute Power”

Some emotional pathways get hardened and ingrained in us, until they have enough power that they can’t be resisted once they start. The only way to stop them is to give them up completely–to learn to recognize the signposts and map entire new pathways around them.

I am thinking of habitual anger, blame, and depression. They are so self-reinforcing and full of distorted thinking that to resist them once they start is futile. To try to control anger, or cheer up depression, is fighting an un-winnable battle. The only way to win is to reject the entire thought-habit-tangle and ingrain a new one in its place. You must decide to have absolute allegiance to the new thought pattern/habit because you know it is healthier and better for you and the old thoughts are distorted and create pain. Otherwise it will be a chronic battle.

It’s like giving up alcohol. Certain painful thought patterns become addictive. You have to quit them. You can’t reason with an addiction. You don’t drink anything, because you know that once you start it is all over. Rage becomes infinitely harder to stop once you have that first adrenaline rush and your mind starts justifying itself. You have to deny it battle from the get-go.

I think the NVC “warning sign” emotions that signal you are out of touch with your needs–anger, depression, shame, and guilt–can all become addictive. There is both a neuro-chemical component and a thought-distortion component, so they run in a self-reinforcing loop, keeping you miserable.

You can make a life raft of thoughts you absolutely know are true–based on healthy thinking–and give them unquestioning attention when you start going into murky waters. Over time, the raft grows larger than the water and that’s your new brain.

The murk, and potential for murk, doesn’t disappear completely (an alcoholic is always an alcoholic). But if you are diligent, you can rewire a large amount of your brain so you just don’t go to that territory on a regular basis anymore. Stress and transitions can cause relapses and then you have to reconstruct the life-raft and be diligent again for awhile.

I did this process with depression a few years ago. It’s back on my mind because I am realizing that my mind has other distorted thought-tangles, around anger and shame, that I need to apply this process to.

The process, roughly:

  1. The self-realization moment where you see that your mind has been having the same distorted thought over and over and that’s the real problem.
  2. Creating your new thought pattern, based on what a healthy psyche thinks to itself.
  3. Noticing each and every time you head down the distorted-thought tunnel and redirecting yourself immediately and without debate to the new thought pattern.

It works. It’s hard though. It’s mental ninja training.

Do you need a therapist?

It helps.

Therapists act as a mirror, allowing you to see yourself more clearly.┬áTherapy helps you bring things to consciousness. Being a DIY person who is cheap and also self-reliant, I always think I can do this by myself. I’ll just journal more! But it turns out my mind is half-asleep just like everyone else’s and sometimes I need to be in a room with someone else witnessing my crazy before I really see it. At the very least it speeds the process up. And how long do you want to be miserable?

It’s nearly impossible to have that self-realization point unless there is someone there that you are telling your thoughts to, who acts as a mirror. Then you start to see, “OH, these thoughts sound crazy.” Like, it might not occur to you that “I have to work like a crazy mo-fo to earn my place in the Universe” is a crazy thought unless you say it out loud. Before you say it, it’s subconscious. That’s the real point.

Therapy also helps with #2, if you didn’t have modeling for what it’s like to believe in yourself or trust people, for example. Like, what does a healthy psyche think anyway? Therapists know these things. (Well, some of them do anyway.)

The last one though – that’s all up to you. Go be a ninja.

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