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The Most Useful Thing My Psychologist Taught Me in Therapy

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One of the greatest bits of information I ever learned from a psychologist was the concept of “feedback loops.” I’m going to talk about this, today.

When the brain gets used to feeling a certain way, it starts going there more and more, because it’s familiar and easy to get to. This is what’s called a “negative feedback loop.” One of the most common types of negative feedback loop is suicidal ideation, where your brain incessantly thinks about dying, even when you have no plan and no desire to follow through. This happens because, at some stage, you were there frequently, and your brain got used to it.

What I’m trying to say here is if you’ve been suicidal a lot in the past, and you can’t understand why you can’t get rid of those thoughts today, this may be why. It’s not a failure on your part, whatsoever. You are likely in a negative feedback loop. It’s treating your thoughts like clothes in a dryer: they’re going round and round and round.

Next step: What do we do about it? We teach ourselves it’s an automatic process, and we tell ourselves it’s OK to accept these thoughts. Acceptance doesn’t always mean we like something; it just means we accept it is what it is, and we don’t allow it power over ourselves. Painful, ruminating thoughts are real, but they are thoughts — and you don’t have to act on them. They go from sitting in the driver’s seat of your life, to sitting in the backseat, or — better yet — crammed into the boot!

This process takes time. Feedback loops are created over time, and they are broken over time. But they can be broken. And even if they’re not? They can be lived with, without them incessantly distressing us. How do I know? Because I have them, too.

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Thinkstock photo via shironosov.

Originally published: September 12, 2017
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