A Dangerous Idea: ‘Bury Bad Thoughts to Boost Mental Health’

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From Sylvie Rouhani/CPTSD Foundation: “An article caught my eye the other week from the German Press Agency, ‘one of the world’s leading independent news agencies.’ The headline reads: ‘Bury bad thoughts to boost mental health, Cambridge team suggests.’ [However,] experts in trauma-informed and compassion-based therapy models encourage us to do the opposite.

The article goes on as follows: ‘People who carry negative thoughts and experiences are sometimes better off suppressing them rather than opening up, going by tests done by University of Cambridge scientists.

‘The team said their work could turn out to be a refutation of the “commonly-held belief” that brushing things under the carpet and moving on “is bad for our mental health”’ . . .

Unfortunately, [with] the advice to distract ourselves from inner turmoil, in New Age circles, religious groups, and in some therapeutic settings, we are bombarded with tips to avoid, to reject, to minimise emotional distress and deep-seated trauma. Below are some of the most popular platitudes victims and survivors of childhood trauma hear most of the time.

  • ‘Did you try and read a book? Take a bath? Go for a walk?’
  • ‘Be grateful.’
  • ‘Happiness is a choice!’
  • ‘It is all in the past. Leave it there.’
  • ‘Think positive.’
  • ‘Reject the negativity.’

What we ignore, shut out of our minds, will always bubble up to the surface sooner or later in ways that could be hurtful for ourselves and others. It will show as impulsive behaviour and thoughts . . .

[An] example from my own experience: for years, I tried to be positive, cheerful, and grateful. I tried to forget, tried to put it all behind, I chose happiness, so why wasn’t I happy? I just thought I was doing something wrong. Maybe I was damaged, never able to recover. In 2021, I felt suicidal most of the year. With the support of a caring and respectful therapist, I recognised my suicidal feelings as emotional flashbacks from the first years of my life. Sadly, rejected and unloved, as I was, I didn’t have any desire to live. I felt no joy. When I finally stopped pretending to be happy and positive and started to accept myself as I was, in total despair, was I able to feel joy and [find] the desire to live.

On a deeper level, an inner part of me (a very young part of me) felt so rejected, so scared, so unwanted (and she really was), that she didn’t want to be alive. She didn’t see the point of her own existence. When I heard the inner voice saying: ‘I want to die!,’ the inner dialogue turned from: ‘Oh don’t feel like that! You have so many things to be grateful for! Try this, this, or that. Try harder!’ or ‘What the f— is wrong with you?’ to ‘I hear you: you don’t want to be alive. You are hurting. I am sorry,’ and I asked: ‘What do you need? How can I best support you, right now?’ Her answer was: ‘Please, don’t leave me. Please, stay with me! Please, LOVE ME.’ So, through meditations, and more inner dialogues, I made her feel safe, loved, and wanted. Now, she experiences joy and a love for life.

This process of responding compassionately to my inner parts, and these experiences, were a gradual process. And it still is an ongoing process. I still have days when some inner parts feel futility (What is the point?) or petrified or doubtful. There are no easy, quick fixes on a journey of recovery from childhood trauma. Patience is important.”

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