Assessing Thought Content: Part 1
When a thought is just a thought, and when a thought becomes problematic
One thing that makes us unique as a species is our ability to have thoughts. We can think about saying something without actually voicing that thought. Most animals experience an instinct and act upon it accordingly. Our internal thought process allows us to contemplate our actions before we commit to a course of behavior, as well as to consider and make sense of the world around us. This gives us freedom to act in a way that is compliant with the expectations of our society. In addition, the ability to inhibit what we say and leave our thoughts within our heads protects us from a variety of adverse consequences.
There are a host of intellectuals that have opined about the nature of thoughts. I won’t bore you with a synopsis of all of their musings, but I’ll briefly mention a few popular ideas. One idea is that thoughts are a manifestation of our core/essential beliefs about our-self, others, and the world around us. Thus, if I have a belief that the world is safe, my thoughts will be less fearful of novel situations in my environment. In contrast, if I believe the world is not safe, then I am more likely to have fearful thoughts related to new situations outside of my comfort zone. The same goes for our self-beliefs. If I believe I am a bad person, I will probably have thoughts that describe just how bad I am. If I believe I am a good person, I am more likely to have thoughts that describe myself positively. This correlation between core beliefs and subsequent thoughts is the foundation of cognitive-behavioral ideology.
Other theorists have described thoughts as an adaptive function of our survival-oriented body. In other words, we are constantly trying to interpret our surroundings and experience with other people and things. Thoughts allows us to decipher if something or someone is a threat to our survival. And given that we tend to live in large groups of people, thoughts allow us the time to think about threat-level before we act and potentially alienate ourselves from our community.
Then, my favorite theory, is that most thoughts are random, and the majority of the time mean absolutely nothing. For example, I can think right now that I am a giraffe. I know that I am not a giraffe, and I do not possess a core belief that I am some sort of long-necked animal. But I am capable of having a thought that is not representative of my core beliefs or my need to survive. Thus, thoughts can just be random and meaningless. Although it can be taboo to discuss certain thoughts amongst others, out of fear of being judged or ostracized, most of us have thoughts that others would be horrified by if we were to voice them. I hope this isn’t a surprise, but all humans have these thoughts. Unless they meet criteria for what I will discuss next, they should not cause you significant concern. They are random thoughts generated by a brain that we only superficially understand. They don’t mean anything about you, or how you relate to the world around you. I’ll spare you from a conversation about the multitude of topics I am referring to, but hopefully you understand my meaning and my desire to avoid labeling you as abnormal if you have a thought society would deem inappropriate.
(to be continued)