In Solution Focused Hypnotherapy, one of our main intentions is to shift the client’s focus away from the problem and towards the positive. Humans have a natural negativity bias, particularly when we are feeling stressed. This is because when we are stressed, we spend more time in our primitive minds and the primitive mind is a negative mind: it always sees the world from the worst possible perspective. The primitive mind has to be negative to ensure our survival as a human species. If we answered the door to an eight foot tiger, it’s highly unlikely that we would invite him in for tea, and chuckle as he ate all the cupcakes and drank all of Daddy’s beer, as happens in Judith Kerr’s children’s story The Tiger Who Came To Tea.
Thankfully, if we did open our front door to an eight foot tiger (or it’s less fantastical equivalent) our fight or flight response would kick in within a fraction of second, pumping out adrenalin, increasing our heartbeat, preparing our body for escape. Operating from within this stress response, we would assume the worst, we would be hyper-vigilant to any movement the tiger made, and we would be obsessional about figuring out an appropriate escape route. In this scenario, our stress response is our friend, it’s working for us, we are immensely grateful for its input.
However, in many situations, this negative focus causes us an enormous amount of needless suffering. Raging or descending into gloom about a smashed wing mirror doesn’t fix the mirror. It just suck us into our negative primitive mind, reducing the value we can both give and receive from our interactions with others. When we surface from our rage and gloom back into our intellectual minds, we are likely to reward ourselves with a hefty serving of shame about how we handled the situation. We have grown our hurt. Similarly, ranting when we find our kitchen wall has been redecorated with permanent marker, courtesy of our three-year-old, doesn’t miraculously remove the scribble. It just sucks us into our negative primitive mind, reducing the value we can give to, and receive from our child. When we escape from the cycle of ranting and regain intellectual control, we’re rewarded with the all familiar weight of parental shame about how we handled the situation. Our suffering has swelled.
In these stressful moments, wrenching our attention away from the problem and towards the positive can loom like a mammothian task. ‘Looking on the bright side’, as simple as it sounds, actually entails a lot of practice if we are to be able to apply it when we most need to. In his book Waking Up, Sam Harris suggests that just one positive thought can act as a lever to pry the mind loose from “whatever rut it has found on the landscape of unnecessary suffering.”
Acknowledging, out loud if necessary “at least the rest of the car is undamaged” or “at least we have some paint left to cover up the marker pen”, can help us to manufacture a feeling of gratitude for all the bad things that have not happened. Research has shown that gratitude is a powerful mechanism for increasing well being over time, but it can be equally powerful as a safety net when stressful events occur, bouncing us back into our intellectual minds where we can access rationale and reason, and suffer less than we otherwise would have done.
Harris, S. (2014). Waking up. Simon & Schuster
Kerr, J. (2006). The Tiger Who Came To Tea. (1st Ed). London: HarperCollins