If you’ve ever been stuck in a toxic relationship with yourself or others you can feel drained of energy and any sense of a positive spirit can become crushed. This article builds upon many years of retreat experience in helping people turn their toxic patterns of thought and transforming them into patterns which are more encouraging, confident and empowering.
If you need help in managing toxic thoughts, this article gives five tried and tested ways of breaking the cycle. All that is needed is your commitment and an open mindedness to give them a go.
How do we know when we are in a toxic thought cycle?
There are three common themes to a toxic cycle:
Firstly, the thought itself gives rise to an immediate emotional reaction (or charge) within you.
Secondly, the thought repeats itself outside of your conscious control. A toxic cycle has a sense of repetition. As it is outside of your conscious control there is a sense of stuck-ness or paralysis that goes with it.
Finally, the thought is resistant to the reality of a situation. The resistance can be direct or indirect. Resistance can often be seen through language used, for example the use of words like “must”, “must not”, “should”, “shouldn’t”. Indirect resistance comes through assumptions hidden behind a toxic thought. For example, the thoughts “I am not good enough” or “there is something wrong with me” are predicated on the assumption that I am not acceptable as I am. The thought typically seeks to change reality rather than accept it, which gives rise to suffering and seeing yourself as a victim.
If you know that toxic thoughts have been holding you back then this is the article for you! Set some time aside and grab a pen and paper.
Five exercises to break toxic thoughts
Here we share five exercises to break toxic thoughts. Before diving into the first exercise, I recommend that you read through them all and identify the one (or two) that resonate most with you. Some take longer than others and sometimes one exercise builds upon another.
Exercise 1: Dissolve specific toxic thoughts or judgments
In this exercise we work on a specific thought or judgement about yourself or others. As described above, often this will include the “must” or “should” statements. This exercise works towards dissolving the emotional charge and any resentment.
There are three steps in this exercise. You will need a pen and paper for steps 1 and 3. Allow a minimum of 30 minutes to complete it.
Step 1: Decide upon a toxic thought or judgment that you would like to dissolve. Write it down.
Step 2: Get very still and notice what happens inside you when you light up this thought in your body. Notice that for a thought to have power, you believe that it is the truth.
Step 3: Dissolve your belief in the toxic thought by asking and finding evidence of how the opposite is also correct.
Example 1: If your toxic thought is “I am a failure because nobody loves me” consider how or in what context the following statements are also true to the same extent:
- “How am I a success because nobody loves me?”
- “How am I a failure because everybody loves me?”
- “How is everyone else a failure because nobody loves me?”
- “How is everyone else a success because nobody loves me?”
- “How is everyone else a failure because everyone loves me?”
- “How is everyone else a success because everyone loves me?”
Example 2: If your toxic thought is “My boss should not bully me” consider and write down how or in what context the following statement are also true to the same extent:
- “I should not bully my boss”
- “I should not bully me”
- “My boss should bully me”
- “I should bully my boss”
Example 3: If your toxic thought is “I can never forgive him” consider and write down how or in what context the following statement are also true to the same extent:
- “He can never forgive me”
- “I can always forgive him”
- “He can always forgive me”
- “I have already forgiven him”
- “I have already forgiven myself”
- “I will always forgive myself”
The key to this exercise is perseverance. Keep going until you sense the emotional charge and resistance dissolving.
Exercise 2: Identify the higher intension and dissolve the conflict
For this exercise, you need to find somewhere quiet and set aside 20 to 30 minutes. No pen or paper is needed. This second exercise comes in four steps:
Step 1: Explore what the highest positive intention of the toxic thought is.
A toxic thought can happen when there are some unconscious benefits that you are unaware of. Typically, for a toxic thought there is a sense of trying to protect yourself or keep yourself (or someone else) safe. Get quiet and ask yourself inside what the highest positive intention is.
Once you uncover the form of protection don’t stop there – ask, “for what purpose is this protection happening…”. Repeat the questions “for what purpose” or “for what benefit” until you bring up deeper reasons that you were not previously aware of. Expect to have blank moments here are you are moving from reasons you are conscious of to those which have been hidden. You are likely to get higher more abstract (and less specific) things identified as you keep going (e.g. relaxation, happiness, fulfilment etc.). Keep going until you feel some of the emotional charge starting to dissolve.
Step 2: Find out what part of you this thought is in most conflict with. Hint: Typically this is the part of you that thinks you should be kind, nice, or perfect (you can call this part of you the angel persona).
Step 3: Once you have identified the angel ask: “what positive resources does this part have that will allow me to let go of the toxicity?”. Examples of resources could be forgiveness, self-acceptance or self-belief.
Step 4: Close your eyes and visualise these positive resources as a symbol (you could use something like a heart or a shield). Finally, in your mind’s eye allow your angel persona to give these resources to your toxic thoughts. Watch in your mind’s eye as the toxic thought transforms.
Exercise 3: Find balance in opposites
In this exercise, you explore what would be the downsides of having lovely (angelic) thoughts instead of the toxic thoughts. You can treat this exercise as an additional step to Exercise 2. A pen and paper can help explore.
Write down your toxic thought.
Ask yourself: If I had exactly the opposite thought (to the toxic thought), how would that hold me back?
For example, if your toxic thought was: “I really hate myself”, ask “what would be the downsides of really loving myself instead?”.
The purpose of this exercise is to dissolve any addiction we may have to a delusion that having angelic thoughts instead will solve our problems. Angelic thoughts can create a whole raft of problems on their own (see more on this below)!
To help with this exercise, here are a few hints: taking “loving yourself” to an extreme can lead to things such as arrogance, lack of humility, lack of empathy, lack of realism which can negatively affect relationships with others and could negatively affect many other areas of your life.
Exercise 4: Let go of a perceived problem
This is a simple exercise to help you dissolve or let go of a perceived problem. It acts to scramble stuck beliefs that we present to ourselves as problems. This exercise is best done as a supplement to others in this article. It will take 10 to 20 minutes.
Step 1: Close your eyes and consider, what is the problem? (In this case, the specific toxic thoughts and/or feeling stuck).
Step 2: Fully consider, what is it not? (identify in your mind as best you can the “not-problem” – you will be able to see the not-problem as huge).
Step 3: Ask yourself and consider: how do you know what it is not?
Step 4: Ask yourself and consider: what were you pretending to not know in order to have thought that you had the (toxic thoughts) problem?
Step 5: Ask yourself: how do you know you had the problem and made that change now?
Expect to feel confused as you go through this exercise. You will probably notice a shift in the size of the problem as you work through each step.
Repeat the cycle three or four times, until the problem disappears.
Exercise 5: Design your own affirmation
Affirmations are typically positive statements that you repeat to yourself in your mind or out loud. On their own, affirmations are unlikely to solve an ongoing issue or change your thinking. However, if you are having problems with toxic thoughts then you could use an affirmation to better manage your emotional states. So, grab a pen and paper and let´s go.
At La Crisalida, we suggest using balanced affirmations. This means affirmations that are simple, believable and move you towards a balanced emotional state rather than aim to move you from a polarised negative state to an equally polarised positive one!
Our guidelines to your affirmation statement include:
- Use the first person, so make the affirmation about you. In other words, start your affirmation with the word “I”!
- Make sure your affirmation is stated in the present tense (so use statements in the form “I am….” rather than “I will be…”)
- Make sure the affirmation states what you want (not what you don’t want!). (For example, state “I am safe” rather than “I am no longer scared”)
- Finally embed the word love. For example, we would recommend a general affirmation to manage most toxic thoughts: “I love and accept myself”
A technique we recommend and teach at the retreat is Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT expands on the use of affirmations and integrates with more advanced acupressure techniques. If you are interested, we suggest that you review our previous EFT article: emotional freedom technique here
I hope that you have enjoyed reading about some of the exercises you can use to manage and dissolve toxic thoughts. This article is part of our life makeover series. Life makeover activities at La Crisalida are designed to help people from all walks of life to learn, grow and empower themselves to live the life they truly want. Find out more about our life makeover activities by clicking here.
About the author
- John is one of the founders of La Crisalida Retreats. He is a life and success coach, Transformational Coach and a master trainer in NLP. He leads our life makeover programme as well as overseeing the retreats.