The Snowball Effect
(Does a Negative thought-feeling need to cause another one, and do these need to become a vicious cycle?)
Whenever emotional events happen, it always has the potential to trigger another emotional event in its wake.
This can be positive, negative, or neutral, but for someone who is already having difficulty with mental health in
some form, these take on a special importance because the direction can have a snowball effect, positive or negative.
What I mean by this is: someone who is experiencing emotional discomfort in some way on a regular basis, by definition, already has negative thought patterns that are causing them to have these negative feelings that are causing them to feel stress or other negative emotions. So when one of these thought-feeling combinations pops up, what happens next is of tremendous importance. Does the follow-up thought-feeling combination bring the person to a healthier State of Mind and allow the person to get back to their ideal baseline state, whatever that means for them at the moment? Or does the next thought-feeling combination exacerbate and worsen the negativity brought on by the previous one, which can potentially move the person farther from their healthy mental health status?
The answer to this question of which direction their thoughts will take will be decided by a number of factors, some of which are within the persons control and some which may not yet be. For someone who is utilizing the principles of STEP therapy for example, there is always the three areas of therapeutic skill: the areas of skills mastered already; which can be used today, skills that are not yet feasible to master, and the ones in the middle; the ones being worked on and focused on by the person in their STEP training at this particular time.
Particularly because of the STEP program’s emphasis of improving Mental Health, it places great emphasis on Thought Cycles. The reason for this is because everything we do, think, say, and everything that happens to us in these three areas as an effect of the thoughts, speech, and actions of other people, will always have the effect of moving us in a certain direction. If someone, for example, has high anxiety, this anxiety seems to sometimes be triggered by specific events, and sometimes just happens “seemingly out of nowhere” – of course it is not really “out of nowhere,” there are automatic thoughts that are causing it to happen. But if this concept is beyond the scope of this particular person, then he/she will TRULY BELIEVE that the anxiety has NO CAUSE. When that person believes that they have a situation where the anxiety just popped up for no good reason, it tends to cause guilt. This is especially true with people who are of high intelligence and self-analytical (which tends to also go along with being highly critical of themselves and having high expectations in general of themselves). So when this “pointless anxiety” comes out, this makes the person feel guilt for having anxiety for “no good reason. This, of course, just makes the anxiety worse.
For these reasons, two critical components of STEP therapy are
* Understanding that there is no such thing as anxiety or any feeling that comes out of nowhere, all feelings are caused by Automatic, Subconscious thoughts. That facet of the thought/feeling connection is a cornerstone of every aspect of STEP therapy.
* Learning to identify what the triggers to anxiety are so that the anxiety doesn’t seem so random and pointless anymore. Using that knowledge to break the cycle of feeling like the person is being controlled by forces outside of their ability to influence, which is another way of saying – learning to decrease anxiety.
So, going back to the original question of does a thought-feeling combination lead towards strengthening/healing/improvement? Or does it go in the other direction – a vicious cycle of pain? The answer is that it depends. It depends specifically on what the person’s natural skills/inclinations are when it comes to their thoughts, and, if the person is engaged in a course of STEP training, on where exactly the person is exactly in their customized STEP process . If they have achieved the skills necessary to bring them from a negative State of Mind to a potentially less negative and even possibly a positive one, the next steps can be very good and move the person’s mental health in the right direction. For someone who does not have the skills necessary however, the next thought-feeling combination that follows the current one, and the one after that, can lead to person in a direction of a vicious cycle of worsening depression that is truly unnecessary and simply a case of needless pain.
To further elaborate, let’s look at one particular problem – Depression. Sometimes depression is triggered by something. A loss, A difficult life event Etc. But for people with severe depression, it doesn’t have to be. Depression can come out of nowhere, and for that person the feelings of guilt can bring on are strong and painful – why am I getting depressed for no reason? And those feelings of guilt can worsen the depression. So it’s a vicious cycle that can be initiated and perpetuated if not handled correctly. STEP training, for example, would include a thorough mind-training of the depressed person in truly knowing and internalizing that if their depression does not need to be triggered by anything specific, then that’s something that’s out of the person’s control. Meditating on this fact can significantly lower the guilt and break the negative cycle.
So, will a negative thought trigger a negative cycle? It depends what tools the person has in their Mental Health Tool Box……something anyone who has received any training from me is sure to already have as part of their regular stream-of-consciousness vocabulary…….