I have heard this term countless times throughout my eating disorder journey. Sometimes they were called obsessive thoughts, incessant thoughts, intrusive thoughts, compulsive thoughts – They all have slight differnces in meaning but all in all, its your mind inability to just shut the fuck up. Cyclical thinking is like a hamster wheel in your brain only instead of one hamster, there are hundreds of them constantly running on this wheel of thought- over and over and over again…
This type of thinking reminds me of a repetitive scene where my kids open the refrigerator door, stand there like zombies and then declare, “There is nothing to eat!” Eventually they tire of the mindless staring and walk away only to return minutes later to perform the exact same act. Open door. Stand there. Declare ‘There is nothing to eat!’ Usually I’ll let it go 3 or 4 times before I say, “The same shit is in there! You know this and yet, here you are again.” Those who suffer from cyclical thinking are very much like teenagers opening a refrigerator door to observe, to draw a conclusion and adhere to that conclusions as if it were fact- And we do this over and over again. We open the door expecting a different situation, yet finding the exact same thing.
Maybe it lies in our inability or unwillingness to adjust or try to somehow modify the situation. Never once have my kids ever MOVED anything around. Never once have they attempted to break down the quandry like so: “ok there’s cheese and butter and – oh look! over there, there’s bread!” – (Enter the grilled cheese sandwich) The problem there is no ACTION IS TAKEN.
So here we are, teenagers standing in front of the fridge, opening the door to the same shit yet expecting something different with no active involvement from ourselves. Personally, in my journey I have found my brain never stops. It is like a manic explosion of thoughts that only quiet when I am asleep (and even then its questionable.) The most disturbing part was realizing that all this is going on all day long and I wasn’t even AWARE of it. While my brain is comparing, judging, replaying the past, changing dialogue in the last conversation I had, planning for future uncomfortable situations, going back to old ones and wishing for a dynamic change – I have been driving my car, talking to my clients, concocting chemical formulas, responding to emails, etc.; Basically living my life, but am I REALLY there? Hell no! So many of us exist this way. We live in a displaced reality that can be downright torturous. So what can we do about it?
Acknowledge – Acknowledging is the first step in changing any behavior. Being aware that it’s happening so you can consciously make the effort to insert an action to change this dynamic is imperative.
Practice Mindfulness – Think of this as staying in the moment. If you are having a conversation with someone and you find yourself drifting off into your head, if you find yourself bombarded with thoughts like; ‘What are they seeing? Are they judging me? Do I have lipstick on my teeth? I shouldn’t have been so short with the kids this morning’ – then I would suggest taking a breath to center yourself. Remind yourself that this person is trusting you with whatever information they are presenting. Honor that. Put the focus on them. Create space for them and concentrate on gratitude for this human connection. Grant yourself allowance to deal with the fact that you forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer later, right now you are honoring your current situation.
Organize and Challenge – This is the tricky part. This is the part where you will have to be very brave and courageous. This is the part where you decide you are worth change, as uncomfortable as the process may be; this is where you show up and fight for yourself. Try organizing your thoughts. I understand they may seem too numerous to count but I have found that for every 5 new thoughts or fears that I have, there are just as many that have been hanging around for a while. We carry these thoughts for years, they are like old friends – but really shitty friends. They’re cowardly and brutal and we kinda know that but they are so comfortable and familiar we choose to close our eyes to a lot of their bullshit because there is some safety in that, in knowing what to expect even if what we’re expecting is pain. Once you’ve identified a few of the “hanger ons”deep dig and begin to challenge them.
I use to tell my therapists that I felt constantly torn between my “sick mind” and my “intelligent mind”. There was a part of me that KNEW I wasn’t fat yet I still continued to FEEL fat. When I dug deeper I realized the word fat was an umbrella for a lot of uncomfortable emotions. What I really felt was unworthy, undeserving, like I was too much and taking up too much space. It was a constant battle between my intelligent mind (where facts are stored) and the sick mind (where your limiting beliefs are stored ) When you’re getting ready to begin your journey in challenging these intrusive thoughts, when you finally decide to coax the tiny voice of hope and actively decide to let it grow, you will need to reach in and find your intelligent mind where the facts are stored because you’re going to need them to build your case like evidence to be used in court.
My old friends say things like, “You’re unlovable” -facts say I am not unlovable. Realistically its probably more accurate to say that I am love. I am filled with so much love and empathy and care that I probably sought out people that didn’t have very much love inside themselves, I sought out sponges to absorb this abundance of love I have. My old friends would say, “you’re not good enough.” Facts prove I am enough as my children feel safe and loved around me, they know I will protect them- my fiancé loves and supports and accepts me and my children as we are. This makes me enough.
Challenging is the scariest but most magical part. This is where you can take control. This is where you get to say no and it’s not only heard but accepted and honored. This is where you claim yourself as enough and start to build the path for healing.
You are loved. You are enough. You always have been.