RUTs (repetitive unpleasant thoughts) are driven by our unconscious brain
Here is the essence of the problem with RUTs and the human condition. The sequence begins with your unconscious brain that is constantly on alert for danger and is much more powerful than our late-evolving language-based consciousness. Humans use language to give meaning to everything, especially to sensations generated from inside of your body (interoception). Danger, real or perceived creates threat physiology that generates various levels and kinds of discomfort, and we have created many words that describe how badly we feel. These unpleasant thoughts evolve into concepts. They originate from the brain and also are sensory input back into it that we react to with threat physiology. We are on a spinning wheel without brakes and our brains are on fire.
The conscious versus unconscious brain mismatch
So, we generate positive thoughts to counteract unpleasant ones. We work hard to develop enough self-esteem to feel better about ourselves. But the powerful unconscious brain can generate an infinite number of troubling thoughts with minimal extra energy expended whereas the conscious brain can only create a limited number of “good” thoughts that requires effort and expenditure of energy. It is a gross mismatch, your survival brain overwhelms your efforts to feel better about yourself, you experience cognitive fatigue, and you are worn down.
The root cause driving the creation of RUTs is your fired up inflamed brain. Once the thoughts are released, how can you put them back into the box? You cannot. It is like trying to kill a swarm of mosquitos with a fly swatter. What’s effective is calming down threat physiology (anxiety and anger), the RUTs are diminished, which lessens the threat load even more. This is a bidirectional process. The medical/ psychology world has primarily focused on the RUTs without addressing the physiological root cause. Over the last decade, that is changing, and many practitioners are using methods to calm people down as the primary focus. Why not drain the swamp?
Consider a hornet’s nest where the inhabitants are minding their own business. They are working together constructing a home, gathering food, watching out for danger, and reproducing. Then someone or animal comes along and starts poking at the hive. Appropriately, they sense danger and use the weapons at their disposal to fight off the threat. Swarms of hornets attack the predator with the intention to inflict pain and they do. What is the best answer? Is it trying to battle the hornets once they are in the battle mode, or would it be easier to quit prodding the nest? It is impossible to do battle with your innumerable RUTs. Why not calm down your inflamed brain? Your RUTs will quiet down. Then you have the ”space” to move into brain circuits where you can nurture joy, move away from pain circuits, and where the definitive healing happens.
Dissolution of your ego
The final step of allowing your ego (self-esteem) to dissolve can’t happen until you are able to tolerate the painful thoughts arising from your unconscious brain. Emotional pain is processed in similar regions of the brain as physical pain. The reason we spend so much time and energy on our self-esteem is because RUTs make us feel so badly about ourselves and we don’t like to hurt. Once you have no more need to “defend” your identity built largely from cognitive distortions, you can live your life in freedom.
There is another layer to the devastating effects of RUTs. “Good” self-esteem is a cognitive distortion of labeling. It doesn’t matter whether your label is “better than” or “less than”, it is still a distortion and where does it end? Then think of how many aspects of your identity are determined by “stories” consisting of cognitive distortions. A major one is “should or should not” thinking, which is at the core of how we are programmed from birth. It manifests in perfectionism and self-critical voices. These voices become stronger with time and become embedded in our brains as concretely as physical objects. At some tipping point, we spend the rest of our lives processing our worlds though our life lens and it is continually reinforced. Many people develop mental rigidity as part of this process, and it is a trait that is at the center of almost any mental health problem. Defending and becoming attached to your own sense of self is the antithesis of awareness which is essential for successful human interactions.
RUTs are one of the expressions of threat physiology. Addressing this root cause allows definitive solutions. Humans must learn to navigate cognitive consciousness in ways other than a survival mindset. Understanding the nature of the problem opens up possibilities to thrive. It is the next step in our evolution of our species with dire consequences if we don’t.