During this current lockdown I’ve been particularly aware of the ‘background noise’ of my thoughts. I live on my own in a quiet cul-de-sac and I’ve been working on my own in a closed library building so there is very little actual background noise in my life at the moment, other than what I choose to watch or listen to.
I enjoy the quiet and solitude to a point and am not someone who would switch on the TV or radio to drown out the silence. I enjoy watching certain programmes and often listen to Christian music or audio books when I’m cooking or doing practical jobs around the house, but I also enjoy peace and quiet. I know people whose homes are never quiet and continually wear headphones, even when out walking, to drown out their thoughts and, in that way, avoid facing the reality of their thoughts.
However, at times the solitude does accentuate the background noise of thoughts and feelings which go on inside me. Without care and some good, positive choices this can become a very unhelpful cycle. My natural default of how I feel about myself is very negative, rooted in a combination of my temperaments (Choleric and Melancholic) and my nurture and life experiences. I also know this is not the truth.
I’ve recently read through the Melancholic temperament section on the website and the following section perfectly sums up the negative cycles that I can get stuck in –
‘However, they can be negative and struggle to see their own qualities – however much other people praise them. If they have a good day filled with 10 positive things, the one thing that went wrong will change their mood. Their high standards can tip over into an over-the-top perfectionism that creates pressure for themselves and others around them. If they go to a social event their wonderfully analytical minds will go round on all the things they got wrong and how silly they made themselves look and their wonderful sensitivity can soon become subjective.’
The article also describes Melancholics as ‘creative, capable, lovely people. They are sensitive and loyal and have an appreciation of life. They have high standards, are analytical, self-sacrificing and often talented.’
So, how to stop the negative cycle which, if allowed to fester or even encouraged, is a rapidly downward spiral which becomes increasingly hard to break? Primarily it is not to allow those thoughts and feelings to take root – they need to be halted as quickly as possible, and at source. I gently remind myself that, although what I feel appears to me to be the truth, it’s not! I need to remind myself of the truth of what the Lord says about me and who I am in him, and the positives those who know me well and I trust have said to me. It’s ongoing and I know I’m a work in progress, but I also know that I need to take myself a bit less seriously at times and to learn to laugh at myself and my mistakes more! Often this is sufficient to break the negative cycle and I can then choose to listen to music or a talk or re-listen to the latest Bible study and focus my thoughts upwards to the Lord or outwards to others, and away from myself. Sometimes when the negative thoughts niggle away and unsettle me and threaten to pull me down, I need to pick up the phone and chat to someone I trust and share them.
What I’ve increasingly come to realise is that it’s a choice – it’s my choice! I can choose to wallow and sink – or I can choose to reach out, to the Lord and to others, and then my perspective can change. Interestingly that was the theme of the sharing at our Zoom church meeting on Sunday morning. We heard that it’s important to be patient with ourselves and comfortable with ourselves in order to live in God’s peace and that we can each choose where to put our focus. We can choose not to fear but to actively draw near to God and seek his peace. I was reminded of Isaiah 41:10 this week, ‘So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.' It struck me that I must make the first step, to choose not to fear and dwell on those things that trouble me, and then the Lord will help me - he will strengthen and uphold me. It’s my choice!