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Changing Your Mind, Body, and Heart – Part 4

If you feel that you are a magnet for bad things happening to you, it’s likely that you are struggling with a combination of a negative filter and unhealthy learned ways of adapting to stress in your environment. Don’t worry: filters and biases are not permanent, unless you want them to be. The nice thing about learning different psychological theories is that you can gain the tools needed to change thoughts, feelings, and behaviours with reflection and practice.

The most logical thing to do if you have biases is change them; however, if you are like most people, you probably aren’t sure what biases you have in the first place. The tricky thing about biases is that when unexamined they appear logical, healthy, and like other thoughts you might have. A filter or bias may have been present for so long that you don’t remember what it’s like to see the world without it. In order to help reveal some of your biases you have to work backwards from repetitive cycles of conflict in your life. Take a moment to reflect:

1. What causes me the most distress in my life on a regular basis? Don’t think of specific stressors or individuals, but themes in your life. Is what bothers me conflict with others? Not feeling good enough? Fear of what others might think? Abandonment? Feeling attacked?

2. Do you have themes in your emotions? Are you chronically angry, sad, or anxious? What environmental stressors are usually present when you experience these emotions?

Once you have the answers to these questions you can begin to work backwards and reflect on whether there are fallacies in your thinking contributing to your distress. Let’s look at a few examples:

If you notice a theme in your life that other people have ill will towards you then it’s possible that you have a bias in your view towards other people. Let’s say you are finding yourself having the following thoughts:

• “I was called on in the meeting because my boss knew I didn’t know the answer and he wanted to embarrass me.”
• “My husband came home late on purpose today because he intentionally didn’t want to spend time with me.”
• “My friend takes long to text me back because deep down she actually doesn’t like me.”

Can you spot the filter and bias? A negative filter is preventing you from seeing good things in other people and focusing on the negative, while your bias is impacting your ability to objectively see and interact with others. This bias can be something you learned from your environment over time or it could be the result of a trauma (for example, someone betrayed your trust).
Let’s take another example. Upon reflection, you might have come to the realization that most of your distress comes from yourself. You are your worst critic. You have perfectionist ways and can’t stand when you do things incorrectly. It may be that you have thoughts like:

• “I can never do anything right.”
• “How did I mess this up again?”
• “Boy, I’m so dumb!”

Can you see the filter and bias here? You might be filtering out all the good things about yourself and just looking at the negative. Your bias is that you are flawed and that there is something wrong with you. This could be something you came to think on your own or that others have said to you. It can also be a result of trauma, such as emotional abuse in childhood.
Once you have identified the negative filters you have, you can begin to work on them by using counter thoughts. If you have a filter that others are out to get you, practice the Sunnah of having husna-dhan (having a good opinion of others) and giving others many excuses. If you have a filter that you are worthless and not good at anything, counter those thoughts with positive qualities about yourself. Try to have 1-3 counter thoughts for every thought derived from your negative filter. It might take work and not feel genuine at first, but the more you practice replacing those thoughts, the more those new thoughts will become a part of your belief system. Keep practicing every day until you get the results you want. If it takes weeks don’t be discouraged—it took years and years to develop and maintain those unhealthy biases so undoing that work will not happen overnight.

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