It is good that there is no device for reading thoughts, otherwise any of us would be caught red-handed. Indeed, even the most gentle and delicate person can sometimes rejoice at the failure of his neighbor or be tempted to crush someone's head. Why do good citizens watch thrillers with dismemberment with pleasure, and ardent liberals sometimes catch themselves at xenophobia? And is it possible to prevent such "thought-crimes"? This was written by Jena Pincott on Psychology Today.
Each of us sometimes catches himself in the wrong, frightening or nasty thoughts. Bend over a cute baby and suddenly think: "I can easily smash his skull." To comfort a friend who has survived a collapse in his personal life and secretly savor the humiliating details of his story. To go with relatives in the car and to imagine in details how you lose control and go to the oncoming lane.
The more persistently we try to distract from these ideas, the more obtrusive they become and the worse we feel. It is not easy to recognize, but we really enjoy the primitive thrills and other misfortunes. People have amazingly poor own black thoughts: we do not control their duration or content.
In the 1980s, in his famous experiment, Eric Klinger asked volunteers to record their thoughts during the week each time a special device sounds. The scientist found that during a 16-hour day, about 500 unintended and obsessive ideas visit the person for an average of 14 seconds. Although most of the time our attention is busy with daily activities, 18% of the total number of thoughts cause discomfort to a person and are marked as bad, evil and politically incorrect. And another 13% can be described as completely unacceptable, dangerous or shocking - for example, thoughts of murder and perversion.
The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung was one of the first to become seriously interested in black thoughts. In his work "The Psychology of the Unconscious" (1912), he described the shadow side of the personality - the container of sinful desires and animal instincts, which we usually suppress.
How is the dark side of the personality formed? From the point of view of neurobiology, a part of cognitive processes forms the “me” with which we used to identify ourselves - prudent, normal, logical - while other processes serve as an impetus for the development of a dark, irrational consciousness, where obsessive images and ideas are born.
According to Klinger's theory, the ancient preconscious mechanism in our brain is constantly looking for potential sources of danger in the outside world. Information about them, bypassing the consciousness, is transmitted in the form of emotional signals that cause unwanted thoughts. Neuroscientist Sam Harris believes that these thoughts are random and completely uncontrollable: although a person is conscious, he cannot fully control his mental life.
Dark and frightening thoughts
“It's disgusting, show me more”
People are embarrassed to admit that they are attracted to sinister and vile stories: it is believed that this is the lot of freaks and perverts. Fans of bloody thrillers, photo-picks with victims of traffic accidents or alcoholic embryos have a reduced ability to empathy. Thirty years ago, Marvin Zuckerman, a professor at the University of Delaware, determined that some people are more prone to thrill than others.When confronted with something abnormal and terrible, people with this type of personality are more excited - this can be established by measuring the electro-thermal activity.
Traction to unhealthy and terrible things can be useful. As psychologist Eric Wilson says, thoughts of the suffering of others allow us to neutralize destructive emotions without harming ourselves and others. They can even lead to a state of awe: “I can feel the value of my own life in a new way,” writes Wilson, “because I myself and my family are alive and well!”
Sexual perversion thoughts
"Do not open at work ... and nowhere else"
Many of us consider the most disgusting thoughts associated with sexual taboos: there is nothing worse than catching yourself in a fantasy about something immoral or illegal.
The good news: a little agitation means nothing. Clinical psychologist Lee Baer, a professor at Harvard Medical School, argues that arousal is a natural response to attention: "Try to think about your genitals and convince yourself that you do not feel anything." If you have flashed the thought of rape or sex with a minor, it does not mean that you are going to bring this idea to life.All people think about sex, but not all fantasies should be taken literally.
Female erotic fantasies about submission and rape have their own logical explanation. Researchers at the University of North Texas found that 57% of women ever felt excited, fantasizing about a violent sexual act with themselves in the role of victim. This can be explained by the desire of a woman to be desired - so much so that a man cannot control himself. Another explanation is the influx of endorphins, which more actively enter the bloodstream due to an accelerated heartbeat, which accompanies the feeling of fear and disgust. The imaginary situation of coercion makes it possible to give freedom to secret “vicious” desires without feeling guilty. The fantasies of rape, which remain under the reliable control of our consciousness, have nothing to do with the desire to be raped in real life.
Politically incorrect thoughts
“If they find out what I think they are, they will hate me.”
A hateful voice in your head that turns on when the “other” appears in the field of your attention - be it a person in a wheelchair, a veiled woman, a brightly dressed transsexual, or a foreigner with an unusual color.This voice, which you muffle with all your might, casts doubt on the adequacy, behavior, abilities, and generally the presence of human qualities in "others."
Mark Schaller, a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, believes that such thoughts are caused by a primitive defense mechanism that formed at the dawn of humanity, when aliens were by definition a source of threat. The mechanism of “psychological immunity”, however, does not justify the modern manifestations of intolerance — fat-shaming, xenophobia, religious prejudice, or homophobia.
The good news is that automatically arising politically incorrect thoughts can be overcome: psychologists are advised to stop thinking about how polite and unbiased people think you are around, and concentrate on the personality of the person with whom you communicate.
“Your failure is my joy”
When we hear in the news that some girl was caught drunk at the wheel and arrested, it does not bother us. But if this girl turns out to be Paris Hilton, we feel a strange, vicious satisfaction that the Germans call “shadenfreude” (literally “the joy of harm”).
Australian psychologist Norman Feather (Flinders University) proved that we are more pleased with the failure of someone outstanding than the failure of a person equal to us in status. When successful people stumble, we feel smarter, shrewd and confident.
Perhaps this is how our inner desire for justice manifests itself. But where does the feeling of shame come from? According to Professor Richard Smith, the author of the book The Joy of Pain, there is no sense in reproaching myself for this banal emotional reaction. To overcome the attack of gloating, you need to imagine yourself in the place of the victim or concentrate on your own achievements and virtues, because the best antidote to envy is gratitude.
Cruel and bloodthirsty thoughts
"If I had a chainsaw now ..."
You calmly cut onions in your kitchen, and suddenly the thought flashes in your head: “What if I slaughter my wife?” If thoughts of murder were considered a crime, most of us would be found guilty. According to psychologist David Bass (University of Texas at Austin), 91% of men and 84% of women have ever imagined how they are pushing a person off the platform, choking a partner with a pillow or severely beating a family member.
The researcher offered a radical explanation: since our ancestors killed to survive, they gave us a predisposition to kill at the level of genes. Our subconscious mind always stores information about the murder as a possible way to solve problems associated with stress, power, limited resources and a security threat.
However, in most cases, thoughts of violence do not precede real violence, but, on the contrary, block it. The heartbreaking pictures that the brain paints force us to analyze the situation before acting. The script is played in the imagination, the prefrontal cortex is turned on, and the terrible thought disappears.
But what happens to dark thoughts when we repress them?
The Hydra Dilemma
"The method of radical adoption ..."
Thoughts that we are trying to suppress become obsessive. This is reminiscent of the battle with the Hydra of Lernea: instead of a severed head, new ones grow. When we try not to think about something, we only think about it. The brain constantly checks itself for the presence of forbidden thoughts, and it recurs again and again in consciousness, while a sense of shame and self-loathing distract us and weaken our willpower.
The painful process of suppression can aggravate depression and stress. The more effort we spend on fighting an obsession, the more time is needed for recovery and rest. For people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, combating unwanted thoughts can take several hours a day. None of us can fully control our consciousness. As Karl Jung wrote, we do not control the shadow "I", we do not create dark thoughts and desires of our own free will, and therefore we cannot prevent their occurrence.
Dr. Baer recommends the Buddhist method of radical acceptance: when an undesirable idea appears, you should try to perceive it as a mere thought, without a deeper meaning and hidden meaning. Do not blame yourself or resist - just let the thoughts go. If she returns, try again.
Another way to let go of an obsession is to write it down on paper and destroy it. This helps to distance itself from unpleasant thoughts, and then literally get rid of it. The “door effect” can also work — physically moving to another room helps the brain switch to a new topic and reset short-term memories.For complex cases, there is a radical approach: not to let go of frightening thoughts, but, on the contrary, to play them to the end in the imagination in all details.
What is really important in dark thoughts? The value we give them. We can perceive unpleasant thoughts as valuable objects for research - clues that the shadow "me" gives us. Analyzing its manifestations, we better understand those around us and ourselves. A dark, nasty and uncomfortable thought becomes a source of inspiration. As Eric Wilson writes, people with a developed imagination can turn destructive ideas into fuel for mental and emotional development.
The father of analytical psychology, Carl Jung, kept a diary, which was later published under the title "Red Book". In his diary, Jung recorded disturbing images and ideas hailing from the unconscious, including his meeting with the metaphorical Red Rider. The presence of the Horseman is unpleasant for Jung, but the researcher enters into a dialogue with a stranger: they talk, argue and even dance. After the scientist experiences an extraordinary rush of joy, feels in harmony with himself and the world.“I’m sure this red man was the devil,” Jung writes, “but this was my own devil.”