Sometimes books come your way unexpectedly. A present from somebody, not quite sure what to buy for you, or a personal impulse buy that you make, as you browse the bookshop shelves’. Such a book was ‘Sane New World’ by, none other than, the comedian, Ruby Wax.
A book of jokes it is not, she does write with a lightness of touch, but it isn’t written to amuse. It’s a handbook. Like most of us, to a greater or lesser degree, Ms. Wax has been into the darker places of the mind, without a torch! Her stories are amusing, but sometimes with screams in the background. Unlike most of us, she tried to do something positive about it. Her response was as manic as her stage persona, she went to Oxford University to study neuroscience. Well you do, don’t you? She came out of this as a person who had learned about the physical machinations of the brain, as someone convinced that we are able to change the way we think, oh, and a Masters degree. More importantly she came out with a torch! And she feels that she can help those, whose minds are sometimes overwhelmed by the screaming voices of self-doubt, guilt and ruminating negativity. That probably includes most of us, and, I think, she probably can help. To her, the answer lies in adopting a position of ‘mindfulness’, that is being more aware of what is going on in our minds, to ‘relate thoughts as mere brain events, not absolute truths.’
One chapter looks at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, a path that many have trod, with varying degrees of success. She looks at ten examples of ‘distorted thinking’. ‘Distorted thinking’? Well, we all have a little pack of mental plasters, to cover those times when life seems to threaten to overwhelm us, or we are just in a state of extreme stress. These plasters are used to shield us from reality, or our ability to see what is actually happening, and allow just negative thoughts to invade our consciousness. Whatever it is, it just must be bad, and it’s my fault! Of course that is pure distortion.
What sort of distorted thinking does she come up with? You may be about to look into a mirror.
1. ‘All or Nothing Thinking’ – when assessing a situation, everything is at an extreme. It’s excellent, it’s awful. It’s black. It’s white. It’s this. It’s that. There are no, logical, in-betweens. No room for manoeuvre. It’s right. It’s wrong. As if!
2. ‘Overgeneralisation’ – the expectation of disaster. It happened before, so, therefore, it will always happen again. Just a random, illogical, thought. The washing machine malfunctioned when you turned it on, so it will always malfunction when you turn it on. “Typical . . .”, “That could only happen to me . . . “, “Wouldn’t you just know it . . .”
3. ‘Mental Filter’ – Shit happens, but it always (always?) seems to happen to me (just you?) and it’ll happen again soon. I just know it. There I told you!
4. ‘Disqualifying the Positive’- Mental magic! Something positive happens and suddenly it’s a negative. “They’re only saying that, they don’t mean it!”. “I was only invited to make up the numbers!”
5. ‘Jumping to Conclusions’ – What you would consider ‘mind reading’. A perfectly innocuous conversation and suddenly the person that you’re talking to a) looks away (something catches the eye), or b) raises an (innocent) eyebrow, or c) shifts his/her position (for comfort). “She/he isn’t interested in my conversation. They want to get away. How can I keep their attention?” Desperation, based on . . . nothing at all. “Everyone must be always (there’s that word ‘always’ again) bored with my conversation and always(!) will be. Forever!”
6. ‘Magnification and Minimisation’ – The accentuation of the negative, something slightly (if at all) iffy suddenly becomes the worst personal disaster ever experienced by Man. The unsolicited, and glowing, praise that you receive is shrugged off as being, unmeant or petty. “An award. A compliment. So what?”
7. ‘Emotional Reasoning’ – This is a big one! This is where you, automatically, think that your emotions are telling the truth. That you confuse feelings with facts, in fact believe that your feelings are facts! You’re so used to telling yourself that you are ‘stupid’ that you begin to think that there is actually something wrong with your brain.
8. ‘Should/Ought/Must Statements’ – So common! The ‘inner voice’ thinks that it’s being helpful, by adding, “I must have forgotten to. . . (….Complete, as appropriate), and then, adds something negative, which, of course, just supplements your feeling of self-loathing. Who does that voice belong to? Ms.Wax calls it ‘musturbation’.
9. ‘Labeling and Mislabeling’ – A sub-group of ‘ovegeneralisation’. This is where you choose a label to slap on yourself, and then, continue to believe it is a fact. You choose the slowest queue at the Supermarket, once. Loser! (Unlucky?). You don’t receive an invitation to a party. Reject! (It’s for left-handed Stamp Collectors only). You, of course, blame yourself.
10. ‘Personalisation’ Where you imagine that everything is your fault . . . . even when you had nothing to do with it. Your football team lose . . . “It’s because I’m there. I’m not going to go to the next match, I ‘jinx’ ’em!” (They’re a poor team, on a poor run of form!). “That electric drill always goes wrong when I touch it.” (It’s actually old and knackered!). It’s all my (personal) fault. It isn’t really a negative vibe from your body that effects your physical surroundings! Honestly!.
So anything that contradicts the negative is banished. Onslaughts of negativity are the norm. But Ruby Wax goes further than just identifying what, in retrospect, is the blindingly obvious, or, indeed, the blindingly obvious when it’s pointed out to you! She produces a handbook for, as she puts it, ‘Taming the Mind’ and ‘Achieving Peace of Mind’. The strength of the book is that she has, obviously, been there, into the blacker, bleaker, recesses and her way out was through communication, she found that she was not alone, and understanding of what was actually going on, both physically and mentally, in her head. Going to Oxford was a bit extreme, but she seems to be a woman who operated in extremes. Her solutions are not ‘mumbo-jumbo’, they are very practical, make sense and, importantly, can be done without the aid of chanting, scented candles or impossible bodily positions! I’m really glad that this book ‘chanced’ my way, it could provide a torch into my own mind! Thanks Ruby.