The last dangerous thought pattern is actually an anti-thought. It is a process called thought suppression, an attempt at suppressing unwanted thoughts and emotions.
The late Daniel Wegener, a social psychologist from Harward, stumbled upon a note from the great Russian writer Fjodor Dostojevski: ‘’Try doing the following: try NOT to think about the polar bear, and the only thing you will see in your mind is that damn polar bear.’’ Wegener, who believed the statement to be true, decided to test it. Through a series of experiments and studies, he discovered a phenomenon and named it the ‘’ironic error,’’ which means that the harder we try to push our thoughts away, the faster and harder they will come back. This happens because thought suppression is a difficult task. The mind must constantly monitor mental activity to detect forbidden thoughts: Is there a polar bear around here? The brain cannot maintain such control for long. It gets tired. It tries to hide the polar bear under the thick ice, but his head reappears above the water, bringing a few friends with him for good measure. The result of thought suppression is that we think even more about polar bears. The ironic error is one of the reasons why smokers trying to quit smoking constantly think about smoking and why dieters who try not to think about food think about sugary snacks.
The ironic error increases unnecessary muscle tone. We know that chronic stress contracts muscles, but if we try to manage our stressful thoughts by submerging bad thoughts into the deepest waters of our subconscious, it usually backfires. The brain, which is already suffering from chronic stress and is already under a heavy load (we call this cognitive load), only makes successful thought suppression harder. Instead of reducing stress, we get more of it. A classic example of the negative power of thought suppression can be seen in people with post-traumatic stress syndrome, who – understandably – do not want to remember the events that caused them terrible stress. But their fading memories come back in unexpected, invasive ways or enter their dreams at night. They often blame themselves for allowing the intrusive thoughts to return for not being strong enough and for having an emotional response to them. This condition further depletes energy and makes it difficult to control thoughts, leading to self-judgment, feelings of helplessness, and loss of self-esteem. A vicious circle is created.
If we examine the connections in the thought suppression system, we come to useful conclusions about reducing and eliminating this thought process. The system works like this: we push bad emotions aside, but they inevitably come back due to the polar bear phenomenon, and then we feel bad; because we feel bad, we feel bad. The extra layer of negative self-judgment—the part where we feel bad about feeling bad—acts like a ring of armor on the system, draining what little energy is left to deal with the problem. This serious lack of energy is the main reason people fall into a serious depressive state. In short: thought suppression is a highway to chronic stress and depression, both of which negatively impact chronic muscle tone and SMA. This triggers both the green and red light reflexes, and due to the strong emotional reaction, it also increases the asymmetry of the trauma reflex.