Always Well Within

Calm Your Mind, Ease Your Heart, Embrace Your Inner Wisdom

How to Deconstruct Pesky Thought Patterns and Wacky Emotional Habits

Our Lady of Fatima

As a child, I was fascinated by the appearances of Our Lady of Fatima to three children in Portugal. But, at night, I felt afraid.  “What if Mary appeared to me?  What if God appeared to me?”  The thought terrified me. Indeed, I would quake in my bed.

What made me afraid of Mary and God?  The “thought” made me afraid.

I concede there’s more to an emotional response than one thought alone.  For example, I’m a highly sensitive person who grew up in a less than peaceful environment. As a result, I developed a particular pattern of thinking and emotional response rooted in insecurity and fear.  The same is true for you although your patterns may be different from mine, and may even be  healthy ones.

It all comes back to mind and how we perceive even as young children.

The Snowball Effect:  How Negative Patterns Get Bigger

Many of us have locked in one or more negative thought patterns or habitual emotional responses that stop us from actualizing our full potential.  It could be worry, low self-esteem, anger, fear, jealousy, competitiveness, sadness, loneliness, pride, and so on.  These dominating systems make it difficult if not impossible to feel content and happy with yourself or your life.

Whatever the initiating event, the mind tends to take the new belief and snowball the response making it larger and more pervasive.  Because fear had infiltrated my tiny years already, I extended it to the thought of Mary appearing in the night when there was no real reason for the terror.  That’s how you become wedded to a false image of yourself, losing your true self or parts of yourself in the process.

Fortunately, whatever has been constructed in the mind can be deconstructed.

The above memory of Our Lady of Fatima arose in response to a prompt in the Fire of Love community.  Even more important than the memory itself, was the sudden realization of how I had been reconstructing fear scenarios again and again and again as a young child and most of my adult life, entrenching them further and further into the darkest recesses of my brain.  Although my original fears may have been valid, I was now literally scaring myself.

Although you may come to believe these deeply ingrained patterns are the the real you, you are not your thoughts and emotions. Knowing this itself is the first step toward freedom.

Tools to Deconstruct Pesky Thought Patterns and Wacky Emotions

Following are some of the tools I’m currently using to deconstruct my own deeply seated ways of thinking and responding.

If you feel stuck in an emotional rut, I’d like to encourage you to hone in on an effective set of tools that works for you.  A mix of tools can be useful because some practices work better than others in any given moment.  At the same time, too many options can make you feel scattered and overwhelmed, and thus you may lose your momentum.

The key is to find a reasonable number of practices, and then apply them on a regular basis.

1. Asking Questions

Whatever the pattern, it will immediately begin to deconstruct when you question it.  Gather pen and paper, find a quiet place, and write 5 − 10 questions about the pattern at hand.

If you have trouble getting started, you could explore the series of compelling questions I offer periodically on Always Well Within.

2. Journal Writing


I’m afraid I shocked a few of my wonderful readers, when I asked if wisdom is lost in your journals, and pondered whether it’s better to stay in the present moment rather than delving into the past or future.  I still wonder about that myself.

Nevertheless, at the moment, thanks to Tammy Strobel’s course Writing in the Digital Age, I’m finding journaling a highly effective tool for excavating and disassembling previously stuck patterning, in addition to the way it plants writing seeds.

3. Tapping

I read The Tapping Cure, A Revolutionary System for Rapid Relief from Phobias, Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and More several years ago.  I know that tapping works from observing how the technique dissolved anxiety at the dentist while having my mercury fillings removed.  But, you can’t do everything, and tapping didn’t become part of my repertoire until now.

Tapping involves, surprise, tapping on specific acupuncture meridian points while repeating a phrase that encapsulates your stuck energy while also appreciating yourself.  For example, “Even though I’m afraid of public speaking, I completely love and accept myself.”

Tapping is relatively simple, but there are some subtleties to the process, which you might miss on your own.  A shift came when I hooked up with a professional well studied in the approach.  I learned it’s absolutely essential to evoke the core emotion when you tap, an essential point that I didn’t fully understand until then. Once I got this and absorbed how she worked, I started to see positive results.

For some people, tapping can be a miracle cure.  But there can also be many layers or aspects to your patterns that need to be tapped.  You can sometimes gain instant relief or at least a reduction in the intensity of the emotion, I have, but there may be more to do.

4.  Meditation

“If everything is noted, all your emotional difficulties will disappear. When you feel happy, don’t get involved in happiness. When you feel sad, don’t get involved with it. Whatever comes, don’t worry, just be aware of it.” – Dipa Ma

Settling  your mind through meditation will allow you to see your patterns more clearly.  You will learn that there are two aspects of mind:  the essence of mind and the appearances of mind, which are the thoughts, emotions, and sensations.  Most of us are welded to our thoughts, emotions, and sensations.  We follow them as though as though we have no choice.  Like monarchs, they dictate our every move.

Instead, you can live in the present moment, resting in awareness and allowing thoughts and emotions to glide by like clouds in the sky.  This takes dedicated practice, but once you have successfully let go of a difficult emotion instead of clutching it to your chest, you start to feel the immense freedom and power that lies in meditation.  You can learn to meditate in this simple and free 10-step video series, Dare to Meditate.

5. Prayer

As the saying goes, faith can move mountains.  Although I fully believe that Mary appeared to the children of Fatima, I’m a Buddhist now.  It might surprise you to know that prayer is big in Buddhism since it’s a non-theistic spiritual path.

Science has shown on more than one occasion that prayer works.  Why is prayer effective?  We may never know and this is where faith enters into the picture.  I believe that help is available.  When we open, surrender, and reach out in prayer, positive change can happen.

You Can Change

There are many other ways to deconstruct difficult thought patterns and emotional chaos from psychotherapy to hypnosis to shamanic healing.  The main point to know is that you are not stuck forever.  You can change your mind and you can change your brain if you have mild to moderate problems.  It will just take time and dedicated practice.

From one perspective, this could be considered psychological work.  But, working with the mind is also core to the spiritual path, where the aim is to transform negative thoughts, words, and actions into love, compassion and wisdom.

Helpful Resources:

Thank you for your presence, I know your time is precious!  Don’t forget to sign up for my e-letter and get access to all the free self-development resources (e-books, mini-guides + worksheets) in the Always Well Within Library. May you be happy, well, and safe – always.  With love, Sandra

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  1. Amelia

    Wonderful post Sandra, thank you.

    I can totally relate to your story about the appearances of Lady Fatima! I had a similar fear as a child—my mother had told me that her father had come to her after his death to reassure her. It was a wonderful and very special story, which affected my whole sense of who we are as human beings, but I was afraid that might happen to me, and it was a little overwhelming.

    Personal writing has been and is very important and helpful to me. A cross between journaling and just a basic sanity check! Recently I discovered a fun site that has provided a kind of light weight encouragement. Though private, and not subject or topic oriented, there’s a sense of being part of a community of writers, and some fun perks like linguistic analysis of what you’ve written. It might be helpful to some of your readers…

    The quote from Dipa Ma is such a simple, deep reminder of how meditation helps.

    Altogether wonderful, thank you!

    • Hi Amelia,

      So nice to connect with you! Your story reaffirms how vulnerable we are as children even to something that adults might consider positive. I’m glad the experience had a positive impact, giving you a different perspective of who we are as human beings, although I can fully understand that it was overwhelming.

      I love writing too and I think it does/can bring a dose of sanity into our life as you suggest. sounds like a place I might enjoy too! Thanks for letting us know about it.

      Dipa Ma truly shows us how powerful meditation really is. More and more, I want that to be my main focus! All my love to you.

  2. These are great suggestions, Sandra. I love the idea of grabbing my journal and questioning my beliefs for a few minutes. I do my best, first of all, to recognize a wonky thought pattern (which can be challenging), and then, in the moment, I try to consciously replace it with something more positive. It’s an ongoing process!

    • That’s a great way to work with a wonky thought pattern, Charlotte. It saves a lot of time if you can do it right on the spot! And, if you replace it with something positive, life becomes so much more beautiful. Thank you!

  3. Oh. my. This reflection reminds me–I was raised in a fear-based religion and I once made the mistake of watching the movie “Stigmata”. I just remember I was so afraid I couldn’t pray because I didn’t want to draw the experience of stigmata to me.

    Yes! Prayer can and does move mountains–and all of the tips you share are wonderful tools to bring clarity and compassion to our understanding of our own thought patterns and emotions.

    To feel inner peace as we process this work, we can tap into presence with love and gratitude. When we are centered, a thought is simply a thought—neither good nor bad—and we can observe each feeling and allow it to completely unfold, eventually into utter peace. It is when we choose to judge the thought and stop the unfolding that barriers are created–love and gratitude celebrate the gift of the thought and feeling while holding the space for the unraveling.

    It helps to engage mind in enriching/enlivening activity, while heart celebrates the feel….as we embrace life, that which no longer fits naturally sloughs away.

    • Oh dear Joy! This just shows us how much fear is embedded in many religious traditions and approaches. The nuns at my Catholic school were pretty tough. So this fear didn’t manifest out of nowhere! I’m sorry you had to cope with all that fear too. And, I’m happy your life is so different now.

      I agree fully with being present and how it takes the good and bad out of thought. That’s the perfect, ultimate solution. It’s so much easier when we can do this on the spot. I understand your approach of presence more and more. Then engaging in enriching activity makes life so much more beautiful!

  4. Yes Sandra we can change and I have found that all your 5 ways do help one shift and change. The one I rarely use is questioning and listening yesterday to Sonia Choquette it was something I was going to start doing especially to shift body pain

    • Interesting, Suzie! I’ll be curious to see how question helps you with shifting body pain. I’m sorry your body is hurting and wish you the best with this process.

  5. Dear Sandra

    thanks for this article. It helps in knowing the various helpful methods when I am in an emotional turbulence. One sharing from me is when I am experiencing the onslaught of emotional negativity, I stop for a while, take several deep breaths and observe my emotions there on. Usually, it helps. The negativity dissipates.

    • Hi Mulyadi,

      I like your approach of stopping, using the breath, and observing the emotions. If we can do that on the spot, we can transform so much so quickly! Thanks for adding your approach to the conversation.

  6. jean sampson

    Hi Sandra. My whole life seems to have been devoted to learning how to overcome worry and fear of various sorts. I think a combination of working hard at Re-evaluation Counseling and exploring spirituality ( not religion) has helped unhook me from a lot of my fears. The tool of gratitude is a wonderful antidote to fear and a way of getting myself grounded again when some fear or another blindsides me. I seem to always be writing something or another, so writing definitely helps me to weed out my brain and discover what I really think. Every time I have tried to keep a journal, though, it just turns into a poem, so I usually just write a poem instead. 🙂

    • Hi Jean,

      You have a really good think going with Re-evaluation Counseling, which sets you up to be more cognizant in your whole life. I’m sory worry and fear have troubled you, but it’s wonderful to see how you have mastered them so well. It’s an inspiration for all of us. Poems are a wonderful way to track where we are at and express ourselves too!

  7. Sandra, thank you so much for this post. I am truly grateful for the bits of timely wisdom I’ve come across here. There are a few things I really needed to hear. Being aware of emotions instead of IN them is such a new concept to me, and something I really could benefit from. When you’re in that moment, it really is like an addiction. Just last night I was crying so hard, and I even thought to myself, ‘you can detach from this if you want to,’ and the truth is, I didn’t. The sadness hurt so bad but I couldn’t make myself let go. I was stuck in this destructive, addictive cycle. Hopefully with more practice I’ll be able to detach and simply be aware of emotions instead of allowing them to consume me. It’s just so hard at first! Anyway, thank you so much for this post. I really needed to read something like this today.


    • My heart is with you, Amanda. It can be really hard to let go of the thoughts or emotions when they are like a tidal wave. I completely understand and have gotten into those very emotional places on many occasions myself. Meditation helps because we learn to start by learning to observe the thoughts, and get used to letting the small ones go. Slowly we build up to the bigger ones. I’m so sorry for your pain and hope you feel better today. Thanks for the appreciation!

  8. Sandra,
    I love that each of your suggestions offers an opportunity to connect to ourselves more authentically by deconstructing our thoughts! It is our thoughts that ususally create suffering and separation. Your question about the journaling is intriguing to me. I wonder if it is possible to sift through the past as an attempt to see how you are stuck in your life, now? Good food for thought for me. Thank you!

    • Hi Carrie, Yes, it’s our thoughts that create suffering and separation! As to my question about journaling, it’s an interesting one, isn’t it? I think it’s important to be cautious about spending too much time in the past or future. On the other hand, as spiritual aspirants, we need to know ourselves. So on a relative level, I think that practices like journaling have a place and can be helpful on the spiritual path as long as we have the bigger context in mind. I’m sure you will come up with your own insights after reflecting on this as well!

  9. Without a transformative toolbox, life can get unmanageable and make us feel helpless. And yet, how many of us were raised to believe we have charge of our emotions and thoughts, much less can do anything about them.

    I remember thinking when I saw the Fatima story that having God or Mary talk to me would be too much responsibility. I feared that I’d have to carry out tasks or deliver messages to an unbelieving world. I especially feared that I’d be doomed to live a monastic life without friends and fun.

    Fortunately, when God has spoken to me it’s been at critical turning points in my life and the directives were in response to burning dilemmas I had posed. Frankly I think God gave up hope that I would catch hints and signs he put in my path, so he chose to speak loud and clear so I wouldn’t miss it.

    I was brought up believing in the power of prayer, but as I’ve become more enlightened I’ve changed the way I pray.

    Other tools that have helped me deconstruct my thoughts or break patterns have been tapping, changing subconscious thoughts with Psych-K, spiritual counseling, reading loads of books, listening to enlightened folks, and surrounding myself with positive and uplifting people.

    I have occasionally journaled and meditated, but not consistent enough to call them personal practices.

    None of us will get through life without encountering negative thoughts, sad experiences and problems. Our happiness and peace of mind depend on us discovering and using techniques that work. It’s the inner work that only we can do for ourselves.

  10. This is brilliant Sandra, you are getting better and better at helping all of us get better and better!

    Loved the story about the childhood fear even though it’s sad those realisations are so powerful in helping us change.

    My efforts with mindfulness are helping me realise some of these patterns and the next step is re-educating myself so these tips really help.

    Two questions:\

    1. Re Evoke the core emotion with tapping. So in this example the core emotion is self dislike which is why you mention the opposite emotion you want to evoke of self love?

    2. Re Prayer please can you give us an example? I agree it is so powerful but since I am a non believer I don’t do it. What do you do just pray to no one in particular? Or maybe Buddha since you are a Buddhist?

    Thank you so much, you are wise and wonderful.

    • Hi Annabel,

      So glad you are inspired by my article and find it helpful.

      With tapping, you have to find the right phrase or it’s not as effective. That’s why it helps to work with someone who has experience in the art or read a book so you can see some examples in action. The “accept and love” part of the phrase isn’t specifically chosen to counteract the dislike. The phrases often end with “accept and love myself” whatever the core emotion is. However, you could also say, “Even though xyz, I am OK.” There are other phrases too.

      About prayer, there are many formal prayers in Buddhism, some are prayers of aspiration and some prayers of invocation, when you invoke a Buddha or other enlightened being like Tara, for example. This is one prayer: “May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness, May they be free of suffering and the causes of suffering, May they never be separated from the great happiness devoid of suffering, and May they dwell in the great equanimity that is free from passion, aggression, and prejudice.”

      Generally, I don’t do free form prayer, but you could. You can just call out for help. Buddhas aren’t considered eternal beings like God is thought of in Christianity. But they are said to manifest to help beings so you can prayer to them. And each have different qualities like compassion, healing, power, removing fear, and so on so they can help us in specific ways. I see prayer as a form of surrender, which helps us let go of the big ego focus on “I.” Of course, you can just pray to the “universe” too. There’s tons that could be said about prayer. I hope this little bit
      helps in some way.

      Thanks for the great questions. I think you’re pretty wise and wonderful too.

  11. Hi Sandra….this is a great post filled with great information. We all have pesky thought patterns and weird emotional habits that try to sneak in now and then and I agree with all your tips and suggestions. And yes, I’ve used them all at one time or another and can confirm that they are helpful. About the only thing that comes to mind that I could add would be: Hang around the kind of people you want to model. I find that the quality of the thoughts of the people who are around me on a regular basis either contributes to (or distracts from) where I want to keep my thoughts and consciousness. Again, thanks for this post and I look forward to reading more. ~Kathy

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