Thought Police illustration by Jennifer Martinez-Flood @jamf_craft-min

Thought Police by Jamie L. Rotante

Jul 20, 2023

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff

Therapist: I thought you didn’t believe in god?
George: I do for the bad things.
Seinfeld Season 4 Episode 23: “The Pilot: Part 1

Sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit how similar I can be to George Costanza. His feelings on god are similar to how I feel about “manifestations.” Okay, let me clarify: that’s how I feel about the white-women-be-your-own-girl-boss approach to affirmations and manifestations. The memefied version of positive mental attitude (something with which I also have my issues). All the “woo woo” bullshit supposedly female-empowered mailing lists will try to shove down your throat for a monthly fee. The commercialization of Wicca and paganism that reduces it to a one-size-fits-all approach that can be marketed and exploited for capital gain.

And yet, why do I believe my thoughts have so much power?

I love envisioning myself in my successes, hoping beyond hope that thinking hard enough will allow these dreams to become realities. There is something to those new age philosophies of believing and making it so, and while I do like to take the time to envision those future outcomes, I find them hard to fully immerse myself in, likening it more to superstition than a belief system.

…But I do believe in it for the bad stuff.

Any time a negative thought crosses my mind—which, as you could probably tell by now, is fairly often—I’m immediately drenched with worry that I’m going to make it into a reality. Whether it be a negative outcome for something I’m worried about or a moment of doubt during an otherwise happy time of my life, I fully believe that just by thinking these things, I’m bringing them into the universe and giving them power, like some kind of warped superhero. Or, I suppose, a supervillain.

It’s as if dwelling on negativity, even if only momentarily, allows it to take shape and form itself into a sentient being. Like I’m conjuring Bloody Mary or Beetlejuice, but I haven’t gotten to the fun part of turning it into some kind of quirky paranormal entity. It’s just bad shit that will happen without a face or name to it that I could, like the “woo-woo”ers I’ve condemned before, memeify or at least turn into a squishable plush toy.

If I have such a low sense of self, why do I believe my thoughts have the omnipotent power to change the course of time and history as we know it? How could I so often doubt myself while also believing that just merely thinking of something will hurtle it into reality?

Don’t you worry—­my brain can keep me in check in that regard, too. Because not only do I believe my thoughts can turn into reality whether I like it or not, I also believe my thoughts—especially my worst ones—can be read at any time, as if there exist some brain police who watch my every move, tracking every thought, and alerting the people of my awful mental digressions.

Can we control our thoughts or do our thoughts control us? That depends on the user.

We as humans are not morally pure, we make mistakes, and we have impolite thoughts. I firmly believe that’s okay—it’s just about whether or not you act on them. Can we control our thoughts or do our thoughts control us? That depends on the user.

I seldom, if ever, act on the negative thoughts I have of others. At worst, it comes down to good ol’ fashioned shit-talking. My husband hears all of my innermost thoughts about people, knowing these views are subject to change based on new evidence—an audience captive to an unreliable narrator. These thoughts are not meant to damn nor condemn people or situations forever. They are, like most thoughts, fleeting. Maybe I allow myself to dwell on them for longer than I should or utter them into existence, but this doesn’t make me a bad person. At least I hope it doesn’t. It’s just that thoughts can fold and bend and change, based on time and the evolution of my relationship about a person.

So why do I feel like a criminal when I have these thoughts?

Even if I’ve briefly doubted someone, grown angry with them in the moment, misjudged them upon first meeting and then quickly course-corrected, I feel like I should punish myself for ever having those thoughts. And if I don’t properly pay penance by renouncing those thoughts loudly, then I’ll pay the price by those fictitious thought police who have noted each and every thought and will never let me live them down.

But there are no thought police. There are no mind readers. I’m a hardened mentalism denier and yet I allow myself to believe that my thoughts aren’t my own, but ones that belong to the world, belong to others. 

And what about all the good thoughts I have about others? Do people know those? Do they know that even if I’ve been withdrawn or haven’t been as social or communicative as I could be, that I still spend so much time thinking of those I love and wishing good things to come their way? Could they ever possibly know about the positivity I put into the universe for others and who remain in my prayers? Why doesn’t it work both ways?

That’s just the thing: it’s human to have both good and bad thoughts. It’s perfectly normal to sometimes think bad or upsetting things. Thoughts and feelings are valid. They’re even okay to go with and not fight against. Just thinking the worst possible outcome doesn’t mean that it’s a wish for it to happen. And dwelling on the positive doesn’t automatically make it come true, but following those positive thoughts can better position you to put them into action. And, likewise, allowing the bad, intrusive thoughts to become all-consuming puts you in negative enough of a space to prevent yourself from the possibilities of a brighter future.

As always, it all comes down to what you do with your thoughts. It’s like the old saying goes: actions speak louder than thoughts. Or something like that.

No one can read your mind. For the good or the bad. So say what’s on it if you need to, and if there’s nothing nice to say, keep that shit inside your head.

And no, no one can read your mind. For the good or the bad. So say what’s on it if you need to, and if there’s nothing nice to say, keep that shit inside your head.

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Jamie L. Rotante is a writer/editor/proofreader/mentor/Jill of all trades, so long as those trades involve words. She works full-time as the Senior Director of Editorial at Archie Comic Publications, Inc., and has also written a number of series for the legendary company. She enjoys doing hands-on work with youth, teens, and mental health organizations and doing all she can to make people smile. She’s also a recently converted wrestling fan and would love to talk your ear off about it if you’ll let her. She is proud to call the near-outskirts of New York City her home, where she lives with her husband and their small-yet-thriving window plant collection.

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