Are you overly worried, too harsh on yourself or do you think in a depressed way?
If so this blog post is for you. We will look at the cause of your suffering and what to do about it. The guiding question is: How do you talk to yourself about what is going on in your life? It’s a truism born out of stoic philosophy: it is not the world per se that causes you to have this or that emotion and reaction but how you choose to react to what is going on.
“What upsets people is not things themselves, but their judgements about these things.”
In this piece you will be led to consider that it is actually in your power to choose how to respond to a wide variety of situations.
Let’s look at some examples:
Your partner is angry about something you did or did not do in the past and (s)he wants to talk about it.
In this situation you have the choice to interpret what is going on: a) Your automatic interpretation may be to understand what is going on as an attack on your person, and that you have to defend yourself. This defense will most likely make your partner get even more annoyed with you and the situation may escalate to a point where communication breaks down. You may also decide to b) interpret it as “something that is important for your partner to articulate while you are listening.”
You are stuck in traffic.
You may choose to interpret this situation as a) a complete unsustainable situation where “you have to get out of it now!” or b) an opportunity to call one of your friends or listen to some good music while the inevitable traffic jam runs its course.
You only have a half hour for your fitness session at the gym.
You may choose to a) feel sad and down about it, or b) think about focusing your training on one specific muscle group and go for a PB.
You are meant to make a presentation for management the following day.
You may choose one of the following interpretations: a) ”It is crucial that everyone likes me, that I appear cool, and that I can answer any and all questions put to me in a perfect way” or b) “I have done what is in my powers. I have a fundamental grasp of the concepts and if I am put questions I may not be able to answer, I will consider it an opportunity to learn and grow and showcase my coachability / my willingness to listen and cooperate.
Consider mentioned examples and ask yourself: Which interpretation, interpretation “a” or “b”, would you choose if you had the power of the choice?
Are you aware of your self-talk running these interpretations – the automatic thoughts and images that cause your dysfunctional reactions to what is going on in your life?
What is Self-Talk?
Self-talk is what we say to ourselves about what is going on. Most of this will be automatic or subconscious. You may suddenly find yourself in a bad mood without knowing why. This is a great opportunity to unveil your automatic self-talk. Try to trace back your steps and ask yourself: What was going through my mind since my mood took a turn for the worse? In this case you may be fortunate enough to discover that you may have thought something like “my life is worthless” or “I am stupid” or “it will never get any better” or “no one loves me”… Upon discovering such statements from your self-talk you will most likely be capable of rectifying such absolutist condemnations of yourself. This process may be the first step in discovering the more hidden and automatic self-talk going through your mind.
Secondly Self-Talk is image laden. Sometimes your self-talk and interpretations of what is going on is boiled down to statements such as “Oh no!” or an image of yourself as an embarrassment in a social setting. In this case you may need to unpack these negative images to discover that they are exaggerated, or alternatively develop a compassionate stance towards these nightmarish images. Like saying to yourself “it’ll be okay.. I may show that I am nervous, I may even be wrong about something but I am just a human being, I’ll do the best I can and that has got to be enough.”
Negative self-talk may also lead to avoidance. If you keep telling yourself that you cannot tolerate this or that situation, you may start to avoid certain situations, which makes the situations appear even more frightening to you. Be aware of the fact that what you avoid thanks to your negative self-talk will grow more and more frightening to you. Don’t let your self-talk prevent yourself from growing and mastering your life.
The Three Types of Negative Self-Talkers
So. Let’s try to systematize what is going on. In the best selling self-help book “The Anxiety and Phobia Handbook” Edmund J. Bourne lists types of negative self-talk up. I have chosen to highlight three types. While reading the following try to see if you can recognise yourself in these types. If so, you are well advised to develop more appropriate, caring and rational ways of talking to yourself.
The Worrier – creates anxiousness
This type exaggerates his or her own vulnerability. Or put differently: Underestimates his or her ability to cope with adversity. As a whole they see the world as a dangerous place with disasters looming around each and every corner. The Worrier makes a virtue out of being prepared for the worst possible scenarios, and the red thread through it all is the self-talk that begins with: “What if…” The Worrier is capable of seeing all kinds of disasters on their inner screen. They have a great imagination and have a great sense of disasters. They conjure up images of themselves as a laughing stock, getting attacked, being abandoned, or contracting hideous chronic diseases and death. Underneath it all they may have thoughts such as: “Worrying is keeping me prepared for the worst”, or “worrying keeps me from getting disappointed” or “worrying helps me cope”. They invent disasters in their minds and try to think about solutions and while they consider this a fruitful way of getting peace of mind, they paradoxically marinate their brain with a sense of calamity. The most basic advice for this type is for you to realize that you actually have a great mind seeing that you can envision such dramas up ahead. Recognizing this ability to visualize stuff in your imagination you should try to steer your fantasy and self talk towards images of love and the utter greatness of existence rather than the irrational fearladen projections onto the future.
The Critic – Creates Low Self Esteem
This type is preoccupied with criticizing him- or herself. The Critic’s purpose is for you to be completely flawless. In the vein of psychoanalysis one may say that this type has a too strong “superego”. They call themselves idiots at the slightest mistakes they may make. They have rigid norms about what constitutes good behavior and may appear stiff in their manners and the ways they express themselves. This part of you disqualifies your positive qualities and the way you have mastered your past. Your inner critic gives rise to self-talk such as: “you are such a disappointment” or “Why can’t you get anything right”. This inner critic is oftentimes only directed at the self, but some Critic types are also tuned to noticing other people’s flaws and demeaning people around them. The basic piece of advice to the person suffering from self-talk from the inner Critic, would be to practice patience. Patience with yourself and patience with others. Also some moderation may be in order: Tell yourself that people don’t like being scolded like a child and when all is said and done neither do you. Take it easy. You may also use this trick: Tell your inner Critic that he or she is taxing your energy to actually do things the right way.
The Victim – Creates Depressed Mood
This type is preoccupied with not being good enough. It gives rise to self-talk about you not being able to cope, that people can’t help you and that things won’t get any better. The Victim sub personality within you, if you will, tells you that the obstacles ahead will impede any progress – that you won’t be able to overcome.
The kind of self-talk stemming from the Victim type has the hallmarks of depression and the curious thing is that you may suffer from Victim self-talk without being depressed. It does however rob you from the joy of life and will effectively estrange you from energetic happy people and leave you more unfulfilled and unhappy than need be.
The best piece of advice here may be for you to counter the Victim self-talk with a more caring attitude towards yourself. The (psychodynamic) purpose of the Victim subpersonality is to protect you from harm and in the process it limits the scope of your life. You should rehearse ignoringing your Victim self-talk as this part of you is not as smart as it purports to be. It is actually mostly wrong about life? As with the other self-talk modalities it exaggerates its importance and wisdom and keeps you from reaping the fruits of life.
So what now?
See if you can pinpoint if your negative self-talk is more at play in some situations rather than others. How does your self deprecating self-talk appear in your work life, in your personal relationships, in your intimate relationships? Learn how to predict when this kind of self-talk is most likely to appear and be prepared to not be hijacked by the timid, harsh or pessimistic chain of thoughts that once used to occupy you without you resisting one bit.
Also, and this is crucial: Be aware of your thought processes after the fact. After – say – a meeting in which you had to present something for management notice the “machinations” of worry, judgment and hopelessness that may appear in your mind and tell yourself to knock it off. The thing is: It may be hard to prevent oneself from worrying about a future event, it is much easier to tell yourself to quit quibbling about the past. Simply chose not to replay and overthink about how it all went. This part is actually more of an existential challenge than anything else. The reason why this is crucial advice is, that it works indirectly against any worry, harsh criticism and hopelessness in relation to future events, as you learn how to decouple from negative thinking. You may call this part of it the path of least resistance in terms of quitting your negative self-talk: Leave your past alone, you don’t have any influence on it anyway.
If you need help to quit your negative self-talk reach out and book a session.