I frequently think about the effects of words on the healing body and mind. One of the things that I focus on in my therapeutic pursuits is “positive self talk,” wherein I try to take those automatic negative statements my brain tosses out and change the dialogue to something more productive. When I’m triggered by a situation, the chemicals that rush my system cause a negative emotional reaction and my default statements are pretty brutal. Here is a short list of things that play repeatedly (and loudly) in my head when I’m in an emotionally vulnerable place like a meltdown or suicidal distress:
“You stupid bitch. You’re so fucking stupid. You deserve to be alone. You’re dumb. You’re ugly and horrible. You’re an awful monster and no one will ever love you. You’re just stupid and worthless. Why do you bother living? No one wants you. No one will ever want you. You’re a burden and you drag everyone down. You make everyone miserable. You’re fat and disgusting.”
However, I don’t really believe these things, but when I’m in that fragile place, I listen to that negative voice reel and I let it carry me away. It fuels my crying. It fuels my meltdowns. It fuels my shame about simple mistakes. It fuels my guilt complexes. Self talk is powerful, and if left unchecked, our internal dialogue can be our downfall.
Yet it isn’t just the internal dialogue that concerns me. I also think about the things that we say to others about ourselves and our bodies off hand. The title of my blog is “My Brain Hates Me” and this came from an idea I had in my teens. For a while there I actually believed that my brain was out to get me… that some part of myself wanted me to die. I’d say that was counter intuitive, but given the dosage of antidepressants I’m on and my lifelong battle with chronic depression, I may not have been too off base. I’ve had suicidal tendencies since my adolescence.
The fact that I embraced the idea that my brain, a part of myself, actually hates me is interesting. Moreover, why would I think that my body hates me? My body is me. Wouldn’t that merely imply that I hate myself? Absolutely.
As I’ve thought about these simple but negative mantras I’ve held onto over the years, I’ve thought about how to shed their power over me and keep them as the quips they are meant to be. I love myself and I want to live. Now there is a mantra to say over and over again, especially as a chronic pain sufferer. I’m not in the least stupid or ugly. I am fat, but I like my body and I try to take care of it. I don’t see the word “fat” as a bad word.
So how can we change our internal dialogue in times of upset? It’s not easy. I find that it is the equivalent of trying to stop a train with my pinky finger. But it can be done! Here are the techniques that I employ along the path to bettering the way I talk to myself inside my head:
- Guided Hypnosis
- Art Therapy
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
- Creative Productivity
Meditation, for me, doesn’t have to be anything more formal than a time of quiet introspection. I do basic breathing exercises to help relax me and then I flood my brain with positive imagery and reassurances. Worry and doubt and stress are things that cause us to beat ourselves up. There is always something we could be doing, but making the time to take care of our mental faculties is extremely important. Tell yourself that this time is for you. Think about anything you like so long as you find it positive and relaxing. I like to go to the Girl Cave, light some incense, put on some music, and get to it.
But, MBHM, how do I meditate? I’m glad you asked! Meditation doesn’t come naturally. Quieting our mind is something we have to learn. I recommend these resources to set you on your path:
- Healing Spirit: Guided Meditation for Relaxation, Anxiety and Depression
I started using guided hypnosis to help with my insomnia, or painsomnia, issues. Guided hypnosis is very similar to meditation in that you reach a relaxed state. However, with guided hypnosis, you’re also hearing a message. There are many YouTube channels dedicated to hypnosis, but the best I’ve found is by Jody Whiteley. Her YouTube channel has guided hypnosis sessions for everything from insomnia to depression and anxiety. Sessions last anywhere from 30 minutes to 8 hours. Her creepy voice has gotten me through a great deal of stress. If meditation doesn’t work for you because you have trouble focusing your mind on your own, this might be a great alternative.
If you are a regular reader of my blog, you know that I attend art therapy sessions with a licensed therapist. I don’t think that this type of therapy must be done under the supervision of a professional, but it can’t hurt. Examining the origins of your negative self talk, and drawing those origins engages a different part of your brain. Art gives you the power to change the story whenever you like. Add a tree, add a caretaker. Make yourself a superhero. You can be whatever you want in your imagination and in a drawing or painting… and you can defeat the negativity monster with your pencil or paint brush.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT, however, should be done with professional supervision. There are websites, such as MoodGym, that allow you to do some basic CBT exercises, but any therapeutic endeavor of this nature should be done with a therapist or psychologist’s approval. CBT addresses negative thought patterns by challenging those yucky images of yourself and replacing them with healthier, more positive images through repeated exercises. It’s sort of like training your brain to be nicer to itself and recognize when it’s being negative, so you can put a stop to the negative thinking. It’s beneficial when done right, but it can be done incorrectly. It should make you feel great about yourself, and never worse. This is deep, introspective therapy work, so be prepared for it to be difficult to wade through… but worth it in the end.
Obviously, I write. I have this blog. I also write poetry and fiction and non-fiction. Writing is a creative outlet for me with which I process thoughts. The reason I started this blog was to share my experiences during a difficult time in my life. Along the way I’ve realized that I’ve never had an easy time, and neither have many of my readers… and this has been a very humbling and heartwarming experience. Writing this blog has shown me that I am not alone with my pain, with my depression, with my neurodiversity, or with my worries. It’s not Tolstoy, but it’s meaningful to me.
Art and writing aren’t for everyone, and depending upon the nature of whatever condition you might have, they may not be feasible. Crafts, however, are a fun alternative. When I was last hospitalized at the Jefferson Headache Center, I met a gal who has been suffering with head pain like mine for 5 years. During her “good time” she would make rubber band bracelets. They took her about 15 minutes each. 15 minutes were really about all she could stand, but, as she told us in our group therapy session, “At the end I had a pretty new bracelet!” That helped her take thoughts of worthlessness and change her dialogue from, “I can’t do anything,” to, “I can make this thing that I enjoy.” That’s important. That’s so important.
Truly, it doesn’t matter how you start to change the tone of your self talk. Any method that works for you, so long as it works, well… that’s all that’s important. But changing it is vital. Negativity is detrimental to our health and we have to combat it with every tool in the arsenal.
What tricks do you use to combat negative self talk?