Posted February 23, 2018 – [Published in Natural Awakening’s magazine, November 2017 edition.]
How often do you find yourself getting caught up in a spiral of negative thinking? “Shame on me!”, “I cannot believe I did that!”, “I look horrible today!”. Sound familiar?
These thoughts can be persistent. Sometimes we may feel helpless to know what to do about them. We may even wonder if we can change them at all.
Please know that hope is possible! We can change our thinking and we can learn to quiet and even eliminate the bully in our head.
The first step to managing that critical voice is recognizing that it is there. So, congratulations! If you are reading this article, you have already taken a step toward improvement!
Next, we need to remember that just because we think something does not mean that it is true. We have automatic thoughts all the time, whether they are positive, negative, or neutral. This may sound something like: “What a beautiful day!”, “He is so annoying!” or “I need to remember to have an apple as a snack today.” There is no need to judge these thoughts. Just let them be. Observe them. And, know that they do not necessarily represent the truth.
For some reason, us humans have this interesting experience that we believe all of our thoughts to be true. If we are nervous that we are going to mess up speaking publicly, we assume we will mess up and get even more nervous about it. If we think someone does not like us, we assume it must be true and filter all interactions with that person through that lens. But, thoughts are not truth. They are just that – thoughts.
So, you have a critical thought about yourself and you remind yourself that it is not necessarily true. Good for you. Here is where the work comes in. The good news is that you have several options. See what works and what does not. And, make up some other approaches, too.
- Consider friendship – If you had a best friend who was openly critical with themselves, what would you say to them? Would you agree with the initial critical comment or would you remind them of how awesome they are? Would you be harsh or, instead, offer some gentleness and reassurance that they are doing what they can? Probably the latter, right? So, talk to yourself as you would talk to a friend. Be loving and use The Golden Rule – how would you want to be treated?
- Think of the magic 5:1 ratio – John Gottman, a research-based relationship expert, found that, in order for any relationship (e.g. couples, parent-child, employee-employer) to have a positive outlook, there has to be at least five positive interactions for every one negative interaction. Your relationship with your Self is no different. Every time you notice yourself having a critical thought, come up with five positive things to offset that negativity. What five things are you good at? What are five things you are thankful for? What are five things that make you amazing?
- Use positive affirmations – Reframe a bullying thought to a reflection on your journey to self-discovery. This may sound something like “Wow! I learned that I am not the best at completing tasks by a deadline. Now I know to plan ahead next time.” or “I know I did the best that I could.” It is not about being dishonest. If you are horrible at basketball, there is no point to affirming that “I am the best basketball player on Earth.” You will not believe it, anyway. Instead, affirmations are about saying something that is accurate but something that is also encouraging and future-focused.
- Challenge yourself! – If you have a thought and it does not make you feel good about yourself, challenge it! The bully in our head does enough pushing as it is, so push back! For example, if you had to prove the thought you are having is true in a courtroom, where hard evidence is required, could you? How do you really know that you are stupid? How do you really know that you will never find a romantic partner? If the bully in your head is using absolutes like “Never” or “Always,” push back to see if those thoughts are actually true or are simply another automatic thought trying to manipulate your emotions.
- Just stop! – If all else fails, whenever that bully in your head appears, stop. Maybe say “STOP!” in your head or even out loud to bring you back to the present moment.
The acronym “STOPP” can be helpful here. It reminds us to:
Take a breath
Observe – Explore what situation we are reacting to and what we are feeling in our body.
Pull back – Ask objectively “Is this fact or opinion?” or “How would someone else see this?”
Practice what works
Remember Who is Listening
John Assaraf says it best: “Be careful what you say to yourself because someone very important is listening…YOU!” Let your mother’s voice ring in your head: “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” Take that advice. Remember, you have a choice to believe your thoughts or not. So, choose wisely. Challenge yourself. Remind yourself of your awesomeness. Be gentle to yourself. And, if worse comes to worse, if you can’t find anything nice to say to yourself, don’t say anything at all.
~Ashley Carter Youngblood, LMSW, LMFT, CADC, ADS
Ashley Carter Youngblood is both a fully-licensed Clinical Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist who has been in the field since 2007. She offers counseling at Inner Peace Counseling, PLC for those in Kalamazoo, Portage, Mattawan, Battle Creek, Paw Paw, and the surrounding areas of Southwest Michigan. She is passionate about her work with clients, whether it’s providing individual counseling, couples counseling, family therapy, or life coaching. Her specialties include holistic healing/mindfulness, counseling for women, anxiety, couples counseling, and addictions/substance abuse.
I welcome you to contact me or leave any questions or feedback you have about this post. Please keep in mind that the above information is the opinion of an individual, should not be considered medical advice, and is for entertainment/educational purposes only. I write these blogs as an expression of my passion for wellness and with the hope to be able to help as many people as possible. Therefore, I would encourage anyone seeking mental health advice to contact a therapist in your area who can better evaluate your situation and provide you with case-specific information for treatment. Also remember, if you are experiencing an emergency, contact 911 or present yourself to your nearest emergency room.
Thanks for reading.