Navigating and implementing tools for negative self-talk.
I remember this time from college when I was "dating" a guy that had me wrapped around his finger. He could do no wrong in my eyes. But the relationship was one-sided. I used to watch certain shows that would fuel my feelings of unrequited love and really spiral out on this. I sent him a song once ("Twice," by Little Dragon - yes, I remember), and he hated it. I could not understand how anyone could hate this song, it fueled such a sense of... I do not know exactly what it was at the time. I remember this conversation via text where he said he hated it and I had responded with, "I just love it." He told me, "Yes... you love to brood."
No one had ever told me this before. I did not even fully comprehend what this meant, I was like 19. I looked it up online and the description was, "to think deeply of something that makes one unhappy." So that was the "feeling" I could not explain. Also, this was shocking to me. I did not understand that everyone was not like this - that everyone did not frequently "brood." What a disappointment to find out I am actually a boring ass Stefan Salvatore and not a Damon. A Zoe, and not a Zelda.
I have been brooding my entire life, and maybe that is okay every now and then, or maybe it is not? When is it not?
I have always had a sick satisfaction from the feeling of unhappiness. Reflecting now, I think I understand why. Each time I spiral out in this way, it always confirms something I already believe about myself. That belief is that I am actually a piece of shit and I deserve to be unhappy. It is almost like I am validating myself in a way, and the validation is what feels "good."
As I have learned in the past, not everyone does this - or at least it certainly does not come as naturally to them - but I know there are many people who do.
Anxiety, depression, and brooding. The 3 amigos.
I believe the moment when your brooding episode has gone a step too far is the moment you have entered the realm of truly negative self talk. For anyone, but especially those who struggle with anxiety and depression, negative self talk is one of the worst things we can do for ourselves; and worse - once we are in the thick of it, it is like crawling through a tar pit to come back out.
How do we change it?
More specifically, how do we improve the process of crawling back out?
The experience of negative self talk is not isolated to people who struggle with anxiety or depression. Everyone experiences this - for some it is easier to bop back and for some it is like the tar pit I described above. Knowing this, I think it is fair to say that we will never be able to fully avoid this mentality. We just have to learn to recognize it, and what works for us to pull out of it.
Consider everything below as my own personal experiment (using my blog as a platform for it). This is going to look different for everyone, so change scenarios and wording as you see fit. And if you are interested, answer the questions prompted beneath this scenario at home in your own journal or whatever it is that you use to brainstorm with.
The morning was going alright. You woke up on time, after you shockingly slept through the night. Your spouse brings you coffee while you get ready for work. You grab something to walk out the door with for breakfast and hit the road. The sun is shining, and you feel good today. Nothing is gonna bring you down, today is your day.
Your music is playing on shuffle on the way to work. That one song comes on. You know the song. You can't change it, it's a good song. The melancholy does not match the morning you have had, but... it is a good song. You've had good times with this song. You'll just listen through the chorus.
You pull into your office parking lot. You have no recollection of driving there... How did you change lanes? When did you exit the freeway? Who knows! But you made it here, and now you hate yourself! Wait, what...? Where did that feeling come from... You do not hate yourself.
You try to identify what it is that made you feel this way. Your brain is chaotically searching for what could have possibly caused this feeling. You register that you cannot decipher this all day, you have to enter the building now. There is shit to do. You are uneasy now, there is a lot of shit to do... and now you cannot focus. What the fuck?
No... you do not have time for this. Headphones go in and you go about your day - you will think on this later. But no... you can't. There is so much work to get done and you are... something. This has to be identified and resolved. Right now. There is something wrong.
There is something wrong.
There is something wrong...
There is something wrong with you.
Everyone else is smiling and happy. They are all having coffee and going about their morning routine. Someone waves good morning to you and you wave back. He knows. He knows something is wrong with you. Everyone knows. How could they not? You fucked up that spreadsheet yesterday. That customer called you and they are pissed off, you would be too if you had to deal with you. You are a piece of shit and everyone knows it. Who thought it was a good idea to hire you... you fooled them. They didn't know yet that you were fucking stupid. No sense in hiding it. Better just turn the music up and keep to yourself. It's better for everyone involved if you just mind your own business, you will only fuck everything up if you get involved...
Or maybe if you talk to them you can still convince them everything is fine, that you are fine. Wait... they don't care. They don't care if you are "fine" or not. No one cares about you. Fuck. Maybe it would have been better if you had wrecked your car this morning when you were in la la land. Then no one would have to deal with you anymore. They could hire someone smart. Your spouse would probably be better off if they did not have to pretend to care about you anymore, all you are is a burden after all. They deserve someone better than you. You're nothing...
You are in the tar pit.
What are you doing here? Why are you reading this?
In a shocking turn of events you realize... you care.
You care about you. You do not like this. You do not like this feeling that you cannot identify. You do not understand where it came from or what the cause is. None of it makes sense... but you are at the bottom of the pit, it came out of fucking nowhere, and now you cannot breathe.
How can you get out?
How you can stop this before it starts? Or at minimum, jump back to solid ground as the, "crumbly canyon wall is taking you with [it]."
Now, let's rewind the entire scenario.
Your day started on the right foot. You received a full night of sleep, your partner helped you get out the door on time. The sun was shining. All was well... until the song. Then you likely dissociated and ended up in your work parking lot. We can't be sure where the mind went during that time as we reflect back, but we know you were uneasy when you arrived and feeling off. Maybe it began by brooding, maybe it didn't. All you know now is that in this moment, you were uncomfortable.
Rather than playing inspector gadget this time around, let's acknowledge it. You feel off. You have no idea why. You're human and you feel off, uneasy, uncomfortable. You are upset, sad, mad. You just are. Let's call it for what it is. It does not matter why. Looking for the reason why is our way of identifying what we deem to be a problem so that we can fix it. There is nothing to fix. You are already whole. During the music your mind (naturally) drifted away in thought. Now, you are simply experiencing a feeling that came up as a result and it is uncomfortable for you; but this time around - you are acknowledging it and allowing it in. You take a deep breath in through your nose... out through your mouth.
What physical sensation do you have now?
Where do you feel that breath? Your stomach? Chest? Diaphragm?
It's time to walk into the office now. You decide not to put your headphones in this time around and suddenly you hear the birds in the parking lot. Now you see them, too. They weren't there before somehow. You pass someone as you walk into the office, he waves and says good morning. You hear him and wave back. You start to wonder if he saw you breathing deeply in the parking lot... he must think you are a fucking weirdo - no. You come back to that breath. You visualize that intrusive thought you just had - gone. Sucked out an airplane window. Pulled off the stage with a giant hook. Maybe the whole damn man was pulled off the stage with his nonexistent thought, or maybe just his little thought bubble. Either way, it's gone now. You notice your breath again and ask yourself:
What evidence do you have that this person believes this of you?
You walk away, move on with your morning. You get a cup of coffee in the kitchen and head to your desk... oh, that's right. You have a lot of work to do today! You log in to your computer and the emails are overwhelming. Your chest tightens. You can't do this job. Someone else is better suited... you don't provide any value, I mean you can't even keep up your stupid emails because you are incapable and slow and - no. A deep breath. You have handled this before. It's hard, but not impossible, and you are not incapable because you have handled this before. Your best friend at work, who you value and respect, turns to you and voices to you that they believe themself to be worthless, incapable, slow and stupid.
What do you tell your friend?
You were shocked to find out that your friend feels this way about themself. You reassured them that they are important, valuable, capable and that they historically have always completed projects on time. You told them you admired how they operated with integrity and that they always had a good attitude. It turned their entire day around and that inspired you. You pull out sticky notes and write up three affirmations for yourself to hang on your monitor, wondering if this will work for you, too.
What affirmations do you write?
You finish out your day, applying these techniques and asking yourself these questions as the mind wandered into negative self talk. You survived, you completed your work, and you socialized with your coworkers along the way.
What does it feel like?
Did you avoid the tar pit in this scenario?
It is hard. To change the way we have traditionally thought and functioned is hard. If you're a masochist, avoiding the tar pit is simultaneously not gratifying for you in the beginning. I can relate. Let's assume that you still landed in the tar pit in this second scenario. Maybe it was subconsciously intentional; maybe you are just really new to this process and need more practice. This is okay. Let's explore these questions instead:
What has helped you out of the tar pit in the past?
Can you apply that now?
What other options can you think of to help you out of the pit?
Who is supporting you in these scenarios?
What is keeping you stuck in there?
What do you want to do about it?
We have to be ever so intentional with these changes. Doing this one time through does not mean it will now come naturally. There is a trial and error process along the way as well, because some things will work for you but some things will not. If this false scenario set up was useful for you, please reach out directly or comment below. This post is part of something much larger that I am currently gathering feedback on, and I want to know what the experience of going through a written format like this is from a viewpoint other than my own.