This post has been partly inspired by a post on the blog The Daily Brain Shelter and stuff that I have been going through lately.
One of the main things I tell my clients in our introduction to therapy is “the way you think influences the way you feel and behave” which is one of the premises of cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT). CBT is an evidence-based therapy and has been empirically shown to be the most efficacious form of treatment for most mental health problems including depression, social anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress etc. Anyway, this post is not to talk about CBT.
Rather, I am curious about what we tell ourselves.
I, for one, know that I have a lot of negative self-talk and sometimes it can get really bad and I feel depressed. I use the term depressed in a very lay manner…I have not been clinically depressed but I think that’s because I have insight into my ways of thinking and behaving and can therefore catch myself before I go too far (Thank God for psychology!). I am also a very anxious person and once again, I recognise that it is what I tell myself that results in my anxiety.
I remember worrying about going up on stage to make speeches for years…my thoughts: “I am going to make a fool of myself“. I sometimes think to myself “I am so fucking fat…I’m never going to lose weight” The result: Hating myself and feeling down. I sometimes tell myself “I am not going to be able to cope if such-and-such doesn’t work out” resulting in anxiety even before it happens. Or I find I tell myself “I am not going to cope with my finances”. I then feel extremely anxious and finally depressed because I think that I actually can’t cope! And of course, I have caught myself thinking “The dating scene is too fucking hard…there’s a man drought…I’m never going to find anyone at this rate” and what do I do? Feel defeated and not bother.
The problem with what we tell ourselves is how it influences our feelings and behaviours and can actually result in this vicious cycle of self-defeat. (I haven’t reached there…the above were some examples which I do manage to get out of) So how do we get out of this? Well, CBT tells us to challenge our thoughts and look at evidence for and against them, following which we can come up with more helpful thoughts (Notice I didn’t say ‘positive’. I have something against that term. I prefer helpful and realistic thoughts). So for example, with my ‘fat thoughts’, it would be a bit delusional to tell myself “I’m hot and fantastic looking“. Rather, a more realistic way would be “Well, I’m on the plump side but it’s not the end of the world. All I need to do is to set goals to lose weight and I can exercise” And so on, and so forth.
What we tell ourselves is quite important. We can bring ourselves down. We can bring our self-esteem down. We can demean ourselves. Hence, it is important for us to challenge it all. To come up with healthier and more helpful ways of thinking.
It is hard, no doubt. It’s so much easier to berate ourselves and to believe our thoughts. It’s hard work to challenge. It’s even harder to remember to challenge.
But in the end, it’s worth it.
If you can be a little less anxious or a little less depressed, it’s worth the effort.
Change the way you think if you want to change the way you feel.
So if you would like to, please share what you tell yourself.
And how you feel after you do so.
Until next time,