Last month on the blog, I opened up about my negative internal narrative and its impact on my life since childhood. If you are managing a chronic illness, chances are you’ve been plagued with moments of self-doubt and negative thinking. Understand this: having negative thoughts is normal, so there is no shame to be associated with them. But they can be overwhelming and therefore necessary to find a way to cope with them.
Like Gary John Bishop says in Unf*ck Yourself, negative thinking doesn’t necessarily prevent you from taking action. Plenty of successful people are also self-destructive. But those of us negative thoughts impact, it can obstruct any personal progress to the point where we give up.
I slumped into periods of deep depression exacerbated by my negative thoughts. I am not always in control of these thoughts, but I had moments where I could see where I could alter my thinking and actively chose not to do it.
The dark thoughts fueled my resistance to change because I repeated the following excuse: I can’t work on making changes right now because I don’t feel good. When I feel better, I’ll make the necessary internal changes. Needless to say, it doesn’t work that way. If I wanted to feel better, I had to choose to feel better. The choice could include wellness changes or go to a therapist.
Please note: what follows is my experience and what worked for me. I am sharing my experience in case it provides help or comfort for you. Please do not expect the same results. You may find this does not work, it kinda works, or surpasses my results. Everyone is unique and in a different starting place.
Additional note: if you are dealing with depression, not everyone can halt negative thoughts. This post is not for those moments. If you are experiencing dark thoughts out of your control, please seek help. You are loved and wanted.
Soothing the Negativity
I found that when I personify my negative thoughts, I can cope with them. Often these thoughts sound and behave like a needy toddler, so I imagine that’s what they are. Toddlers are persistent, repetitive, demanding, loud, and sometimes won’t take “no” for an answer.
As are these thoughts.
When literally dealing with an out-of-control toddler, I find the most success when I speak in a calm and soothing voice. Reacting sharply, or in an emotionally charged tone, can exacerbate an already tense situation. When I take a moment to stop, figure out what is bothering Jai, and speak to him calmly, the episode ends a lot faster.
My “toddler” thoughts respond similarly. When I react to negative thoughts about myself, what I am doing, or memories in a harsh way; these thoughts fester and continue on for hours or days at a time.
But when I respond to these thoughts by taking a moment to figure out what is bothering me, speaking to myself calmly and lovingly, my own episode ends faster. It may still pop up throughout the day, but I continue to talk in kind words.
It’s funny. I am incapable of speaking kindly to myself when I don’t personify my thoughts as a toddler. I get in this mode of, “I am an adult, so why can’t my thoughts behave like an adult?” I look at the thoughts as though a toddler is living in my head, and suddenly, I am sensitive to my needs.
Having negative thoughts isn’t shameful. It’s healthy, so please do not feel like you have to drive them out of your head as soon as they pop in. Take a moment to validate them. Validation does not mean you agree with these thoughts, you are merely acknowledging their existence and what they are trying to say, no matter how badly they are saying it
You are giving your thoughts what they need: a moment to be heard.
Coping with Negative Thoughts
Try to figure out the “age” of your negative thoughts. While I am treating my thoughts like a toddler, the age of my thoughts is probably closer to twelve or thirteen. That’s when I can point to personal stunting of my emotional growth.
Pre-teens/teenagers often behave like toddlers, so it isn’t unreasonable to use a similar approach. I think it has everything to do with me raising a toddler, so I am already in a particular mindset.
Your thoughts may behave like a toddler, an older child, a teenager, or a young adult, depending on your age. Try to self-assess the behavior and tone of your thoughts to get an idea of the age, and then figure out how you would speak to someone within that age range.
Speaking to your negative voice like it’s a young child may not be as effective as talking to it like it’s an older teenager. It will take some time to get it right, but you’ll figure out what works best for you.
When you speak, try to do and keep the following in mind:
- Validate the feelings. Validate the thoughts you are thinking about. Reflect them back: “I hear that you are upset about what you said earlier today.”
- Speak as you wish an adult spoke to you at that particular age. You may not have a positive example in your life, so this will take some work. But imagine how you wished adults treated you at that stage. Rather than screaming and spanking you; you might have wanted, they sat down and talked you through the source of your outburst.
- Provide an outlet for the feelings in a healthy way. Sometimes we still have to physical our thoughts to get them out of our head. Consider taking up an exercise or hobby that will allow you to channel that extra emotional energy bothering you.
- Look for a way to manage similar thoughts in the future. Consider ways to address the thoughts you might have in the future, so you are prepared. You won’t be able to account for all possibilities, but you might know what might trigger a thought in the future.
- Commit to loving this hurt inner voice, despite what it says. This is one of the more difficult steps. Committing to love this voice that works so hard to hurt you. It is asking for your love, but going about it in a very ineffective way. Listen to it as a desire to be loved, and you may find it helps soothe it more and more in the future
As stated above, taking these steps may not be as useful for you, but it might give you an idea of how to break your negative thought cycle and help cope with those negative internal thoughts.
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