coping-with-negative-thoughts

Coping with Negative Thoughts

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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learning-to-trust-yourself

Learning to Trust Yourself

We’re always told that trust is earned. People must earn our trust if they are going to become friends or lovers, and trust must be regained if broken. Sometimes we lose trust in ourselves, and in our abilities. Or maybe we never learned to trust ourselves at all. I realized that the moment I stopped trusting myself was the moment I allowed self-doubt, insecurity, and anger take over my life. I had to learn how to trust myself again.

Lack of self-trust hinders our abilities to do essential tasks. Second-guessing, negative internal self-talk, and desire to avoid all interfere with our lives. When we don’t trust ourselves, it can stall our plans.

Self-Doubt Prohibits Trust

As children, we were taught to trust in our abilities by our guardians. I am doing this daily for Jai: when he encounters a particular obstacle that he does not believe he can overcome, I reassure and coach him through the steps to overcome it. Because I can see the bigger picture, I know what he can do without me and when I should step in. By granting him the opportunity to learn to trust himself in these moments, he’ll have a better awareness of his abilities.

Life slowly ebbs away the self-trust you built in childhood.

You take one too many blows to your ego; you deal with bullies at home, school, or work; you feel like you fail more often than you succeed. If you have a chronic illness, it might temporarily take physical or mental abilities, which is demoralizing. You reach a self-trust breaking point.

When this happens, we inhabit spaces of the doubt more often than areas of self-trust. It prevents us from taking the necessary steps to get better.

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Self-doubt-influenced-by-others

When Others Influence our Self-Doubt

I forgot about the pull of peer-influence as an adult. It’s still there, in my life like it’s always been, but I’ve learned to tune it out better or deceive myself into thinking that others aren’t influencing my actions. It wasn’t until Jai started mimicking other children that I remembered how significant the influence of others can be in our lives. Self-doubt comes within, but others can influence it as well.

Sometimes friends or family members repeat a concern out of love, but it isn’t delivered appropriately. Other times, people will behave with the intent to bring us down emotionally so they might lift themselves up.

If you experience internalized self-doubt and couple it with externalized behavior of others, it can become extremely discouraging.

When Self-Doubt is Influenced by Others

My external sources of self-doubt aren’t distinct. To be honest, I don’t even believe these sources know they are doing it. As it is for us: we don’t sometimes recognize when we’re bringing someone else down, possibly feeding into their negative internal narrative.

I’ve had people want to help in certain areas of my life only to lose interest when I take them up on it. It’s somewhat discouraging and leaves me feeling bad because I asked for help and inconvenienced them. This plays into my self-doubt because I hate being a burden on others.

I often stop myself from trying something new or different if it requires me asking others for help.

I know someone who has to be the smartest person in the room. It’s infuriating because it’s clear they are insecure about their own abilities. I am often left in awe by the scope of their knowledge on a particular subject that I have little interest in. But when they talk about it with such expertise and enthusiasm, I find myself invested.

When there is knowledge/interest overlap, and I am more knowledgeable on a subject, this individual nitpicks at the minor mistakes I make (often revolves around correcting my spelling in a hastily composed text). They will slide in with “corrections” if they think I got a factoid wrong, though often they are wrong in their corrections. I learned from previous encounters not to say anything because they won’t let it drop, regularly sending me a message many hours later pointing out how they are technically correct.

Coupled with my MS, I find this behavior extremely discouraging. My memory already is spotty, and so I’ve been humbled to no longer trust myself when it comes to information. To have someone pick away at my knowledge base so they might feel better about themselves makes me feel awful.

Choosing not to Listen

We have two choices when it comes to these external influences to our self-doubt: listen to them or not listen to them. I am going to advocate to not listen to them if they make you feel bad.

Sometimes others provide us with excellent objective insight that is worth considering, but we’re discussing the moments their input negatively exacerbates self-doubt.

When I feel bad about asking for help, I found alternative solutions to my situation. Many of these solutions propelled me forward in ways I hadn’t expected. Allowing myself to be tethered to asking for help was holding me back. When I removed the external source of self-doubt, I removed that instance of doubt in my life.

For the person who needs to be smarter than me: I still find it irritating to get caught in a conversation with them, but I no longer allow them to tear me down. Rather than revealing my knowledge on a subject (fortunately they don’t remember what I am knowledgeable about, so this is easy), I just play along with that they are presenting me with new information. I reflect the conversation back and work on being compassionate to their insecurity.

I won’t say it’s easy. I still have my moments where I complain to Ash about them and how irritated I feel about my treatment, but it’s getting more tolerable with each interaction.

If I don’t engage with their behavior, I have no reason to start doubting my memory or intelligence. I consciously make the decision not to give them the opportunity to make me feel bad about myself.

Letting Go of the Negativity

When others exert their influence on us, even unconsciously, it’s because they have their own negativity they have to work through. They may reach a point where they can do so, or they may never get there.

Unfortunately, it’s up to us to forgive them for their behavior towards us. Just like we must forgive ourselves for our mistakes, we must forgive them even when they don’t apologize. When we don’t forgive them, we allow the hurt and pain they cause to continue.

To be clear: forgiveness is not saying their behavior is “okay.” It’s no longer giving power to their action to continue to hurt us emotionally/mentally. When we allow others to feed into our self-doubt, we give them precious head and heart-space. Our time is better spent elsewhere, like taking care of ourselves in our chronic illness.

These people will continue to hurt us, and we will need to continue to forgive them. Hopefully, you will be able to get to a point to either excise them from your life or, it no longer bothers you.

Make the decision no longer let others influence your self-doubt. You don’t need to tell them that you are forgiving them, in fact, unless they ask, there’s no point in saying anything to them. Hopefully, you’ll find the interactions easier once you stop giving into the negativity.

With forgiveness, embrace compassion towards them if you can. These external influences are hurting in their own ways. Understand that their inability to help you or insecurity in their personal life impacts how they behave. It isn’t your fault they are like that, they have ineffective coping mechanisms.

It’s not your job to fix them, but your responsibility to protect yourself. Stay focused on keeping your mind healthy and out of the negative influence of others.


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internal-self-doubt

The Internal Voice of Self-Doubt

In May, I discussed growing up with a negative internal voice and the long-term damage it caused in my adulthood. This voice shaped my inner monologue that I still listen to today, which impacted my ability to have meaningful relationships with others. Additionally, this voice is the source of my internal self-doubt.

I hear this voice the loudest when I am working on essential tasks that require self-motivation. If I am training for a run, it’s that voice that tells me I can’t make it up a hill without stopping. I try to combat it by setting mini-goals, “if I make it to that lamp post, I can walk.” If I focus too much on that mini-goal in the distance, the voice will sometimes win out by stating again (and again) that it’s too far away. I’ll stop to walk because I cannot cut through the discouragement.

I give into that voice more often than I would like.

You may not struggle with self-doubt as much as I do, which I hope remains the case for you throughout your life. But if you do, even for a little bit, I hope you’ll find some comfort and reassurance in these posts.

The Internal Voice of Doubt

For many, self-doubt comes from a childhood where the child grew up to believe they weren’t good enough. Children of narcissistic parents or parents with narcissistic tendencies often struggle with self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. These parents made the child feel like they were never good enough, and when this happens, the child struggles to regulate their feelings of self-doubt.

My self-doubt voice grew the loudest in graduate school and immediately after my MS diagnosis. I ended up coupling chronic illness with my self-doubt to give myself more excuses as to why I couldn’t do something.

I can’t do this because of my fatigue. I can’t do that because of my MS memory issues. Why did I think I was capable of starting this project? I am never going to be good enough to get a job in this field, so why am I trying?

I gave into this voice so much that it stalled all progress in the program and nearly prevented me from going out and achieving my professional goals. While MS may not have created my self-doubt, it helped exacerbate it.

Getting Stuck

Reading Gary John Bishop’s book, Unf*ck Yourself, was an eye-opener for me. Bishop’s point about staying in our comfort zones resonated with my moments of self-doubt: when we stay in our ruts, we don’t challenge ourselves. When we don’t challenge ourselves, we are listening to an internal voice that says we can’t (or won’t) succeed.

Our self-doubt hates change. It hates to be challenged. When we hear that voice yelling that we can’t make it up a hill during a run, it’s saying that our task is too hard even if it’s for our own good.

Self-doubt saves us from unfamiliarity.

Those in high-powered careers or in graduate schools may have heard the term “imposter syndrome.” You start to doubt your abilities or knowledge so much that you find it extremely difficult to move forward.

Or, if you don’t deal with imposter syndrome, then perhaps you struggle to take positive feedback from others. Each time you receive a compliment, you deflect it or denigrate yourself because you don’t believe what is being said about you.

Whether it’s imposter syndrome or unable to take a compliment, both stem from being too afraid to see ourselves as worthy of anything. Self-doubt keeps us stuck and wanting to move forward because we believe we aren’t worth it.

Listening to the Wrong Voice

You know the phrase “squeaky wheel gets the oil,” right?

Unfortunately, our internal voice of self-doubt tends to be extremely loud, therefore sucks up most of our attention. Sometimes, it’s hard to ignore or brush that voice aside. If you are dealing with self-doubt that carries over from childhood like me, then it can be pretty painful to listen to and indulge that voice.

Yet, that voice is probably keeping you from making the changes you want to make in your life. Your chronic illness exacerbates this voice. Unfortunately, the solution is finding a way to either ignore or work around that voice so it becomes a muffle. The unfortunate part is that this won’t be an easy task to do.

Like running up that hill during my training, we’re about to embark on a challenge that will have you wanting to stop before reaching your goal. Over the next few weeks we’ll discuss some tools and examples of calming that voice of self-doubt.

Know that you are not alone in this journey. You are worth taking these steps, despite what that voice might tell you.


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recognizing-self-doubt

Recognizing Self-Doubt

In my most profound moments of self-reflection, I find that I am riddled with self-doubt that stops me from achieving personal goals. Self-doubt tells us that we are incapable of doing something and serves as discouragement disguised as good-intentions. When making significant life changes, we must recognize self-doubt for what it is, a possible road block, and find a way to cope with it.

We define self-doubt as a lack of confidence in ourselves and what we are capable of doing. It isn’t always an accurate assessment of our abilities but meant as a form of self-handicapping to protect our egos from possible failure. This is reductionist, as there are other reasons why people fall into self-doubt, but that’s what we’ll be focusing on.

We engage in self-doubt as an excuse to prevent us from moving forward in life. It’s important to recognize when this happens because sometimes we don’t even realize we’re doing it.

Self-Doubt after Self-Reflection

I have a voice in the back of my head that pipes up after I’ve reflected on a situation. The situation may have ended unfavorably, where I behaved in a way I am not proud of, so I’ll start to reflect on what I could do in the future. The voice comes in after I decide my next steps and tells me that I won’t achieve it. It loudly proclaims that I still haven’t made the positive changes, so why would I begin now?

Obviously, it ignores all the times when I succeed in making positive changes in similar scenarios.

I think this self-doubt voice comes in after an emotional self-reflection because I am vulnerable. Vulnerability isn’t a negative trait to possess, but my self-doubt comes in to take advantage of it. It works to sabotage all my hard work.

I believe self-doubt is our unconscious form of self-preservation. In our minds, we’ve created a specific persona for ourselves. It’s how we see ourselves interacting with the world and how the world interacts with us. It doesn’t necessarily reflect reality, but it’s the reality we’ve created ourselves.

When we start to change this persona and bring our perspective in line with reality, self-doubt seeps in because often the gap between our reality and actual reality is painful. Many years ago, I thought about how I was in High School. I had a brief thought that I was a difficult person to get along with, which was completely counter to the fantasy I created about being bullied.

The moment I had this thought it was so painful that my self-doubt and denial quickly flooded in to soothe the wound I gave my ego. I have since taken more time to self-reflect and found that while I was bullied, it had a lot to do with me painting a target on my back. I was unnecessarily confrontational, so the “bullying” was a response to that.

When we see something we don’t like about ourselves, we are working in direct defiance of the persona we’ve built up over a lifetime of experiences. Self-doubt works to preserve that personal for our emotional well-being. It’s well-intentioned, but it can keep us from moving beyond what keeps us stuck.

Self-doubt only serves to keep us within an unhealthy comfort zone.

The Danger of Self-Doubt

Self-doubt is the motivation killer.

We have many motivational killers out there, but self-doubt is one of the greatest ones. It’s the voice we listen to when we think we’re not good enough for something, or try and eat healthy, or what keeps us from striving for more.

Self-doubt is a voice that we listen to because it is always with us. I believed my self-doubt was some otherworldly voice responding to my requests for help on something. I thought it was an inspired voice speaking to me with omniscient wisdom, so when it said for me not to do something, it clearly knew what it was saying.

No, it was my self-doubt masquerading as the supernatural to keep me from trying harder or stepping outside of my comfort zone.

You may not have an otherworldly voice speaking to you, but there’s a good chance you have some internal voice telling you what you can’t do. When you engage with this voice, it turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Looking Ahead

This month will be working to address the moments of self-doubt directly. Those times where we want just to give up and not move forward because we don’t think we can. This will be last month we focus on negative things in our self-improvement journey for this year. Stick through it so we can take a couple of months of appreciating ourselves and celebrating ourselves. It will be worth it in the end.


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