Monday, February 15, 2010

Dr. Kathleen Young - Overcoming Negative Self-Talk

Great post from Dr. Kathleen Young.

Overcoming Negative Self-Talk

February 13, 2010

I have described how shame and self-blame are natural consequences of childhood trauma. Negative self-talk is one way these feelings get carried into adulthood.

What do I mean by negative self-talk? Shame, that felt sense that one is innately bad, often shows up as a sort of running inner monologue detailing your shortcomings. Sometimes this process is referred to as “replaying old tapes”, meaning messages you received from others are now being played over and over in your own mind. Remember, the source of your shame came from outside of you, from those who neglected and/or abused you. As you start to become more aware of your inner critical voice you may in fact realize you are repeating what was said to you by your abusers! Stupid, ugly, worthless or fill in the blank with your inner insults: were these things you were called? If not this direct, they may certainly be what the abuse or neglect made you feel!

I have written before about one particular variant of negative self talk: body image critique. One really pervasive form this inner critique can take is “Fat Talk”.

Fat Talk describes all of the statements made in everyday conversation that reinforce the thin ideal and contribute to women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies. Examples of fat talk may include: “I’m so fat,” “Do I look fat in this?” “I need to lose 10 pounds” and “She’s too fat to be wearing that swimsuit.” Statements that are considered fat talk don’t necessarily have to be negative; they can seem positive yet also reinforce the need to be thin – “You look great! Have you lost weight?”

Negative self-talk can take other forms and focus on any or all aspects of your behavior, and perhaps most damaging, your very character or sense of self. Another common source of shame that leads to inner judgment is the expression of emotions. Trauma survivors have often learned to shut off or deny their normal range of feelings. Depending on your family, culture or even gender you may have internalized powerful messages about it not being acceptable to feel or express certain emotions. Anger, vulnerability and sadness, for example, may have been things you were punished for or told made you weak or bad. This really complicates healing as an adult. How many times do you find yourself judging yourself for the very things your therapist or support systems encourage as part of your healing? How do you respond to your own crying, for example?

As with type of change, the first step is becoming more aware. Try this experiment: tune in for a day to the internal conversations you have. Really focus on the specifics. It helps to write it down. What do you say to or about yourself? How much is positive or neutral? How much is negative? Would you speak to anyone else the way you do to yourself? Have you heard these messages from anyone outside of yourself? Are you able to be aware of internal conversation from other parts of you, if you have a dissociative disorder? Try listening instead of automatically tuning it out. I know it can be scary but it can also give you lots of insight.

Those with dissociative disorders like DID may hear this kind of inner judgment and criticism from different parts of themselves. I know, sometimes it is so extreme can feel really overwhelming. I get that the last thing you want to do is communicate with someone who seems to hate you! There is in my experience always more to understand about this than meets the eye. And no better way to resolve this dynamic than to increase internal communication. It is of course crucial to keep working towards the understanding that no part of you is to blame for the abuse that was done to you.

With increased awareness of the specifics of your own negative self-talk comes choice. You can decide to work on changing the negatives to positives (or at least neutrals)! You can decide to adopt an attitude of compassion toward all parts of yourself. You can stop the internal name calling even if you do not yet believe differently. Simply stopping your use of shaming words directed at yourself can have a profound effect! Try it and see.

For more tips check out this great detailed article: Negative Self-Talk: How We Can Stop It. I will highlight some bullet points here but it is worth reading in detail!

  • Say NO. Once you become aware of your negative self-talk, stop it. Say ‘No’, or ‘Stop’, or ‘Cancel’ to those thoughts. Do not allow yourself to make fun of your self or body or actions or appearance to yourself or other people. It is especially harmful to speak negatively about yourself to your children. You are passing down a legacy of low self-esteem that you do not want them to have and neither of you deserve.
  • Be Supportive, not condemning. “Take the same loving care you would with a child who is struggling to learn something new.”
  • Acknowledge that you are making positive changes to improve your life.
  • Treat yourself like a beloved friend.
  • Acknowledge the things you do well. (My note: this is really crucial! And no, I don not believe you if you say you do nothing well! No matter how small, focus on your accomplishments. Keep a running list to refer back to perhaps!)
  • Don’t yell at yourself for being negative. (That is the last thing you need! To engage in negative self-talk about your negative self-talk).

You get the idea! I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences with negative self-talk and the ways you have learned to combat it!

Kathleen Young, Psy.D.

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