We all get into to habits of speaking that can go unexamined for years. The really old habits can be hard to see since we wear them like a spiritual skin; they can feel like a part of who we are. They usually are not. Usually they are just habits formed without awareness or choice in a time when we had to do something or were learning by example.
This article reviews three common ways we speak to ourselves and how we can do better. Each suggestion counters a pattern that can impact our mood negatively. They are – as the saying goes – simple, but not easy.
Here’s what I mean.
Be Kind – to yourself. Listen to how you speak to yourself about yourself. Last weekend I sat across from this smart, funny, beautiful woman who was having a moment with her uber cool but complicated cell phone. I overheard, “Stupid, I am so stupid.” I asked her if she would say such a thing to a child or a dear friend. “No!” she answered emphatically. “Then don’t say it to yourself. We should be at least as kind to ourselves as we are to others.”
We pick up such self-harassment early, and such old patterns tend to fall into the realm of pessimistic thinking, meaning it is permanent, personal and pervasive.
“Stupid, I am so stupid.” is stated as a fact and is damning because of it. Watch yourself for such self-attacks. Flip it to an optimistic perspective by reframing the moment as transient, impersonal and specific. In this case: Wow, this phone is complicated, I know a lot of folks have had trouble with this. This is just part of the learning curve.I’ll figure it out.
You aren’t “stupid” – the phone is complicated. (Impersonal)
The trouble is just part of the learning curve. (Specific and understandable, not pervasive damnation)
I’ll figure it out. (It is a transient issue)
Catching ourselves being unkind and reframing thoughts more positively can make a big difference in how we feel about ourselves day-to-day.
Be Congruent – with your feelings. Many of us, I’m certainly one, tend to be incongruent when we talk about our feelings. We say the opposite of what is true: If we’re dreading something, we may sarcastically say, “I’m really looking forward to it.” If someone asks if our feelings are hurt, we might answer, “Oh, no, I feel great.”
Talking backwards in this way keeps us from synching up with our feelings, from being aware of and/or feeling what is really going on inside. We can acquire this from a time when we were not allowed to have/were punished for having our feelings or we grew up in a family that used such patterns to diffuse feelings/disguise intense feelings.
Such habits also allow ducking away from any conflict by the classic: “No, I was just kidding” escape hatch if questioned. If you’ve ever said that, chances are you have this habit.
For a week, try saying what you actually feel instead of spinning it backwards. This shift is not always easy but does tend to settle things down/align you internally in a way being incongruent doesn’t.
Be Reality-Based – with your statements about your day/life. The other day I was lamenting a long drive I was going to have day that day. I stated, “I’m going to be in the car f-o-r-e-v-e-r.” A good friend stopped me. “No,” she said, “You’re going to be in the car for five hours.” She paused, I laughed. She was right. Five hours is not forever, it isn’t even half the day.
It is easy to overstate things. Something was the BEST thing or the WORST thing, it was HORRIBLE, etc. We say such things for many reasons, one of which is to externalize a feeling we are not stating. Instead of saying, “I really don’t feel like doing all this driving today.” I said, “I’m going to be in the car f-o-r-e-v-e-r.”
Our brains believe what we say. By refocusing myself on the reality of the situation, instead of the drama, I immediately felt less overwhelmed by the drive and started to think about the rest of my day. And just a minute before I didn’t even have “a rest of my day” – I just had “forever.”
Being aware of what we are feeling and dealing with those feelings, instead of allowing them to bleed out into our minds and lives in other ways, is a very good way to help manage our mood.
by Sarah Wilson