I’ve been thinking (and talking) a lot recently about ‘self-talk’; the way in which we talk to ourselves, our internal dialogue.
For instance, the language we use to define our emotions, and in turn how that allows our emotions to define us.
In Spanish we say “I have anger” – “I have sadness”
In Gaelic we say “the anger is on me” “the sadness is on me”
In English, we absolutely own that sh*t – “I AM angry” “I AM sad”
The first two examples accept the transient nature of our emotions, but our own language does not accept the impermanence of a state of mind, and instead of describing the emotion we are feeling at that moment, we use the emotion to describe ourselves.
It’s easier said than done to change the way we speak to ourselves. Years of conditioning have forged a map of neural pathways which our brains will automatically choose to use, meaning each time we make a mistake, we will repeat the same set of behaviours; to ruminate over the error, replaying the scene over and over in our minds, wishing we could go back and change what we did and said, or didn’t do and didn’t say.
Beating ourselves up and using that experience to serve as absolute confirmation that we are completely friggin’ useless.
Taking steps towards being kinder to ourselves can begin simply by accepting that we are not sad, angry, anxious…we are human, and humans are not perfect, and that is okay.
I received some truly priceless advice during a group therapy session for anxiety management which completely changed the relationship I have with myself.
The counsellor, a lovely lady named Mal, suggested that next time we catch ourselves in this state of rumination, to talk back to the angry voice in your head as if it were a six year old child.
What would you say? What would you do if a child was beating themselves up and calling themselves names for making a mistake? I would like to think we would all offer the child understanding, compassion and advice.
It’s okay to make mistakes! Absolutely everybody does it, no exceptions. We cannot grow without making mistakes, to grow we must make mistakes and learn from them.
Changing the way we speak to ourselves will help us develop the self-compassion we need to navigate our mistakes and to move forward.
I’m not going to tell you this is easy, or that you’ll master it in a day. You have to pay attention to your thoughts, and at some point you’ll notice you’re beating yourself up, and you’ll say,
“Hey – it’s okay, don’t be so hard on yourself!”
From then, you just have to keep noticing and continue to reply saying the things you would say to the child.
Continuing to do this will create a new neural pathway, and after eight weeks that pathway will be laid and positive self-talk will begin to become your natural self-talk.
The old pathways are strong and during certain situations your brain may take you back down one of them, but you’ll notice it – because you’ve been practising, and you’ll be kind to yourself and smile, because you did it!
I know eight weeks can seem like a lifetime when you are suffering with anxiety, but you can do it.