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Self-talk

Posted 4th March 2009 at 04:58 by acidcasual

The following was a talk I gave to my SA group. The source material was a tape from the Attacking Anxiety and Depression series from the Midwest Center by Lucinda Bassett, the book "What To Say When You Talk To Yourself" by Dr Shad Helmstetter and my own experiences.
The concept of Unconditional Self Acceptance is an idea from Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT). Albert Ellis talks about this concept at length in his book "The Myth of Self Esteem".

A lot of the literature on overcoming social anxiety focuses a great deal on self-talk. We are talking to ourselves in our minds all the time, often without realising it. These thoughts, or to use a therapy term "cognitions", colour how we see ourselves and the world. Often these thoughts are very negative. Through examining my own thoughts I came to realise that I was a very negative thinker. I catastrophised, I over analysed and I worried a lot. I beat myself up and thought that life was grim and a constant struggle. It was no wonder I felt down all the time and suffered from depression.

Well the good news is that most of these thoughts, what CBT practioners call Automatic Negative Thoughts Or ANT's aren't even true. The true thoughts are the more empowering ones that you can learn to feed yourself. These are thoughts that lead to "unconditional self acceptance". USA is important for recovering from social anxiety. One of the causes of poor self acceptance is negative thinking. Negative thinking is a bad habit, over time it becomes an addictive behaviour. The way forward is to accept yourself unconditionally, give yourself what Carl Rodgers called "unconditional positive regard", whilst at the same time breaking the bad habit of negative thinking. The good news is that the habit can be broken, but it takes determination and hard work. You have to work at it daily, hourly, weekly. Positive self-talk takes time, practice and patience.

The average person has 300-400 negative thoughts per day. You get up in the morning and you say to yourself, "I don't feel good, I've got a headache, I don't want to go to work, it's raining outside, why do I have to feel crap in the morning?' There's five and you've only just got out of bed. So as you can see it doesn't take long to get to 300 thoughts. Now most of the people with Social Anxiety talk to themselves like this daily, very negatively. Constantly beating themselves up at the same time. Thoughts like "Why did I say that?, He thinks I'm an idiot, Why can't I just be more outgoing? Everyone else does this easily, why do I find it so difficult?" It's this negative thinking that scares and depresses you. It's this scary self-defeating, negative self-talk that keeps you anxious. What we need to get good at is self-praise when we've done something to be proud of or done something right. There was a time when I was housebound, the depression and anxiety was that bad. If I managed to go round to the cornershop, instead of giving myself a pat on the back, I would see even this positive step in a negative light. I would tell myself that everyone else can go out to the shops, I should be able to do it too. This sort of constant negative comparison with others kept me beat down. I should have given myself praise. I should have been really proud of myself for managing to set foot outside the door. So remember to give yourself praise for any little thing that you do. Like, for instance, making it here today.

Negative thoughts can be hard to recognise. You may be thinking " I don't have that many negative thoughts. I just feel the way I do without any conscious cognition." Well any time you feel bad, sad, weak, insecure, fearful, incapable and alone, you can be certain that there is an underlying thought in back of the feeling. You are most likely having similar thoughts over and over. If you're having 300 negative thoughts per day that's a negative thought every 2 and a 1/2 minutes. These thoughts need to be replaced with realistic or positive thoughts. The first step is to make a commitment to yourself to accept yourself and show yourself unconditional positive regard. If you can go one step further and like yourself unconditionally that's even better. Show yourself the same regard you show your children, parents, spouse or best friend. So whether you're tired or cranky, or feeling insecure you're still an okay person. Have compassion for yourself. If you feel you screwed up show yourself compassion and well-being like you would a loved one.

Try replacing a negative thought with a positive, empowering thought. Any thought that's soothing and reminds you that it's okay to be you. Sounds easier than it is to do in reality I know, but it can be done. In fact it's important that you do it. You can learn to talk to yourself more positively and think more positively. In order to show yourself more compassion think about what sort of things you would say to a loved one to console them and build them up and start saying these things to yourself. Give yourself genuine compliments and consoling thoughts. Tell yourself how proud you are for being a decent person. Pick your head up and stand tall. Tell yourself you are getting stronger and developing your confidence. Learn to make yourself feel soothed. Don't look for positive reinforcement outside of yourself, give it to yourself from within. Learning to think more positively has been a contributing factor in leading me to do things I wouldn't have thought possible for me in the past. Once thinking more positively has become a habit and is combined with behavioural changes, you can open up so many doors in your life.You will no longer feel the need to seek approval from others because you get it from yourself. Congratulate yourself for every step you take, no matter how small. Even if it's just making it round to the corner shop and buying a Mars Bar. Be proud of yourself. You are the only benchmark.

When developing compassionate dialogue though make it believeable. Don't go from one extreme to the other. For example, "I feel awful today, I feel exhausted" don't replace that with "No I don't. I feel absolutely terrific and have bags of energy". You're not going to believe it. Replace it with something you can believe. Such as "Okay I don't feel brilliant today, but I'm becoming more resourceful and building on my competence so I can make the most of the day ahead."

Start to keep track of any negative thoughts and you will see how negative you can be. Once you start to notice the thoughts you can start to turn things around. You really can take control of the way you think and break the vicious cycle. Replace the thoughts with something more comfortable and believeable. It will feel a little strange at first and you won't necessarily buy it, but that's okay it takes a while for it to become habitual. Just develop a few stock thoughts to work with for now and over time these will become more imaginative and creative. Now I know this takes some work but believe me it's worth it. Eventually you will become used to doing this. It's not a form of denial or being Pollyannaish because the statements you're feeding yourself are believeable. The positive/neutral statement is so much more true than the negative statement. If you begin to feel anxious for instance and the scary thoughts start up like, "oh my God. Everyones' going to notice, I'm feeling hot, I need to get out of here." Replace that with "Okay I'm doing something new of course I'm going to feel anxious and that's okay, it's not going to kill me, I can feel anxious and still go about my day. It's no big deal." It's believeable and can help calm you down. Show yourself compassion.

Once you've mastered this skill and that's all it is a skill and as such can be learned. You can eliminate panic attacks and feelings of overwhelming anxiety it just takes practice. Negative thoughts won't go away completely, everyone has them, but through positive self-talk you can reduce the number you have and their impact and your confidence will grow. Don't feed the anxiety monster, retrain your mind, accept your imperfections and learn to like yourself. Work at it daily and practice, practice, practice. Good self talk is one of the keys to a healthy self regard.
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  1. Old Comment
    the_woolly_mammoth's Avatar
    I enjoyed reading that, i read about negative self talk last year, and it amazed me the postive effect that replacing the negative with a positive had, as you said, it not feeding the anxiety monster.
    thank you for sharing
    Posted 4th March 2009 at 13:13 by the_woolly_mammoth the_woolly_mammoth is offline
  2. Old Comment
    TheOneWhoKnocks's Avatar
    Thanks for posting that, i found it really helpful
    Posted 6th March 2009 at 10:46 by TheOneWhoKnocks TheOneWhoKnocks is offline
  3. Old Comment
    Cookie-Monster's Avatar
    This is good stuff. Thanks mate!
    Posted 17th February 2010 at 11:06 by Cookie-Monster Cookie-Monster is offline
 

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