When Positive Self-Talk Isn't So Positive
Don’t get me wrong, the power of positive self-talk is real and important. But the way I learned about using this tool caused me to immediately push away any negative thoughts in exchange for positive ones. Here’s why that doesn’t work for me (I can’t speak for everyone!)
As an example, I’ll use a basic insecure thought that I struggle with sometimes: I have no friends, or close relationships, nobody really cares about me, and everyone is going to leave me. This is untrue. But in my disordered thinking, it feels incredibly real.
I used to get these thoughts and practice frantically pushing them away with positive affirmations. I’d think No! You’re wrong! Why would you even think that! I’m a great friend! Stop!. I didn’t really believe this, and I felt stupid doing it, but I’d been taught to hate and push away my negative thoughts. I’d usually end up just judging myself for having dark thoughts in the first place, until eventually I sunk back into them.
A few months ago, I took the plunge and bought a subscription for a meditation app. What struck me the most was the constant instruction to “let your thoughts come, and don’t judge them. Don’t push them away, but don’t hold on to them. Acknowledge them and let them go”. Now, for someone with not a lot of meditation experience, that was a weird concept and I didn’t quite know how to actually do that. But the intention behind the instruction is what reconstructed my view on negative thinking. Judging myself for thinking dark thoughts is still cruel. Failing to take the time to acknowledge the thoughts with empathy is still cruel. Trying to mask them with half-assed affirmations is still cruel. This realization didn’t quite fix my pattern of negative thinking, but I slowly started allowing thoughts to pass through and acknowledging them objectively as just that: thoughts.
Once I’d unlearned the hostility towards my thoughts, I slowly learned to reintegrate effective positive thinking. In therapy, I learned about writing down a negative thought (acknowledging), writing down the reasons I believed it (empathizing), writing down the opposite thought (positive thinking) and finally, writing down the reasons I believed it (shifting perspective). To me, this doesn’t feel fake or deceitful. When I give myself the opportunity to fully engage in the negative thought, I give myself the equal opportunity to fully engage in the positive thought, and I’ve found this to be so much more helpful.
This method is not a one-size-fits-all, and I can’t tell you how to manage your thinking. But if you’re struggling to find an effective strategy, feel free to try this out. Of course, it does take the intentionality of writing it all out, and sometimes we don’t have the fight to do that. That’s okay. I can’t stress enough to importance of practice. It will feel weird and uncomfortable the first time, and might not even feel that effective. Just like anything else, practice makes improvement, and your mental health is entirely worth investing in.
By: Kenzie Morin