Mental Wellness Challenge
Last week I challenged you to write down three things each day that you were grateful for. I hope you had troubles stopping at just three!
Gratitude is a gift to myself. If I choose to share my gratitude with another, that’s awesome. Sharing my gratitude might even brighten another’s day! That said, my gratitude helps me to recognize the good things in my life.
This week I’d like to share a little about negative self talk. Nope, not talking about hearing voices in my head. I’d like to write a bit about the internal chatter that I experience pretty much every day. It’s a product of my depression, ADHD, my life experiences when young and… well – I don’t know what else.
I’m fairly certain that everyone has that little voice inside their head that guides them, that corrects them, that steers them. I don’t know about everyone/anyone else, I just know about my own experiences. My little voice, my “inner roommate”, is consistently on me, doesn’t seem to shut up… So, today, I want to shine a little more light on it because things in the light aren’t as scary as the same things in the dark…
… You’ll never amount to anything.
… You bonehead, why did you do that?
… Idiot, what where you thinking – oh ya, you don’t think.
… You’re stupid.
… You’re weak.
… You’re not good enough.
… You don’t measure up.
… Why can’t you be more like … they are far more successful than you.
I hear those sorts of statements a bunch. Not from anyone who is in my life any more, but from within my own head. You see, I have an inner critic, my “mental roommate” that steers the way I think about myself.
This “roommate” of mine has had years of practice learning just what buttons of mine to press, just what to say, just when to say those things in a way that takes away my self confidence, erodes my sense of self worth and diminishes the joy that I derive in so many of the activities I take part in. My roommate started to learn his/her craft from parents who were busy, tired, disconnected, miserable or angry and directed that stuff at a little person. It didn’t take too long before he/she took up residence in my head on a permanent basis. To be honest – I do not have any memory of a time when my roommate wasn’t there.
I can’t put all of my roommates sharply honed skills in the lap of my parents or other adults in my life, some of my roommate’s negativity is a product of me having ADHD.
It didn’t take me very long – grade school basically – to have my failings pointed out to me in fine detail. “Kevin lacks focus. Projects get started but not turned in.”, “Kevin’s work in math this year has been poor. He doesn’t apply himself.” (I remember that math teacher – he had a painted dog house at the front of the class and if you didn’t do well on a homework assignment or didn’t get acceptable marks in his class, he put your name in the doghouse… and your name stayed there until your scores improved… I was in that darn doghouse that whole school year… never got out of it… I just couldn’t connect with “the what and the way”…)
What I did learn in math that year… well I learned that I “didn’t measure up” and that it was seemingly acceptable behavior for others to openly shame me… my “inner critic” learned that too… and apparently still remembers that lesson pretty well. That still smarts a bit…
I’m still learning about this whole ADHD piece of myself and I don’t understand what all the implications are – but knowing… the knowing about it answers a pile of questions that I have had for ages… I do know that my ADHD is a part of my “who I am” that sharpens my inner critics comments.
Back to my “inner critic”.
Far too often I let this negative self talk get the better of me. You see – this inner critic is relentless in his/her (I never really have figured out a gender) attacks on my self-esteem. It is sincerely far easier for me to see what I did wrong than it is that I have done well.
From this negative inner chatter comes the need for me to look for validation externally, to seek the approval of others, to have others fill my cup. The sorry piece about that is – external validation is temporary. Its like some nasty drug. The “good feelings” I get from being validated by someone else have a short effect. — For me, this became a form of addiction. My need for an “Atta boy”, or a good job, became more important than – well a whole lot of other parts of my life. To be honest – I still struggle with this – Old habits really do die hard…
Where’s all this going???
NOTHING OUT THERE CHANGES!
This is a place where CBT works for me. I can recognize cognitive distortions like: “I’m stupid”, “I’m a loser”, or “I always f*%& this up”. I’m not a loser, I’m not stupid and I don’t always F*%& that up. I may have made a mistake that time, but I did it right 100 times before… Then I can put intentional acts and statements into place that help me to correct those cognitive distortions.
Oh, do not get me wrong here; I fight negative self-talk every day. Negative self-talk is also part of being depressed – it is a chicken/egg kind of thing – and I haven’t figured that bit out yet. It is a journey.
I am learning that I need to feed me! I need to fill me, to validate myself. Its not an easy thing for me to do. My mom taught me that self pride is an evil thing. I think now that either I misunderstood her lessons or that she was mistaken. Sincere self pride isn’t evil. I believe pretentiousness in regards to others isn’t good, but I now believe that being proud of myself is essential to my well being. It’s a part of loving myself. I’m not suggesting that I want to be an island unto myself, but I know that I need to recognize my successes for ME.
To me its like this… I can’t give what I don’t have… If I am being authentic to myself, I have to recognize the goodness in myself in order to be able to honestly do the same of others. I am learning that the more I fill my own cup, the less of an “atta boy” hit I need from external sources. AND the cool thing that I am learning is that this process is like a Two For… When I am sincere with myself, when I feed myself, when I fill my cup I have a longer sense of self acceptance and a greater resistance to the voice of my inner critic.
Honest – I LOVE getting kudos for jobs well done. I’m just learning that I have to stop denigrating the work I do, the accomplishments I have, and the goodness that I am through negative self talk. Nothing out there changes… I can’t expect others to feed me when I am hungry. I have to feed myself.
My challenge this week consists of three things.
This might seem contrived or forced and at first it likely will be…
“Each day needs to be on a clean piece of paper. Each day is a new day.”
- I’m going to pay closer attention to my self talk. When my self talk is loaded with cognitive distortions like “You’re a loser”, “You always f*&% this up”, “Idiot”… etc, I am going to write those distortions down. I am going to get them out of my head and on to paper. Then I am going to correct them. I am going to write down the undistorted truth. “Yes, I made a mistake. I don’t always make mistakes, but I did this time. That doesn’t make me a loser”. This piece goes to the awareness/vigilance piece of my wellness model.
- I am going to fill my cup. I am going to recognize MY SUCCESSES each day. I am going to take time in the evening, at the end of my day, to make a conscious note of three success for that day. I am going to write those three things down. To get them out of my head and on to paper, so that I can look back at them later. Writing these three “atta boy’s” down is a purposeful/mindful act that fills my cup, that feeds me. This piece goes to the purpose/intention and the action pieces of my wellness model.
- After I have done steps 1 and 2 for the day, I am going to take a moment to read the things I noted on my paper from the previous day. I’m going to try to make sure I do this piece AFTER I have done my part one and part two for the day. Every day is a new day and I don’t want to “flavor” today with yesterday’s thinking.
This action reinforces the corrections that I make to things that my “inner roommate” keeps telling me. I’ve learned that over time, my negative self talk is getting less intense. It still happens, but not as often and not as severe. Reading the “atta-boy’s” reaffirms that I do good things. That I am valuable. Over time, this little activity has brought me closer to “being enough”. This goes to the acceptance/understanding and the values piece of my model.
So this week, I challenge you to do the same!
There is tons of stuff out there on the internet… this little website posts pretty good articles that speak to a bunch of the “stuff” I deal with. It’s worth a read.