Is Your Inner Dialogue Helping or Hurting You?
Since my mother passed away in 2013, I have made it a priority to consistently see a therapist to help me navigate through my grief and adjust to life without my mother in my twenties. Almost immediately following her passing, I started seeing a licensed social worker with whom I met bi-weekly to discuss the events of the past and how they were affecting me in the present. In the two years that I met with her, I did some really powerful reflection and learned how to release a lot of my pain.
A few months ago, I decided I was ready for something new – a more proactive type of therapy called CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). CBT challenges me to look at my thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, and notice how they affect different aspects of my life. One of my favorite exercises (although it has proven to be particularly challenging for me) has been to simply notice my thoughts throughout the day and decide if they are helpful or hurtful to my growth.
What I have come to realize through this exercise is that I have the tendency to be EXTREMELY hard on myself. Allow me share some of my findings.
AUTOMATIC THOUGHT (S):
- I miss a day of writing. I SUCK. I have no focus. My book will never get written! HELPFUL OR HURTFUL? Hurtful.
- I have an unproductive week at work. What’s wrong with me? I am pathetic. I don’t deserve to do anything fun this weekend. HELPFUL OR HURTFUL? Hurtful.
This inner dialogue that I have adopted over the years has become so familiar that I hadn’t really noticed just how cruel I am to myself on a given day until I started to record my thoughts on paper. And the reason I know these thoughts are hurtful and unhelpful is because they don’t motivate me to change my behavior. In fact, truthfully, they make me even more unproductive which in turn makes my inner dialogue even harsher than before. It becomes an endless cycle of negativity and unproductivity. No one wants to live in this rut.
So, then what can I do – what can any of us do – when these hurtful thoughts fill our minds throughout the day and prevent us from excelling at our tasks? My personal favorite tool learned in CBT has been to ask myself to come up with an alternative, more helpful perspective. For me, that looks something like this:
- I miss a day of writing. It’s OK. I’ll try again tomorrow. HELPFUL OR HURTFUL? Helpful.
- I have an unproductive week at work. It’s OK. I can try again next week. HELPFUL OR HURTFUL? Helpful.
When telling myself “It’s OK” becomes my new perspective about the situation, suddenly I feel empowered to get my planner out to schedule time to do my writing and have a productive week. This new crafted thought, while seemingly quite simple, is extremely helpful as it creates space for me to practice self-compassion rather than self-criticism, which has proven to be a greater foundation for success overall.
Is your Inner Dialogue Helping or Hurting You? When you’re hard on yourself, does it motivate you do better? Better yet, what if a loved one was talking to you the way you talk to yourself? Would you feel empowered or bullied by them? If your inner dialogue is not helping you, it’s hurting you and keeping you from being the person you ultimately want to be.
But we are not powerless. We can choose new perspectives; we can choose to adopt new thoughts. And in the beginning, we may have to choose the more helpful thought 1,000 times, over and over and over. But then maybe tomorrow we will only have to choose the more helpful thought 999 times; And that, well, that is progress.
Elizabeth Piper, contributing writer for ifiknew