Last week I started to tackle the negative inner voice, you know the one, the one that makes you feel so much worse than what is probably justified, or makes you feel terrible when it isn’t justified.
The technique I have been using is to identify these thoughts, through an increasing negative mood, and talk back to it. I have found it has been relatively easy for me to identify these thoughts as untrue immediately afterwards, so I am able to tackle these in the moment. It is really important here to be honest with yourself, without judgement, towards these thoughts. It can be so difficult to admit even to yourself if you are making it worse for yourself. Especially if these feelings stem from self pity or self punishment, which I admit mine sometimes do.
Allow me to explain. Negative inner dialogue due to self pity I believe occurs in BPD, depression and anxiety, among other conditions and also among those who aren’t diagnosed but possess low self esteem issues. I find these occur when something negative happens to me. For example, somebody says something that triggers an insecurity of mine, a recent example is someone mentioned their financial situation and that they were considerably better off than me, and I felt like a failure in contrast. Instead of thinking that everyone is different, consider the financial goals I have achieved at my age, or even work to a plan to achieve similar, instead I just felt angry and confused, questioning my life decisions as if they alone determined my worth. I would start to feel angry towards every expense, including those necessary to look after myself. Why? Because my negative inner voice was extending my suffering due to an insecurity that I am still working towards goals that others have achieved.
Negative thoughts from self punishment often occur in a similar way, when either something happens or is said to me, for example someone says I am not achieving something at work, this triggers a fear of abandonment (that I may lose my job) and I feel so insignificant. I will tell myself I am not good enough and that I am at risk, constantly. I will extend my pain and suffering further. I do not fully know why but I believe this to be a defense mechanism I developed as a child. As with many with BPD (This post was written during the time I had been misdiagnosed with BPD ober Bipolar Disorder) I have always been so intense with my emotions, adults would often comment that you ‘cannot tell her off’ because I would just implode, so they would be a lot softer in approach. Therefore if I extend my pain I will not need to be punished by the other person, in this case my employer. This appears quite manipulative, and I cannot deny that it is but this is not an intentional process, I have been unaware of this for a long time.
The other time this can occur is if I do something wrong that triggers a fear for the potential consequences. The difference here is that whilst these fears may be justified in the sense that I have actually done something wrong, I still make everything worse by punishing myself. If the consequences mean I am going to face punishment from say an employer, this self punishment will not stop and won’t make me feel any better either, yet it is a cycle that is tough to break.
The reason however that these are difficult is because you need to talk back to them without invalidating them. These are hurtful experiences and they will come back if not properly handled. This is important that you don’t talk back in a negative way, don’t tell yourself its a stupid thought and punish yourself for having it, just calmly try to correct it.
I find that this does help, but it doesn’t always help enough. I am often then immediately presented with the next thought and repeat the process on a loop, it often feels endless but eventually it will stop. I really hope through repetition and a bit of patience this will either occur less or be less intense. At times, it is infuriating and exhausting. After only a few hours of this inner battle, I want to go to sleep.
With this in mind I believe this changes the key elements of this process slightly to include
- Identify the thought
- Validate the emotion
- Talk back to it
I also mentioned my plan for when the intrusive thoughts contain self harm or suicidal ideation, as I mentioned these are incredibly unsettling for me. These are not experienced as desires to die or hurt myself, but a fear that I will. Whenever these thoughts occur, I physically hold the area affected. An example of this is if I were afraid I was going to get hit in the head I would hold my head, sending the message to my body that it is both unharmed and protected from potential harm. It might look a little strange, but somehow I find these extremely effective in calming the thoughts and emotions.
Ultimately, my goal is to treat myself with kindness and look after myself to the point where I feel deserving of kindness from myself and others too. If I truly believe that then just maybe these horrible doubts and beliefs I have about myself will gradually dissapear.