The words and tone we use to communicate with ourselves deeply impact our day-to-day coping. Toxic and destructive self-talk can maintain our depression. By making the journey to hygienic and helpful self-talk, I ended up with a powerful tool to manage my life with mental illness. Here’s how.
“I know I need to exercise to pump happy hormones but I am not doing it enough and it’s on me that I am not getting better. I will not get better unless I exercise regularly.”
“I know that emotional eating keeps me in a vicious cycle of gaining weight, which maintains my depression, but I still give in to the cravings. I am so weak.” These are two examples of the constant negative self-talk I indulged in during the course of my treatment. These words are very dangerous…specifically “not doing it enough”, “regularly”, “so weak”, “give in” and “will not get better”. Taking ownership of my actions and inertia was brave but declaring myself a failure was depleting my power to heal.
With therapy, I made better choice of words consciously. I am not referring to positive affirmations (they worked too) but a deeper, more rigorous work on my self-talk.
My therapist helped me navigate difficult conversations with myself without letting me put myself down. They would make me talk to myself aloud which showed me how I was talking to myself the way I would never talk to anyone else in the same situation. My feedback to myself was of poor quality, inaccurate, unrealistic, based in illusions and very powerful in arresting my healing. It was insensitive and dismissive of my struggles.
This work was complemented by the work on accepting my pace. Both my mental and physical health challenges slow me down considerably. However, when I set standards to evaluate myself, I would aspire to a normal, aspirational state of affairs. This distorted my goals, which then reflected in results and ultimately, I beat myself up with haunting, humiliating words. Working with my therapist on understanding my pace as a reflection of my challenge and then accepting it, has freed me of the scary self-talk. This has taken forever, but with it, I have internalized self-respect and ownership of who I am in the here and now.
I also struggle less with others’ expectations now. We are talking to ourselves in the way we don’t want others to talk to us. Naturally, we assume that others will also be talking to us in those harsh words behind our back or in their mind. Instead, when our self talk is positive, we start ascribing better language to others when we imagine what they would say about us. It’s magical and so liberating.
Therapy helped me reset to a healthier standard of self-talk. I am so aware of all the faulty feedback I feed myself that I can catch myself doing it, and I save myself from free-falling into a depressive episode. I hope you can also consciously catch your negative self-talk once you start the work.
Disclaimer: Psychotherapy is extremely unique to every individual and CANNOT be generalised. This blogpost is merely intended to convey that if it helped me in some way, I recommend you consider it for yourself if you need to. Do not read into it with a personal checklist and think, oh this is exactly what I needed and this is how it will pan out for me as well. It doesn’t work that way. That is also why you should give it a shot. Discover your unique journey with it; your journey of healing will be so much richer with therapy.
Written by: Nishtha Singhal