The One Trick I am Using to Stop My Negative Thoughts from Destroying Me
I have this problem. At night when I go to bed, my mind is filled with self-admonishing thoughts: I run though my day and any mistakes I’ve made become amplified, and I fixate on what I might have done differently. My thoughts aren’t just reserved for what I did wrong that particular day, sometimes I lie there and go over mistakes from years ago. It’s like a constant barrage of criticism, running through my mind.
There are times when it gets worse and times when it’s better. If I’m stressed, the self-criticism gets harsher. If I’ve just started a new job or been at a large social event, the negative comments I blast myself with can be amplified even more. Sometimes the negative voice comes totally out of the blue. Sometimes it’s after a fight with my partner.
The voice sounds like this: “How could you have said that to Sue at that party? You sounded like an idiot! You must have been drinking too much.” Or, “How could you have been so impatient when you pushed in front of that person on the train platform? When will you learn to be a better person?” Sometimes the voice says, “How could you have eaten two chocolate biscuits after dinner? You’re going to wake up heavier than yesterday. Your body is so flabby and gross.” On occasion my mind drifts back 15 years and I tell myself, “No wonder your first partner left you – you have so many issues, and a terrible temper.”
It’s exhausting and soul destroying.
I don’t know where this voice comes from and why it attacks me every night. The worst thing about the voice is that’s it’s “right” – I do actually need to improve as a human being. I am a deficient, imperfect person. I do have things I want to change: habits, traits, ingrained problems and vices.
In fact, I want to improve so much that it kills me. I want to drink less, smoke less, be more patient, stop getting angry, control my temper, eat fewer preservatives, call my mother more, be more interested in people, never raise my voice… and countless other things – but day in, day out – I’m just the same, imperfect me, no matter how much I tell myself off.
It’s very frustrating.
There have been times in my life when this voice has quietened or even stopped; times when I’ve been filling up my own emotional tank, times when I have been achieving, times when I have felt proud of myself and my efforts. But those days are rare. I needed a strategy.
I read a great post by author Tracey McMillan yesterday. Her partner left her for a much younger woman; it was her third marriage breakup and she decided that every time she had a negative thought (which was often because of her personal circumstance and emotionally difficult situation) she simply said, “I love you, Tracey.”
Every time her inner voice told her she was not worthy of love, or that she was not attractive enough, or whatever negativity her voice tried to slap her with, she simply said “I love you, Tracey” to herself again.
And do you know what happened? Things changed. In The Kung Fu Secret to Getting Over a Bad Breakup she says, “After doing this for a while (like a month), what I’m finding is that if you tell yourself you love you 400,000 times a day, you start to look and feel and act like a person who is loving herself.”
Radical, right? She says that after a very long time, she started to give herself permission to make mistakes. To know that she was a valuable and worthy person regardless. She says, “Because dude, whatever it is, I HAVE DONE IT. I’ve just decided to love myself anyway.”
Last night I thought I would give it a try – and since then I have just been combating my negative thoughts with “I love you, Alyce” and hoping that after a while, I will start to love myself more.
That’s now one of my goals for this year – to practise self love.
“Because to be human IS to be flawed.”
“I am not an angel,” I asserted; “and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself.”
Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre