Self-Sabotage by Negative Self- Talk
Dr. Farida Virani |
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lie our growth and our freedom.” - Viktor E. Frankl
Spare a minute and think consciously of what have you been saying to yourself about yourself since the time you woke up today? We all have a constant internal chatter or inner voice also called self-talk, which provides a running verbal monologue of thoughts. This inner voice combining conscious thoughts with unconscious beliefs and biases is an effective way for the brain to interpret and process daily experiences. Self-Talk is usually tied to a person's sense of self and can be either cheerful and supportive or negative and self-defeating.
Bob Stahl PhD, founder of several Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction programs and author of 5 mindfulness books, writes about 4 categories of negative self-talk: Catastrophizing, Blaming, Rehashing and Rehearsing. Let’s delve a little deep to understand these better.
- 1. Catastrophizing
The catastrophe self-talk plays the worst-case scenario of the future. This is the mind's “what if” game. It snowballs the worst-case scenario of the future with worried thoughts: What if this happens? A person who catastrophizes usually sees an unfavourable outcome to an event and then decides that if this outcome does happen, the results will be a disaster. It is also referred to as “magnifying," because a person makes a situation seem much worse, dire, or severe than it is. E.g.: "If I fail this test, I will never be an MBA graduate, not get a good job through campus placement and I will be a total failure in life." Such thoughts increase anxiety and depression.
- 2. Blaming
A person in this mind trap holds himself/herself responsible for another’s pain or holds others responsible for their own pain. Self-blame is a component of self-directed emotions like guilt, self-disgust and low self-esteem. Behavioural self-blame refers to a feeling he/she should have done something differently (therefore they feel it is their fault - undeserved guilt).E.g. It might have turned out better if I had taken the campus placement process, instead of looking for jobs on my own”. Characterological self-blame is when individuals feel there is something inherently wrong with them (causing them to feel they deserve to be punished). E.g. I am a bad person and do not deserve a good job nor any happiness in life. Blaming others demonstrate a sense of helplessness or a lack of accountability. When the locus of control is external the individual gives away the power to effect any change.
- 3. Rehashing
We all are familiar with the saying’ You can’t undo the past’? Knowing there is nothing you can do to change the past some of us do not delve into it. However, similar to cows some individuals go through a process of rumination (re-chewing food that has already been swallowed) in the brain. Unfortunately, chewing on partially digested thoughts throughout the day does not aid human mental digestion. In fact, rumination can actually make the original idea harder to swallow. Ruminating thoughts becomes dangerous when one obsesses over something said or ‘implied’ long after the conversation has ended or holds a grudge against self or others for past mistakes, unmet expectations and perceived unfairness. Ruminating stories of self-doubt, looking for the worst possible outcomes of every scenario and rehashing emotional wounds will eventually start to negatively influence individual behaviours. The result is a constant state of pain and anguish.
- 4. Rehearsing
This is the mind practicing some future event, playing through, again and again, the possible ways it may unfold. Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said: "My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened." Now there are many studies proving this theory right. Most fears are nothing but illusions. E.g.: “The future developments in the job market look bleak, with the increasing gig economy trends, I wonder if I shall even have a stable permanent well-paying job after my management degree course is over. How will I pay my student loans” Although the future hasn’t happened yet, some of us keep thinking about some future event, playing in our minds the possible ways it may unfold. Same as rehashing, rehearsing is equally painful and debilitating.
A quote from Eckhart Tolle best known as the author of ‘The Power of Now’ will powerfully summarises this MET blog. He mentions; “Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry – all forms of fear – is caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Whereas guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of non-forgiveness are caused by too much past and not enough presence”. Let’s just intentionally be curious about how our mind works and even label certain categories of our thoughts. This will widen the space between awareness and the thoughts themselves. In that space is where our choice and freedom live.
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