Imagine this scenario. You are out for a cup of coffee with your husband. You are kind of chatting away, and playing around with your phones (you’d like to call it work, but it probably isn’t). Out of the blue, you start to become overwhelmed by a feeling of anxiety. You’re not talking about anything that would be particularly triggering. But just like that, you went from happy and relaxed to nervous and doomed to fail at everything in life.
I used to get this all the time. I still do occasionally. It can hit completely out of the blue. Perhaps there are triggers around me that I am not aware of. Who knows, maybe I am picking up a scent, seeing a particular brand in the supermarket… sometimes memory triggers are so random they are hard to keep track off. Whatever it is that triggers me, it sets off a story in my head. It shifts me straight into shame mode, and suddenly I feel like the smallest, most insignificant failure of a person ever.
“Loving ourselves through the process of our story is the bravest thing we’ll ever do”
Let’s explore how we can change the story we tell ourselves and begin developing a more compassionate inner-voice, that will help us heal from our trauma and move into a life we love.
The Inner-Voice of Lies
The humdrum of your abuser’s voice inside your head is part of the operating system that they installed. The very essence of recovery is uninstalling that operating system. Even when intellectually you realize what was going on, the lies continue to form the reality of your thoughts.
Abusers feed our feelings of shame and inferiority. Chiseling away at your confidence and self-esteem is a great way to disempower the target. Whether it’s through publicly shaming us, sharing humiliating or embarrassing stories, or setting us up for failure, their goal is to bring us down a notch. I was once told a story of a parent not taking their child to the bathroom until the girl wet herself. Then the parent shamed her for her lack of bladder control.
Those experiences and stories, don’t just disappear as soon as you leave an abusive situation. They stick around and influence how we see ourselves, how we respond to the people and circumstances of our lives, etc. We may have physically left the situation, our brain is still regurgitating the same old lies. At least, until we do something about it
The truth may be out there, but the lies are inside your head.
It is always there in the back of your mind and influences the choices you make every day. Here are some of the things my inner-abuser would say to me:
>> Go on, have the ice cream. You will never lose weight anyway. You have always been fat and undisciplined.
>> Oh television again? Well, you always were lazy.
>> You are kidding right? A glass of wine with dinner on a weekday? Are you sure you don’t have a drinking problem?
I am sure you can come up with a whole list of similar thoughts that run through your mind regularly (if not constantly). You have been brainwashed to believe you are a substandard human-being, everything about you (both your talents and shortcomings) will set you up for failure, you will never amount to anything, you will never be good enough to be loved.
It is all lies, lies inside your head!
Changing how you speak to yourself, will allow you to create lasting change and help you become your own greatest cheerleader. Conquer low self-esteem and self-doubt, while building a life you love. Navigate the challenges of life with confidence and optimism.
How To Quiet Negative Self Talk
I believed all those things, for so long. Now that I’ve not had contact with my family in years I’m seeing the evidence of those lies. I’ve found a loving and supportive family of choice, I’m (mostly) staying on top of the negative thoughts, I love my life. I even have goals and plans to make it even better. But there are always triggers! When I am tired or have done a particularly intense healing session, or when the date reminds me of something, or when I am doing too many things at once… we all have those moments, not just because we are survivors, but because we’re human beings!
Reprogramming your inner-voice is a large part of your healing journey. It takes commitment and showing up every day. In short, it is part of rewriting your story. But what about those moments? Once you are triggered, you need to get that bully to shut up, and quick! Because let’s face it: it’s just no fun having a bully in your head.
Here are some of my strategies to reboot this old and defect operating system that’s running my brain.
#1. – I Developed Personal Affirmations
To override some of the false images I had of myself, I began reminding myself of all the amazing things I had done and was capable of. I did this by creating personal affirmations. Instead of listening to the negative voice in my head, I focus on the colorful notes I have added to my house, that celebrate the talents I have used to build the life I now so love.
The exercise I used to create my affirmations, come from Children of the Self-Absorbed by Nina W.Brown Ed.D., LPC. Here is my version of it:
Make a list of about 10 to 12 of your greatest achievements in your life. It can be anything from being a great mother to having a successful career, or being a good friend… you name it.
For each of these achievements write down the personality traits that you associate with that success. Is it because of your organizational skills, your communication skills, your determination or ambition? Don’t be shy, write down whatever comes to mind. Aim for at least 3 or 4 for each of your achievements.
Now from all these personality traits make a list of the 8 to 10 that are repeated most often. These are the basis of your affirmations.
Copy this list onto flash cards, the mirror, the fridge… wherever you will come across them regularly. Write: “I am…”
The more you will come across these affirmations, the more you will internalize them. Keep repeating the list in your mind. That way you can recall the list when you are under attack from the abusive echoes in your mind, strengthening your shield against their influence.
#2. – I Consider My Motivations And Willpower
When I want something or want to do something that could be self-harming (like that ice cream, or the glass of wine) I try to have a little discussion with myself. Why do I want it? Am I trying to fill a void or numb out an emotion? What could I do instead, that would have the same result but be more healthy and tackle the root issue? I remember my goals and plans, they keep me on the straight and narrow. When I want something, I will consider if it does or does not contribute to my goals. Mind you, I am a compassionate goal setter, so I also have a look at why my willpower may be waning.
One thing that we tend to forget, especially when we are a little down on ourselves, is that willpower is not just a product of self-discipline. It is influenced by all sorts of factors, like how well rested we are, or when we had something to eat last (and what that something was). So, rather than trying to bully myself into goal achieving compliance, I remind myself that I am only human. Some days I will have that biscuit to try and fill a void even if it does not contribute to my plans and goals, and that is okay too. I will also make sure, however, that I make sure to support my willpower, by resting, performing some self-care or reconsidering my daily schedule. If you need some ideas on how to support your willpower, check out this article I wrote about it.
#3. – I Dance Around The House (Or The Office) Like A Maniac
Playing music that lifts your spirit, is a good way to boost your mood. Getting up, and dancing around is an even more effective way to quiet down that inner-abuser. By getting physically active, you get back into your body instead of being stuck in the (temporarily) hostile environment of your head.
Exercise releases happy hormones into the system, as does music. So this can be a powerful way to get out of that triggered and stressed place. So, prepare a good playlist full of happy songs!
I often combine singing and dancing with the next strategy. An easy way to create a double whammy!
#4. – I Give Myself A Quick Win
If you are feeling like a failure, then a great way to shift that feeling is by accomplishing something. So, give yourself an easy win! For me, that is often cleaning something or sorting out a cabinet. It always feels great when the house looks neat.
For me, the beauty is that tidying and cleaning ties in directly with a lot of the criticism my mother used to dish out, so it has some extra juice for me. But in general, getting some cleaning jobs off the to-do list feels good. If cleaning doesn’t tick the satisfactory achievement box for you, then why not find another job on your to-do list. There is always something on there, that takes 5 minutes but you keep procrastinating on. Take out the recycling, take care of some administration, file away last year’s tax return… just something that makes you feel like you’ve done something useful.
#5. – I Do Some Box Breathing
When I am super triggered, I really struggle with breath meditation. Liz Smith of The Connected Life explained to me that this may, in fact, have to do with possible Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Many PTSD suffers struggle with a meditation practice, she explained, due to an over-stimulated nervous system. I guess that’s where that comes from for me too when I am super triggered.
If this is the case for you, then Liz suggests box breathing. It is a highly effective (and quick) breathing technique for calming the nervous system and supporting the mind to focus (used by the Navy Seals too, she assured me). You can get started on this with as a little as 5 mins a day, and it will greatly aid your healing.
Mindful Wellness Rochester advises that this technique can “reduce stress and improve your mood. It’s a great tool to help with generalized anxiety, panic attacks, PTSD symptoms, and depression.” The technique really is quite simple.
Inhale through your nose to the count of four seconds;
Hold the breath for four seconds;
Exhale through your nose or mouth for four seconds;
Hold for four seconds before starting another inhale.
Keep repeating this rhythm for about five to ten minutes, counting the 4 seconds in your mind. Let the air fill your lungs and push into your abdomen (rather than breathing high up in your chest area).
If you need some help, try out this gif image that Mindful Wellness Rochester created:
Mags and the team are here to help you get out of constant survival mode and build a life filled with love and laughter. Are you ready to build a better relationship with yourself, and the people around you? We are here to help!
#6. – I Rationalize My Inner Dialogue
Turning your thoughts around often means translating irrational thought into rational thought. The more you practice this, the easier it becomes. Here are some examples of you can rationalize your thoughts:
A technique that helps me in this process is to use the four questions from Byron Katie’s ‘The Work’. Consider the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing and ask yourself this:
Q1. Is it true?
Q2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
Q3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Q4. Who would you be without that thought?
The more you filter your thoughts through the questions, the easier it becomes to use them as a tool to rationalize your thoughts and deal with your feelings of shame.
#7. – I Ask For Help
I used to be pretty good at thinking I had to fix everything myself, and I couldn’t burden anyone. So, I’d try and figure out what was triggering me, and quiet down the voices in my head, and still try to carry on the conversation I was having too. It doesn’t work, and it is not necessary. Just tell someone (your partner, your friend, a fellow survivor) what is happening. Talk them through the thoughts and feelings. Doing this has a few advantages.
Firstly, it helps you rationalize the situation you’re in because you have to make the emotions fit into understandable language. So, you automatically take a step back to observe and describe.
Secondly, when you hear yourself say these nasty things about yourself…suddenly they sound a lot less convincing. Thinking “I am such a cow” is much easier than articulating that thought. So, you begin to feel that maybe the thought isn’t actually true.
Thirdly, if your triggering is a result of the situation you are in with the other person, or if their behavior somehow affected you, they can give you feedback. They can say: Oh, that’s not how I experienced that at all! Or even: That’s not what I intended to say or do! Let me clarify! In other words, you can get some help to see a different perspective on the situation, and that will make it feel less overwhelming.
Fourthly, a little external validation of how amazing you are never goes amiss. Just don’t build your entire sense of self-worth on the opinions of others.
#8. – I Stretch
We hold so much tension in our bodies, and having a quick stretch may help you release some of it, and return you to your body. That will help you calm yourself, and your mind, down.
Just roll your shoulders, or stretch your hamstrings for a minute.
One of my favorite ways to calm down is to put my legs up against the wall (if you want to know how to get into this yoga pose, click here) and let things calm down again.
“Legs Up the Wall Pose (or Viparita Karani) is a restorative yoga posture that allows the mind and the body to relax, relieving stress and tension. It is one of the most approachable yoga poses as it doesn’t require much flexibility or strength. But even though it’s a passive pose, its benefits are pretty amazing.”
– From Do You Yoga
#9. – I Self-Parent
When we think of our shame as our wounded inner-child struggling to make sense of our situation, we are able to look at our inner voice so differently. Suddenly we can think of the ways we might care for a young child who is overwhelmed with emotion. Perhaps the child needs something to eat, or a nap, or just a time-out in a calm and quiet room.
When, rather than trying to shut the thoughts down, we try to nurture our inner-child, we can find a much more compassionate way of being with ourselves in the distressing moment.
It is good to try and think of some of your own strategies to deal with your negative self-talk, based on your own circumstances and preferred healing style.
A large part of this is to become more self-aware, so triggers and emotions don’t build up to absolute tsunami height. In the PTSD module and workshop (July-Septmber 2019) we will look at triggering more closely and discuss ways to cope with the emotions that come up during the day.