Sitting in my therapist’s office and we’d spent most of the hour talking about how tangled up I was in the anxiety I’d been feeling. I told him how wound tight I had been feeling worrying about things that were going on in my life. He knows I’m a writer and he gave me a project to work on for the upcoming week.
“Everything you’re feeling, all this anxiety, is being caused by the emotional way you talk to yourself,” he said. “I want you to find a way to write about this situation that is only factual. Take all your emotional attachments out of it, and keep reading it to yourself, and see if your anxiety doesn’t start to go away. I’ll bet it will.”
Since then, I’ve been thinking about my self-talk, the way I present the world to myself in my mind. I talked to my wife about it and she agreed with my therapist, if I leave emotion out of it, and just look at facts, I’m going to see the world as a much less scary place. When the two of them agree, I really have to listen because my wife and my therapist know the inner workings of my mind better than anybody – probably including me – in the world.
I’ll admit I’m an emotional person. So how can I take that out of the way I look at the world, and more importantly, out of the way I talk to myself?
I suppose the first thing I need to do is look at the things I’m saying to myself. How do I talk to myself?
The first thing that stands out to me is that I say “I can’t” a lot. I can’t do this. I can’t do that. There’s a lot of doubt when I’m talking to myself. I fundamentally don’t believe in myself. So what does that mean for me?
It means I’m negotiating my way through the world from a position of weakness. I fear for myself in the face of obstacles. I’m living my life in fear of the world. I’m afraid I can’t handle challenges. I’m afraid of what’s around the next corner. I’m afraid I’m not good enough. Every morning I wake up and I’m scared of something, and I’m telling myself I can’t do it.
This is no way to live life. But I do it every day. And I struggle through every day, trying to make things work. But I’m fighting myself from the get-go.
The other thing I say to myself that comes up repeatedly is “I should.” I should be able to do this. I should do that. I have unbearably high expectations for myself. I should be able to do almost anything, according to me.
I set goals that are unattainably high, have standards for myself that require perfection. When I handle a situation, it’s not enough that it gets dealt with, I need to do it in the best way possible. I expect the absolute best out of myself without regard to surrounding circumstances.
This, too, is no way to live. But again, I do it every day. And I struggle with it every day. I’m fighting myself on a second front.
Let’s take a look at the two main phrases I use in my self-talk, “I can’t” and “I should.” When they’re put together, they create a pretty damning way of life for me – I can’t, but I should. How could I expect anyone to function normally under this operating system? I wouldn’t wish this on anyone else, yet it’s what I hold myself accountable to on a daily basis.
I am setting myself up for failure. Consistent and regular failure. And this is how I’ve lived my life for years! And it’s all because of the way I talk to myself and look at myself. I’ve molded my behavior based on this way of thinking about myself.
It’s going to take some real work to change the way I talk to myself, so what can I do?
Like my wife and therapist suggested, I need to start looking at the facts. Something that I’ve used with some success in the past is, “No matter what happens, I am ok. I am enough.” It’s a true statement. Unless something kills me, I’m moving on to the next day, the next task, the next challenge. Life will continue, and I can make the choice whether I’m going to participate or not. Either way, it’s all right.
It’s the type of thing to hang on the mirror and repeat to yourself every morning. It’s a reassurance that the world and the day aren’t too big for you. It’s the sort of thing you can tell yourself when you’re starting to feel some anxiety or feel that things are getting out of your control. It’s a reminder that this moment is fleeting and you’ll have another opportunity again soon.
Because I know this has worked for me before, I’m going to start over with it again. No matter what happens, I am ok, I am enough. This will be my mantra to myself. This will be my guide through life. This will be my light in the darkness. This will be my new self-talk.
Author Bio – Jason has suffered from depression and anxiety for over twenty years. He can be contacted Here on his Facebook page