One of the most important things I’ve learned in my recovery journey is to manage my negative self-talk. My negative self-talk was constant. “I’m a bad person” “I’m a failure” “I can’t do anything right” “I’m ugly and fat and stupid” “No one likes me” “I’m unlovable” and on and on. Anything that went wrong in my life was somehow directly my fault and had to do with my unworthiness, incapability, etc. And anything that hadn’t gone wrong yet was sure to go wrong in the near future because I believed that I didn’t deserve anything good or happy in my life and the universe knew it. It was a miserable way to live, but I didn’t know how to change it.
The first time I heard about retraining my brain to be more positive was at my first stay in the psych ward and I took it as a personal attack against me. To me, it sounded like, “Well if you just think happy thoughts, you’ll be happy! Your illness is all your fault and you have total control over it!” Obviously that’s not what they were saying, but that’s what I heard. But as I got to a different place in life, it started to make more sense.
My brain is a muscle. Because of depression and anxiety and PTSD and my eating disorder, my thoughts were consistently negative. The only way my brain knew how to speak was in a negative language. What I had to do to take an active role in my recovery was teach my brain a new language- the language of truth and positivity.
First, I had to come to a point where I accepted that my brain and my disorders and my abusers were lying to me. And that was a really difficult step. It felt disingenuous to challenge my own thinking. But you have to remember that challenging your thoughts isn’t lying, it’s teaching your brain to tell you the truth.
I’m NOT worthless. I’m NOT a piece of shit. Everything that goes wrong is NOT automatically my fault. I’m NOT unlovable. One activity that helped me confront these negative core beliefs was to write down the core belief, then write down a new, more positive thought. (It can even be neutral, for example instead of “I’m a piece of shit” you can change it to “I’m struggling and that’s okay.”) Then write down evidence for the new, more positive thought, or anything that doesn’t support or line up with the old negative belief. This activity is really challenging, but if you give it an honest try it can be really helpful. And don’t forget to ask for help from loved ones if you get stuck!
Next I had to realize that there’s a difference between my automatic thoughts and my “controlled” thoughts. I don’t have control over my automatic thoughts because, well, they’re automatic. What I do have control over is what comes after my automatic thoughts and THAT’S what I had to work on changing in order to ultimately change my automatic thoughts.
For example, I smoke and I’m trying to cut back. I give myself a certain amount of time that I have to wait before I can have my next cigarette. But sometimes, I don’t wait the allotted period of time. My automatic thoughts when I don’t wait as long as I say I’m going to are, “You’re a piece of shit. You can’t even wait three hours between cigarettes? You’re pathetic. No one will ever love you and your boyfriend is going to leave you.” When those automatic thoughts start, I have to stop, take a breath and reframe my thinking. My controlled thoughts are, “You’re trying to do something really difficult. You’ve recently had all your old coping skills taken away and now you have to learn an entirely new set of skills. It makes sense that you’re having trouble letting go of this negative coping skill.”
It was also important for me to realize that my “positive thoughts” don’t have to be rainbows and butterflies. I touched on this earlier, but you can’t go from “I hate myself” to “I love myself” overnight. You can’t even go from “I hate myself” to “I’m not a piece of shit” overnight. This process takes months of recognizing your negative self-talk, and then challenging that negative self-talk, and it’s a slow and exhausting process to constantly be fighting with yourself. But going from negative to neutral is still a positive change!
I hope this helps at least one person understand how to challenge and change their thought process because I honestly believe it’s THE most important part of recovery. It IS possible and you ARE worth it. You deserve to know the truth. And the truth is that you are a beautiful, lovable soul, deserving of kindness and respect from everyone, including yourself.