Regaining Control of Your Thought Life
You. are. beautiful. You. are. phenomenal. You. are. enough. No one else can take that away from you….but you.
Haters will hate. Loved ones might hit you with low blows when they’re angry. Friends will sit you down and tell you the cold hard truth about yourself. Enemies might say some pretty harsh things and purposely try to tear you down. It’s one thing to have other people throw salt on your name, but it’s something totally different for you to do it to yourself. I can come back from what Stacy said, but what do I do when I start saying these negative things to myself?
Our thoughts influence our entire lives. “I think, therefore I feel, therefore I act” is the premise of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). I spent the past year learning about this theory, and I’ve seen it play a role in my life and the lives of others almost every day. The hard part is that if you aren’t looking closely, you won’t even realize the types of automatic thoughts you’re having. While spending hours reviewing the concept, I couldn’t help but to become more aware of my own automatic thoughts. I, too, tend to fall victim of saying some pretty negative things to myself: I suck, I’m not qualified, I’m so stupid dawg, Nothing ever works, Am I not good enough?, I don’t know if I can do it, No one wants me, It probably won’t even work out anyway, I’m not good at this, I’m losing.
It’s honestly hard to not have those negative automatic thoughts because they are our first reaction to situations. They are deeply rooted beliefs and ideas about ourselves that we have internalized. Maybe someone continuously said that negative thing to you and you actually started to believe it about yourself. Maybe you noticed a pattern of defeat in your life and eventually concluded that things keep going wrong because of you. Maybe in school, all the kids called you names and you eventually believed them and became truly insecure. Maybe you’ve attempted love time and time again, but they always seem to choose someone or something else over you.
Or maybe it wasn’t what someone else did or said to you at all. Maybe it’s what you did. Perhaps you really were the person people said you were. Maybe you did hurt people. Maybe you were the pathological liar. Maybe you were manipulative. Maybe you were the bully, or spiteful, or arrogant. Maybe you were the person who tore people down to make yourself feel better.
No matter the root of your negative self talk, please know that you are not obligated to continue believing those things about yourself. Even if you were the person that hurt others; it doesn’t mean that is who you are or who you have to be. You could choose today to live differently. We have to stop letting our past decisions define who we are now and what we believe about ourselves. We have to stop lying to ourselves about who we can become and what we are capable of doing.
Consider how having those negative beliefs affect your growth. What do you not do because of the way you think about yourself? Have you not applied for that program that could open up several doors because you don’t think you can handle it? Did you quit a good position because you didn’t think you could meet the expectations? Do you continue to lie to people because you believe all you are is a liar? Do you continue to cheat because you’ve cheated in the past and believe you are inherently a cheater? Have you avoided going back to church out of fear of being judged or think your mistakes are too big and too numerous? Have you subconsciously self-sabotaged every relationship you’ve presented with because you don’t know your worth? How are your thoughts holding you back from being the person God has called you to be? You do not have to continue operating in those beliefs. Stop allowing your thoughts control you and get in the way of your future.
Easier said than done I know, but have hope in knowing that you can start making changes to your thought process right now. While I do feel it’s important to make note of your thoughts and begin to explore what they are rooted in, CBT would suggest that it is even more pressing to 1) evaluate whether or not those thoughts about yourself hold true and 2) find more positive thoughts to replace the negative ones.
Let’s take a few of my negative thoughts and use them as examples:
“I suck” – This is one I say every time I fall short. Actually, this is one I say often, both verbally and in my mind. I’ll say I’m not good at anything, I’m hard on myself, and I feel like there are some things I shouldn’t still get wrong. If I make a mistake, I automatically say “I suck”. Is it true? Actually, it’s not. I’m grateful to have people in my life that remind me of this. I am good at quite a few things like listening, seeing the good in others, staying committed to things I put my mind to, and writing. If I make a mistake or fall short, I know to reflect back and do my best to change it going forward. I don’t suck. New Thoughts? “I’m not the most athletic, but I’m good at other things.” “Yeah, I back slid, but I’m still human and I’m going to get this together soon!”
“Nothing ever works” – I typically say this in relation to my “boy problems”. I’ve never been in a relationship and anytime the future isn’t looking so bright in that area, this is the line that’s on repeat in my head. Is it true? Y E S ! —to an extent. Nothing to date has worked out officially, BUT, in the midst of it all, there has been plenty of good done. I’ve met great people, I’ve grown as an individual, and I’ve experienced love. Although so far things haven’t worked, that doesn’t mean that nothing ever will. something will work and will be beautiful (if that’s God’s plan for me). New Thoughts? “This didn’t work, but the right one is coming!” “God is saving you for His best.” “This wasn’t meant to be, but just trust the process.”
Though I do have negative thoughts about myself sometimes, I try to follow up with my positive alternatives as soon as possible. It is a process, but I have noticed myself more quickly able to change what I’m telling myself. When I’m upset, I still might start off with “he doesn’t like me”, but by the end of that pity party my thoughts are completely different. “You are a QUEEN and if he doesn’t see it, admire it, and treat you like it, then it’s his loss. You deserve better Baby J!” If I’m at work feeling nervous and under-qualified, I do the same thing. “Even if you mess up, you can learn from it. Go in there, do your best, and know that God is with you every step of the way.” The goal is to not have the negative thoughts at all, but I am still a work in progress. You’d be amazed by how much more you can do when you stop mentally attacking yourself and replace that with words that nurture your soul.
I want to challenge you to really become aware of the current state of your thought life. What sorts of self-talk are you engaging in? Is it positive? Negative? If it’s negative, I encourage you to take the time to evaluate those thoughts and find alternatives. If the thoughts are true, what can you do to change that negative cycle? If the thoughts are actually false, why do you keep thinking those self-defeating thoughts? The social worker in me cares so much about your thought life because our thoughts manifest themselves in how we feel, the things we say, and the way we behave. Proceed with caution and know that self-fulfilling prophecies are real, for better or for worse.
You are what you believe about yourself. You’re not who Stacy said you are. You’re not who Jon said you are. You’re not who your mother said you are. You’re not who you’re boss said you are. You are only who you believe you are.
So take heed of your thoughts and start speaking life into yourself. ♥