The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Part 1 – Self-Talk
In therapy, we usually come into sessions with stories of things that have happened in the past, are happening in the present, or what we think will happen in the future. Usually, we find ourselves feeling stuck in certain situations or feeling a particular way because we find ourselves going over the details of the stories we tell.
Stories are so valuable. Our entire history as a human race is a collection of stories (I mean, the word “history” itself has the word story in it).
Stories are very powerful. We use stories to understand ourselves (our feelings and experiences), to share and to connect with others, to learn from others and their experiences, and to remember details of experiences.
Sometimes, we might find ourselves caught up in a story or narrative. Self- talk is one way we might get stuck in a narrative. Self-talk is the way we internally or externally talk to or about ourselves. For example, one of the things that I have difficulty with when it comes to my anxiety is when I use critical and negative self-talk with myself. I might say to myself “you know you should have spent more time on that project and started earlier. You’re really horrible at time management. You always do this to yourself and you screw everything up.” Usually when this happens, I feel defeated, diminished, hopeless, and even worse than I had before. Imagine what it could be like if this continues constantly on a daily basis. Some of you might not even have to rely on your imagination for that one and that probably makes your day-to-day quite difficult. Critical and negative self-talk can lead to severe anxiety and depression.
This narrative or self-talk is something we might have learned a long time ago, likely in our childhood. It can also be something we have learned through social, cultural, or familial norms. If we hear something enough, either from ourselves or from others, we might use that narrative as a part of our self-identity. Here’s how you can try to challenge some of this critical and negative self-talk:
- Notice your critical and negative self-talk. Pay attention to the ways you talk to yourself and see if you would talk to someone you cared about and love in that way.
- Ask if it’s true and collect the evidence or facts. Going back to my example of my critical and negative self-talk, when I think about it, I believe that I could have started my project earlier so I looked for proof by checking my schedule. In my schedule I can see that there were no time slots available to complete this work outside of the time I was able to allot for it and had started to work on it.
- Try to state your critical and negative self-talk in a way that only includes the facts. Other than collecting evidence or facts, stating the critical and negative self-talk with only facts can help you see the reality of the situation. It’s also important to get in touch with how you’re feeling. A way I might use facts going back to my example of my own critical self-talk is: “The project is due tomorrow and I have about 3 hours of work to do in a 2 hour timeframe. I received the final details on this project yesterday, so I was on a time crunch. I feel anxious about getting this all done. I’m going to need support for this.”
- How would you talk to a friend if they told you this? If my friend came to me and talked about themselves the way I talk about myself I would probably be horrified, note the reality of things and how challenging it can be, as well as say something kind and encouraging.
- Have your friend give you an opinion on the narrative or situation. It can be hard for ourselves to see what the reality of a situation is, so use other people are soundboards so you can get their opinion on things. (It’s important to choose the right person/people, because if we talk to someone else who is just as critical or negative, we retell ourselves a story in a way that isn’t really true).
- Use self-compassion. Usually, when I talk about this with myself, I hear myself saying “that’s an excuse for weak people”. When this happens, I am able to notice how I’m using negative self-talk and I try to use facts at that point. In my opinion, self-compassion is not an easy practice (try being kind to yourself for 1 hour and you’ll see how challenging that is). One way to start this practice is to say something kind when you wake up or go to bed. My favourite phrases are: “today is a new day” and “I made it through the day”.
Sometimes, if we’re experiencing anxiety and depression our self- talk could be more negative and critical than usual. It can be helpful to seek professional support during those times such as with a therapist.
To learn more about how we can support you with counselling, contact Vivian Zhang at email@example.com.