This Wednesday, we had ConnorEatsPants join us on the Healthy Gamer stream. He talked with Dr. K about negative self-talk, overcoming intrusive thoughts, and his history with ROCD, anxiety, and depression.
Dr. K said that there are two ways of dealing with negative self-talk:
- Identifying and understanding its roots to take away some of its power.
- Actively tackling it when it arises in the present moment.
For the most part, people talk about their past on the Healthy Gamer stream and try to identify their problem’s roots. Connor chose to take the other route and understand how his intrusive thoughts work and what he can do to disarm them in the present.
What is Negative Self-Talk?
Negative self-talk is typically characterized by intrusive thoughts that usually point out your flaws or make you feel inferior by acting upon your insecurities. It is incredibly debilitating to go through the day with thoughts like “I am a failure“, “I am not good enough”, “Nobody will ever love me”, “I am ugly”, etc.
Such thoughts limit your confidence and self-belief and prevent you from moving forward in life. They sap motivation, willpower, and make it hard to get out of bed every day.
Being Attacked by Your Thoughts
Connor expressed that it feels like his thoughts are attacking him. For most people, their thoughts are on the same team as them. However, for someone with low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, OCD, or a similar problem, their thoughts become their enemy.
Moreover, being attacked by your thoughts affects your behavior. For example, if your thoughts tell you that you are ugly or a failure, you are more likely to behave like that. That behavior informs people’s opinions of you, which reinforces those thoughts. That creates a vicious cycle with no end.
Urge for Reassurance
Connor also talked about an urge for reassurance that impacts his relationships. A person who regularly faces negative self-talk feels like he needs to ask people if he is likable, adequate, or looks good.
This internal dialogue always runs on a loop in the mind of a person with lots of negative self-talk. They continuously need an external source of validation because their mind is not on their team.
The most common solution that most people employ to deal with the urge for reassurance is to use logic to disarm it. However, this is not a very efficient solution. What happens when you try to find logical reasons to tell that urge that it doesn’t belong in your mind? It probably just gets stronger and fights back harder. The resulting war in your mind only exacerbates the issue — it creates conflict between two parts of yourself.
Moreover, that conflict requires energy to sustain. It is not easy to combat your mind, and eventually, you run out of energy. That results in the negative self-talk winning out every single time, which eventually leads to hopelessness.
This problem is significantly worse for people who are more introspective than others. Typically, introspective people trust themselves more and can reflect on their thoughts more deeply. They trust themselves more as well. However, when their logical mind gets hijacked by negative thoughts, they cannot distinguish between a factual thought and negative self-talk. As a result, they get stuck in a war in their mind.
Check out our conversation with AustinShow in which we explore how the need for reassurance can be tamed
Mechanism of Negative Self-Talk
Dr. K illustrated Connor’s thought process:
Let’s take an example of a situation in which you feel like you cannot be loved:
- An intrusive thought pops up. For example, “She doesn’t like me.”
- That creates an urge for reassurance. You might seek out someone close to you to ask for reassurance. In this situation, perhaps you seek reassurance from the person you are attracted to.
- At this point, the logical mind steps in. It tries to disarm the urge for reassurance by asserting itself over it. It might throw out a thought like, “I know that I’m a cool guy — I don’t need reassurance from someone else.”
- This logical attack on that urge creates a war in your mind. The more the urge for reassurance and logic fight, the stronger the urge gets. Moreover, the logical mind needs to be sustained manually by being provided with constant energy.
- Eventually, the logical mind runs out of energy, and the urge for reassurance wins out.
- That results in the manifestation of behaviors that reinforces those intrusive thoughts. For example, the thought “She doesn’t like me” might lead to clingy behavior.
- Our behaviors define our experiences and our image of ourselves. Therefore, if the urge for reassurance keeps winning consistently, we start acting out the thoughts we employed logic to fight. That is called Negative Self-Attitude.
- Over time, the true self and the part of you that seeks reassurance (let’s call it the fake self) start to fight. The intrusive thoughts keep manifesting in unwanted behaviors, and the fake self uses these behaviors as evidence to support the narrative that the negative self-talk relies on. Eventually, that leads to hopelessness.
Negative Self-Talk Comes in Different Flavours But Has the Same Roots
One of the more common problems that people who deal with negative self-talk face is that they typically get diagnosed with multiple mental illnesses when they see a mental health professional. For example, Connor got diagnosed with ROCD, Anxiety, and Depression. However, while the content of his negative self-talk varies, all these issues are the same at their root.
The critical thing to realize is that if you can tackle this negative self-talk’s origin, all the different manifestations of it will start to break down. That is the antidote to the hopelessness that negative self-talk creates.
How to Deal with Negative Self-Talk
As we have learned above, trying to combat negative self-attitude with logic only makes it stronger. It is an ineffective strategy that does not lead us anywhere. So the next question is, how can we overcome negative self-talk if we cannot use logic?
The most effective way to tackle the self-talk is the most counterintuitive. We don’t fight the intrusive thoughts. We accept them.
The only option left is to create separation between your true self and the part of you that generates intrusive thoughts. The process of doing that is known as detachment, and in Sanskrit, it is called Vairagya.
You can cultivate detachment by acknowledging the difference between the observer and the observed. If you are observing an object, then you cannot be the object. The same goes for our thoughts. What paralyzes most people is that they never realize this difference. They believe that they ARE their thoughts, which results in suffering.
This separation between the seer and the seen is called mindfulness or Sakshi Bhava (witnessing attitude). When you are separate from these intrusive thoughts, they stop being a factor influencing your behavior. That is when you are your most authentic self. The practice of realizing that your thoughts are not an accurate representation of reality disarms the negative self-talk. Mindfulness completely disarms the negative self-talk, and over time, it dwindles away.
Unlike rationalization, observing these thoughts does not fuel them. While detachment arises from acknowledgment and acceptance, people often mistake the obsession to get rid of these thoughts as detachment. That is also attachment because you get attached to the goal of getting rid of those thoughts. Moreover, acceptance does not mean accepting the content of intrusive thoughts. It refers to acknowledging that thought itself and merely observing it.
The solution is to try to aim for growth rather than repair. Sit in the feelings that the thoughts create, and acknowledge that you are allowed to be sad and hopeless. Acknowledge that there is a part of you that wants to take this suffering away. At the same time, acknowledge that we trap ourselves the most when we try to protect ourselves from the suffering that life throws at us.
Check out the full interview here!