When I work with people I spend a lot of time asking them to pay attention to their self-talk. Each of us has a near constant dialogue running through our head. Some of the dialogue is incredibly negative: life is terrible, bad things always happen to me, this is a catastrophe, etc. Most of us are completely unaware of the stream of demeaning, negative, self-talk that we subject ourselves to on a regular basis. One of the first steps in counseling is to learn to pay attention to what we are saying to ourselves.
The next steps are to reject the half-truths and catastrophic thinking and replace them with more objective, realistic thoughts.
Isn’t that just positive thinking? I don’t think so. I believe some of what passes for positive thinking can be equally untrue.
For example, I was often told as a teen that I could do anything I put my mind to. I don’t believe that’s true. If it were, I would be playing third base for the St. Louis Cardinals. God did not, however, gift me with athletic ability. No matter how hard I try (and in high school I tried really, really hard) my asthmatic, uncoordinated body places limits on my athletic ability.
Visualizing something won’t create a reality. I can visualize being 50 pounds lighter all I want but until I put down the Krispy Kreme’s and start hitting the gym it is unlikely I will actually lose weight.
If you have a flat tire at rush hour on a bridge during a torrential thunderstorm, I don’t expect you to jump out of the car thinking “Best! Day! Ever!”. Neither do I want you to be thinking “this is the worst day of my life”, “@&*#^ always happens to me”, or “God hates me”.
Counselors are not in the business of peddling unrealistic goals or creating euphoric feelings based on wishful thinking.
We are in the business of helping people peel back the layers of unrealistic, overly negative thought patterns and replacing them with good reality testing and sound judgment. We are in the business of helping people identify patterns of negative thinking and dysfunctional behavior, changing those things they have control over, and exercising their faith that somehow it will all work out in the end.
Pay attention to your self-talk. If you need some help “taking every thought captive”, we’re here to help.
(written by: G. Bowden McElroy, M.Ed.)