Over-focussing on negative self-talk is not healthy, it simply perpetuates cycles of recrimination, shame, self-criticism, and eventually maintains the negative coping mechanisms or behaviours I’m criticising myself for in the first place. But I have been reflecting on a recent relapse that took me back to places I don’t want to revisit anytime soon. It made me do some things that were harmful to myself and others as well as some that were destructive and self-sabotaging (to my recovery, my relationships and my progress), and some that were merely embarrassing (but still best avoided). And I really felt that I needed to delve a little into the things that happened and try to look squarely at my thoughts, feelings and motivations. In doing this, from a clear head, it was, I felt, necessary to indulge in some negative self-talk because I needed to take a long, hard look at myself and try to locate the specific things that I want to pin down and do my best not to repeat or continue, as well as identifying fissures I’d opened in my relationships with myself and others so as to make appropriate repairs. So I let my inner critic off her leash, but within a container. I gave myself some time to write and draw the things that my behaviour had made me think and feel about myself. And this drawing was part of that process. The big challenge is not to sink into the criticisms and jump on the self-flagellation train. But to pick up the reigns of my life once more and acknowledge these feelings with radical acceptance. What happened has happened. It is what it is. It’s time to move forwards unless I want to stay here in this negative spiral.
I now know that the next step is a return to the very basics of my Dialectical Behavioural Therapy (DBT) skills. The core mindfulness skills. And before that, simple breathing exercises, because without these I struggle to even slow my mind down enough to manage the basics. But through practising them regularly I have before, and can again, gained a level of control over my thoughts and feelings and a sense of internal space, perspective and stillness I never thought possible.
So I’m going back, back, back to step one. And it does come with a certain heartsink sensation. “Am I really going all the way back?” But back to the beginning of my therapy is not as far back as relapse. So it is still a move forward from where I have been for the last week in particular, but in reality, for the last few months. And it’s a baby step, but it’s the right step to regain control of my life.
I need to slow right down and start to observe and describe my emotions and behaviours again. And to respond non-judgementally to my thoughts and feelings. These are the key skills for me to focus on now. They helped me gain control over my self-destructive and impulsive behaviours before, and they can help me regain that sense of control and stability.
So in essence, negative self-talk can and does lead to very dark places. But when done from wise mind, it can also be helpful if done carefully, with purpose. So here it is, a little sample of my negative self-talk.
Art Journal Sketch Series. Watercolour Pencil on Paper. © Katy Matilda Neo 2018.