Rational Responses to Negative Self-Talk

(First in what will hopefully be a series).

At home I have piles and stacks of worksheets on which I have practiced cognitive therapy for myself. The basic idea is to record one’s automatic thoughts during an emotion-causing situation, and respond to them. I mean irrational, self-defeating automatic thoughts, i.e. negative self-talk. Then you try to respond (on paper, at first – and boy am I good on paper, a paper tiger of CBT am I) to those thoughts, not necessarily with positive self-talk (this isn’t Stuart Smalley stuff) —

Minnesota sent him to the Senate

— but with rational, objective thinking.

I’ve got so much of this stuff in storage, some of it quite good imho, I figure I might as well share some of it with the world, and maybe a reader will find something of value in it.

These are my actual thoughts and my responses, edited for clarity.

Of course, YMMV.

~ ~ 1 ~ ~

Thought

I’m supposed to like this person. If I don’t like them, it means I’m cold and a mean person. I ought to enjoy the company of others, and if I don’t it means there’s something wrong with me.

Response

It would be nice to like lots of people, but you can’t just flip a switch. Liking someone, or enjoying their company, is something that has to come on it’s own, you can’t force it. Maybe it’s that so much of my mental resources are being used up by anxiety and pessimism and the effort to control my emotions, there’s no room for feelings of liking to arise. It’s going to be hard to enjoy anyone’s company when you’re all knotted up with anxiety.

To not feel lots of liking or excitement about someone doesn’t mean you’re bad. After all, I don’t expect everyone else to be all gaga over me.

Enjoying someone’s company, or even just being amused by them, does not make you obligated to become best of friends or get really close to each other. It’s all right to have one without the other. There are varying degrees to how well you get to know a person.

~ ~ 2 ~ ~

Thought

Why aren’t I interacting more with people? Because it’s not going to go right. It’s not going to go well at all. Things are going to happen to upset me.

Response

Am I exempt from having negative experiences? Even if I were to “recover” [i.e., overcome shyness and avoidance] and get better, I’m still going to have some shit in my life. It happens to everyone and it’s normal. By attempting to live my life avoiding painful experiences, I’m winding up with a life that isn’t “going right”, isn’t “going well at all”, anyway!

~ ~ 3 ~ ~

Thought

I need to know the right way to behave, what’s expected of me, so that i can give people what they want. But I don’t know how. I don’t know all the of usual, expected kinds of behavior in life. I don’t know what’s valid and what’s invalid.

Response

As long as you base your happiness and success in life on anticipating what others want from you and trying to fulfill it, you never will be happy and you never will have success. Maybe there is no “right way” for you to behave in all situations. Maybe there’s no magic formula for being the person I think I ought to be.

It’s not as if I am outside of life, outside of the world, waiting and watching for the perfect situational aware and/or the right mood to hit me, before choosing how to conduct myself. That’s an old fantasy of mine, and it’s inaccurate.

It’s often very difficult to know for sure what others want from you, anyway. Maybe most people aren’t as demanding as I’ve assumed. Maybe they’re not looking for you to fulfill their expectations to the degree you’ve assumed. Maybe you don’t have to know what they want at all times, and maybe the uncertainty isn’t all that threatening after all.

Maybe there’s nothing “valid” or “invalid” about me — just a big, messy human mix of thought, feelings, and behavior, just like anyone else. I am never living 100% right or 100% wrong.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

There you go. That’s just for starters. Like it or not, there’s more where that came from.

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