“I want to taste and glory in each day, and never be afraid to experience pain.”
– Sylvia Plath
I used to love Sylvia Plath. It always seemed like she understood me. There is something deeply beautiful and moving about the thread of sadness in all her poems. When I was stressed and emotional, she made me feel like it was okay to go through those stages. The problem was – that state of being lasted for too long.
Some people have an inner tendency to feel negative emotions for no apparent reason. I used to be one of those people. I never tried to ignore sadness and stress; I accepted negativity as a constant mark of my personality.
The sense of depression usually goes along with anger, and it’s almost impossible to get out of that vicious circle. When I heard that some of my friends made professional or personal progress, I was happy for them, but I was angry and mad because I compared my own achievements to theirs… I’ll admit it: I was even jealous. I kept feeding that anger with constant negative thoughts, stress, and self-devaluation.
It may not look like that on the surface, but people who are prone to feeling and expressing negative emotions suffer from low self-esteem. They are constant practitioners of negative self-talk, which can drive them into an abyss. I can speak for myself – I always expected the worst outcome in every situation. I was enhancing my own flaws and shortcomings, constantly blaming myself for not being perfect. In some weird masochistic way, I was enjoying being sad, nervous, and bitter. This will sound bad, but sometimes I even enjoyed making other people feel miserable because I couldn’t see anything good in this world.
The thing that frustrated me the most were those bright, positive quotes on a beautiful background. People keep sharing those all over Facebook and Instagram, thinking they can make the world better with shallow Paulo Coelho wisdom. You see? I still have that negativity in me, but it only occurs when I see those images on social media. For all other situations, I learned how to control my own mind and emotions by reducing negative self-talk. Let me tell you how that works.
Getting Indulged in Positive Thinking
When you’re used to thinking negatively about every single situation you face in your life, it’s hard to say “okay, I’ll just start thinking positively from now on.” That’s impossible if you perceive the ‘technique’ of positive thinking as keeping your head in the clouds, not allowing yourself to be affected by any bad thought or emotion.
Positive thinking is all about giving your best to make your own life good, and expecting good things to happen. Everything starts off with a shift in your self-talk practices. For example, when some of my friends didn’t call for weeks, I used to think they forgot I existed. I was thinking “they will call when they need a favor, and I’ll be so stupid that I’ll do that for them and they will keep ignoring me after that.” Now, after a long and challenging battle with my own thinking patterns, I just pick up the phone and call them, expecting a nice, calm, and enjoyable conversation. Self-talk makes a huge difference.
Step One: Observing and Understanding Your Thoughts
The first step towards emotional healing is awareness. If you don’t become aware that all your thoughts are negative, you can’t work towards improvement. American psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck was the first one to describe negative automatic thinking patterns. If we become more aware of the way we think, we can recognize the negative interpretations and twists of reality.
There are few characteristics of negative thoughts that enable us to identify them: they make us feel bad about ourselves; they come unexpectedly; and they seem quite realistic to us, although they are usually twisted by our own ego.
Negative thoughts usually fly quickly through the mind, leaving you with feelings you carry without being fully aware where they came from. If that’s the case and you’re feeling anxious or sad, you should simply verbalize the emotions. “I’m stressed and unhappy. Why? What thought caused this feeling?” Maybe you will see a mental image that will reveal the reasons for your state of being. Ask yourself: “What does this mean for me? How do I see this? Is my perception wrong?”
With the mere fact that you’re identifying negative automatic thoughts, you are helping yourself to reduce their impact on your subconscious levels.
Step Two: Replace Negative Self-Talks with Encouragement
This is the hardest part. When you notice that the stream of unspoken thoughts in your mind is negative, you need to willingly change its direction. Although some of that self-talk comes from a logical background, it’s mostly based on misconceptions affected by your ego. When you recognize that fact, you’ll need to make an effort to start thinking positively.
Here are some practical tips to help you with that:
- Take a sheet of paper and divide it in two columns. Then, try to switch your mind off and start noting intuitively: write down your strengths on one side, and your weaknesses on the other. Do this as quickly as possible, without giving it much thought. Then, observe those lists. Did you write down more positive things about yourself, or you focused on the negative side? If the negative remarks prevail, then think of more positive traits to bring balance to your list. Then, write 10 more positive features of your personality. It might be difficult for a person with low self-esteem to do that, but don’t give up and keep looking into your soul. You’ll find some good things in there. I repeated this exercise at the end of each month and I noticed that it helped me perceive myself as a strong person with some good qualities.
- Recognize the points of change! Remember that list you completed with the previous exercise? It taught you how to pay attention to the good sides of your personality. That doesn’t mean you should ignore the negative things you wrote down. Did you write that you were lazy, unambitious, uninspired, mean, or too sarcastic? Everyone has different flaws, so it’s only natural for you to have them, too. However, you should always keep in mind that you can change those things. If you realize that some personality traits are driving you towards negative thinking, work on them. Change them!
- Expect good things to happen to you. You deserve them! When you’re doing your best to succeed in your job or the relationships you maintain, there is no reason for you to expect the worst outcome. Change your point of view and try to maintain a positive image of your future.
I will give you one last piece of advice: don’t expect to become an optimist in an hour. These exercises will definitely help you become a more positive person and start standing up to all stressful situations you face. However, the journey requires great efforts and willingness to succeed. Are you ready to do it?