For years and years and years, my self-talk has been overwhelmingly negative.
There are a whole lot of reasons why this is, but the sum result is a daily life filled with my mind attacking me left and right, criticizing myself… even when people tell me the opposite is true.
To be honest, it went on for so long that I didn’t even realize it was happening.
Recognizing The Negative Mindset
This was happening partially because I have a negative mindset overall. It’s partially because of what I’ve allowed to enter my mind daily and allowed to feed the negativity. It’s partially because I suffered years of trauma and abuse as a kid and never dealt with it. It’s partially because I’ve never really felt worthy of love.
Having a baby threw my life into upheaval in a lot of ways. Physically, for sure, Mentally, definitely. Spiritually, even more so. Having to deal with the concepts of love, mortality, responsibility, and purpose all sent me into a tailspin where I realized the negative mindset and anxiety I’ve lived with for years were not serving me – or my precious baby – well.
The thoughts of new motherhood tore me up even more. What if she doesn’t love me? What if I die and abandon her? What if she loves other people more than me? What if no one loves me?
To be honest, no matter how many times I’d hear “God loves me” at church, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t feel it. I believed, but I didn’t feel loved. I felt like the message that I was a bad person, a sinner, resonated, but nothing else. It fit the narrative of what I felt about myself, of what I told myself daily, but being loved was not part of that internal message so it bounced right off. Being loved? That applies to other people. Obviously not me.
The problem with so much negative self-talk over a long period is that it’s what I believe above all else – even when it isn’t true. It flows over into all aspects of how I see myself, others, and the world. My brain has lied to me for a long time because of my mental illness and I’ve believed those lies over things that are obviously true.
My baby loves me, even if my brain says she doesn’t.
I’m a good mom, even if my brain tells me I’m failing and a terrible mom.
My husband loves me, even if my brain says he will hate me and leave me.
God loves me, even if my brain says he couldn’t possibly.
The constant critical and negative voice in my head tells me all these things and more. The critical voice inside creates so much stress and abuse internally every day. It convinces me that my negative feelings are truth, despite actual evidence to the contrary.
I heard a song the other day with the lyrics “I’m in the cage I chose because it feels like home.” It was the first time I’d ever heard the song but it instantly made me cry because I felt those words. I’ve chosen the abuse and the anxiety because that’s what I grew up with and that’s what felt like home. It’s a dark and scary cage, but it felt normal and familiar so it’s what my brain has chosen.
I’m done with this cage of internal self-inflicted abuse.
Building The Positive Mindset & Positive Self-Talk
One of the things I’ve been working on lately is changing my mindset and changing my negative self-talk into positive self-talk.
It’s something that has always felt too hard to do so I’ve just settled into that familiar pattern of negative self-talk. Switching this is hard when my negative thoughts are on a constant loop, but I’m working on it very hard. Like my friend Jenna told me, “We can’t get away from our own voice, so we have to learn a new way to speak to ourselves with compassion and kindness. You will learn this and it will change your life.”
As an example, I’ve had a ton of people tell me I’m a good mom based on my actions and their perceptions of how I take care of Penny. In my brain however, I never told myself I’m a good mom. I would just run over my mistakes repeatedly and chastise myself for being a bad mom already. I’d focus on what I was missing or dwell on the distressing intrusive thoughts (that were 100% not real or true). The self-talk is all negative, based in my anxiety, and I’ve realized lately, almost entirely untrue. I’ve believed a lot of lies, dwelled on them and those lies have tortured me and made my life worse.
In this particular example, I’m working on changing my internal dialogue to point out the positives of what I do and remind myself I’m a good mom who is working hard to do the best for her daughter. I’m writing down things I do well, ways I’m succeeding and areas where I try hard to make a good life for my baby. I’m forcing myself to see the positives that other people clearly can see.
The positive self-talk is so foreign to me, but it’s also all true. Maybe I don’t believe it yet, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Talking to myself positively and sweetly does not come naturally, but it’s something I recognize is desperately needed.
That’s one example but I’m working on it over and over in every area of my life.
Changing to this positive mindset and leaving the negativity behind is hard. But instead of always thinking “what if it’s wrong?” I’m starting to tell myself to think “but what if it’s right?” Instead of immediately looking at the negatives, I’m counting my blessings, practicing gratitude, and reminding myself of things that are true (even if I have trouble believing they are true).
It Takes A Bit of Faith
I’ve also turned to my faith during this time after hitting a rock bottom. The constant fear led me to pray for help for the first time in a while and God’s guidance has shown up time and time again after I asked for it.
The first time I had a lightbulb moment of faith recently was when I was reading a study about how gratitude and meditation could help with anxiety and I realized… oh, these instructions are all in the Bible. They may be clothed in different language but it is all there to guide me to a better place. The gratitude that will help your mindset change is called thanksgiving in the Bible, but it’s the same concept (and proven to work which is pretty cool).
This was the first time I realized that my negative mindset had been blinding me to things that were right in front of me all along. I’ve never been great at consistently studying the Bible but this lightbulb moment has led me to look for more insights there.
I’ve also had so many people reach out to me, pray for me, and guide me during this super scary and negative period of life. Things I’ve prayed for have arrived just when I needed them. I’ve been practicing gratitude for the many amazing gifts I’ve received from God and other people once I started looking for those positives.
My negative mindset always laughed at people who used the hashtag #blessed but when I started focusing on a more positive mindset I realized I’ve been incredibly blessed during hard and good times. God has shown up in my life and is reminding me that I’m loved… even if I don’t feel it.
It Takes Time
I’m not sure why I have had to experience some of these things in life when others haven’t, but I fully believe there is a reason that will reveal itself the more I work to move my mind to the positive and to the place where I believe the truth about myself, about my life, about God, about everything.
You can’t have control over all your circumstances but you can have control over what you think and what is in your mind. That is what I’m focusing on now and it takes real work.
Positive self-talk doesn’t just develop overnight. It takes practice, much like meditation or exercise does. So every day I’m working on it. I’m working through the cognitive distortions I’ve developed to think more clearly. I’m focusing on more positive inputs, less negative. More real truth, less brain lies.
Loving myself well and allowing others to love me is hard, but as my friends have told me, it makes it so much easier to live through the anxiety when you are gentle and loving toward yourself. My friend Jenna has taught me so many things and she has reminded me that it takes a while to rebuild trust with our brain. As she told me, “But you practice and practice – even if you don’t believe your self talk at first – one day you will wake up and it will be better.”
I’ve still got a lot of work to do. A lot, a lot, a lot. But I’m doing the work. I’m changing my mindset. I’m getting professional help to deal with past traumas. I’m building my support group. I’m leaning on God when I don’t understand. I’m doing all the right things and trusting that this will take me to where I need to go.
I was listening to a podcast the other day and the guest said “God made me for more than perpetual angst.” Now this message resonated! I’m not sure why I’m here, but I’m pretty sure it’s for more than just to live out my days full of anxiety and angst, believing my feelings and fear over truth. I’m sure the negative mindset and constant doubting that have developed are not actually the purpose of my life.
Sharing my insights like this is scary to me. It’s hard to be vulnerable and put yourself out there when you know not everyone will understand or agree. It’s hard to share about deep hurts, long held problems, and the ways you are improving. But when you’ve been your own harshest critic for decades, you start to fear other people’s harsh words a little less.
I hope sharing this finds someone who needs it and can be blessed and encouraged by it! Or if you’ve gone through this or something similar yourself and have insights to share, I’d love to hear them!