For most of us, we’ve had the unfortunate experience of being stuck in a circling vortex of negativity, self-doubt, frustration, and exhaustion. When caught in one of these spirals, it can feel impossible to break free.
Why is this?
One of the reasons could be that these feelings seem to compound on each other. Exhaustion can lead to negative thoughts. Thoughts such as “Why am I not good enough to do a thing?”, “Why can’t I keep up with my peers?”, “Can I do anything right?”, or “Why is this hard for me to do?”
These thoughts can deeply frustrate us, as we don’t want to be stuck thinking these things. These thoughts can also be heavy, stressful, or debilitating, thus exhausting us even more. You might see how a pattern can develop.
Another reason could be that we are innately programmed to give more attention to negative thoughts rather than positive ones. This is called Negativity Bias. As humans, we are inclined to attend to, learn from, and dwell on negative information more so than positive information. Negative events usually evoke a faster and more critical response. During our hunter-gatherer days, negative events posed a threat to our survival. They were burned into our brain so that we would learn from them.
So, how can we stop this spiral? How can we work against this Negativity Bias? How can we ultimately break this pattern once we are stuck in its cycling negative winds?
I want to share three helpful tips that I’ve learned about in regards to working our way out of negative thinking spirals.
Try to forgive yourself for spiralling. Forgiveness isn’t always easy. We might find shame and guilt present, wondering why it’s so hard for us to get out and see the brighter side. Try to hold yourself with love and self-compassion. As mentioned earlier, we’re working against thousands of years of mental conditioning. This is tough work. The fact that you’re here reading this shows you’ve already made the first and most pivotal steps. First, it shows that you are self-aware of your own negative thinking patterns. Second, it demonstrates you have a desire to change. Know that getting caught in these spirals is normal and is part of the human experience.
2.Savoring the Positives
Since our brain is cognitively wired to focus more on negative thoughts, we have to work towards reprogramming it to focus on more positive thoughts. This requires turning short-term positive moments and feelings into long-term memories. Next time something positive happens in your life, try to savour it as much as possible! Stick with the moment or feeling for as long as you can. Savouring a moment could look like extending a hug with your friend for a few more seconds, journaling your feelings after a really awesome experience, or recalling moments in your life where you felt truly loved. Notice the sensations and feelings in your body. The more you’re able to practice savoring these positives, the easier you might find it gets to pull yourself out of a spiral. This is reprogramming in action.
3.Challenging the Negatives
The goal here is to question the validity of negative thoughts. Quite often these negative thoughts happen so fast and automatically that we just believe them. We don’t even think to question them. Challenging these thoughts can be tricky, as it requires you to narrow down on certain negative thoughts while they are coming up. Practice asking yourself the following questions:
· Are these thoughts respectful to you?
· Are they useful to you?
· Is there any evidence that supports this thought?
· What evidence do I have that disproves this thought?
· Have I ever faced this situation before? How did it turn out?
It’s no picnic getting caught in negative thinking spirals. Though it may feel hopeless escaping these gloom-ridden hurricanes, there are tools that can help us. Just remember to have patience and compassion for yourself as you start navigating these winds. You’ve got this!
It is making a spreadsheet of your debt and enforcing a morning routine and cooking yourself healthy meals and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution.
It is often doing the ugliest thing that you have to do, like sweat through another workout or tell a toxic friend you don’t want to see them anymore or get a second job so you can have a savings account or figure out a way to accept yourself so that you’re not constantly exhausted from trying to be everything, all the time and then needing to take deliberate, mandated breaks from livingto do basic things like drop some oil into a bath and read Marie Claire and turn your phone off for the day.
A world in which self-care has to be such a trendy topic is a world that is sick. Self-care should not be something we resort to because we are so absolutely exhausted that we need some reprieve from our own relentless internal pressure.
True self-care is not salt baths and chocolate cake, it is making the choice to build a life you don’t need to regularly escape from.
And that often takes doing the thing you least want to do.
It often means looking your failures and disappointments square in the eye and re-strategizing. It is not satiating your immediate desires. It is letting go. It is choosing new. It is disappointing some people. It is making sacrifices for others. It is living a way that other people won’t, so maybe you can live in a way that other people can’t.
It is letting yourself be normal. Regular. Unexceptional. It is sometimes having a dirty kitchen and deciding your ultimate goal in life isn’t going to be having abs and keeping up with your fake friends. It is deciding how much of your anxiety comes from not actualizing your latent potential, and how much comes from the way you were being trained to think before you even knew what was happening.
If you find yourself having to regularly indulge in consumer self-care, it’s because you are disconnected from actual self-care, which has very little to do with “treating yourself” and a whole lot do with parenting yourself and making choices for your long-term wellness.
It is no longer using your hectic and unreasonable life as justification for self-sabotage in the form of liquor and procrastination. It is learning how to stop trying to “fix yourself” and start trying to take care of yourself… and maybe finding that taking care lovingly attends to a lot of the problems you were trying to fix in the first place.
It means being the hero of your life, not the victim. It means rewiring what you have until your everyday life isn’t something you need therapy to recover from. It is no longer choosing a life that looks good over a life that feels good. It is giving the hell up on some goals so you can care about others. It is being honest even if that means you aren’t universally liked. It is meeting your own needs so you aren’t anxious and dependent on other people.
It is becoming the person you know you want and are meant to be. Someone who knows that salt baths and chocolate cake are ways to enjoy life – not escape from it.
After a traumatic and dis-empowering childhood, much of my life’s work has been about building a healthy and empowered sense of self. Not a narcissistic sense of self, but one that is rooted in a healthy ego and a recognition of the great possibilities that live within each of us. I believe that every one of us comes into this life with a brilliant and a unique sacred purpose, a network of gifts, callings, lessons, significant relationships, and key emotional issues that we are here to clarify, to express, to actualize, and to grow through. Our sacred purpose is our unique contribution to the world.
In order to fully embrace our purpose and make self-affirming life choices, we need an authentic sense of our own value. We need to believe that we are worthy of bringing our gifts and offerings to the world. Because so few of us were given a healthy template for self-validation, we often have to forge that template ourselves in the fires of our own determination.
Here are 3 tools that helped me to reach the stage of self-validation where I could see my purpose through in a challenging world.
Tool 1: Practice the Art of Selective Attachment.
Given that our sense of self was wounded in relationships, some part of it has to be restored through relationships. We are relational beings, after all. But relational healing can’t happen with just anyone. We have to cultivate the art of selective attachment. In other words, we have to sift everything through a self-validation filter, connecting only to those relationships that support our healthy self-development. If someone bolsters our sense of value, we invite them in. If they don’t, we turn them away. In other words, self-validators enter, lite-dimmers exit. Not from a place of contempt, but from a place of burgeoning self-love. We already have enough internalized voices telling us that we don’t have value. We don’t need any more. If they don’t help you grow, then let them go. Who you surround yourself with really matters.
Of course, we can get all the validation we want, even if it comes from someone credible, but it won’t be enough. We still have to take proactive steps to confirm our value.
Tool 2: Affirm your value.
Affirmations can be a positive step in the direction of self-empowerment. It can be encouraging to repeat self-validating affirmations throughout the day. For example, “I am enough!”, “I am worthy of a healthy relationship”, “I am worthy of self-love”, “I am brilliant.” These mantras can keep you going, particularly during challenging moments and can bolster your sense of self. But on their own, they are not enough to deeply transform you. In order to build a strong and sturdy sense of self, your words need to be coupled with self-affirming actions. In other words, you need to prove to yourself that you matter. You have to make your affirmations real. There has to be a congruency between what you are expressing and what you are living before your inner world will take notice.
By making your affirmations real, you send a message to the deep within that you are worthy enough to wage this battle for self-love. If we don’t prove to ourselves that we are willing to fight for our right to the light and our right to a healthy self-concept, who will?
This work may require that we go to the edge of our discomfort, and make empowering new choices. For example, if you are someone who has had a hard time speaking up for yourself, shift the pattern by clearly and confidently voicing your needs or desires. Or if you are someone who has resisted exploring a more gratifying career path, take one step in the direction of a new career. Even the smallest and shakiest of steps can transform your inner landscape.
To make your affirmations real: finish the things you start. Prove to yourself that you can see things through to completion. This can include important and meaningful life goals. Or practical and menial everyday tasks. It doesn’t matter if they are lofty accomplishments or simple actions. What matters is that you drown your negative self-talk in a sea of accomplishment.
Tool 3: Healing Our Core Wounds.
Fundamental to our efforts to self-validate, is the importance of going back into the past to heal our core wounds. At the heart of a diminished self-concept is invariably some combination of unresolved abuse, trauma, and unmet needs. And it’s seldom ours alone- most of these dysfunctional patterns have roots in our family lineage and ancestral patterns. In other words, we are carrying everyone’s emotional material up the rocky mountain with us.
The way we break free from dysfunctional familial patterns is not by running away from them. It’s by walking back in their direction. Not because we want to keep repeating them, but because the only way to shift these patterns is to heal them at their roots. It’s okay to run from them for a time, but not for all time. Because the flight from what lives inside of you, merely delays your arrival. You may think you are on the way to a new destination yet the plane keeps circling back to your childhood home. It can’t navigate a new flight plan, until you return back to where you came from, and heal its broken wings. With your wings strengthened, there is nowhere you can’t go.
The healing can happen in many forms. Talk therapy can be an effective tool in seeing and understanding the roots of our diminished sense of self. With the right therapist, you can talk through and reclaim those parts of you that got lost along the way. You can come to terms with where the voices of self-hatred and internalized shame originated. But identifying and analyzing our wounds is not always the same as healing them. Excessive analysis can perpetuate emotional paralysis- strengthening your mental capacities while possibly delaying your deeper healing. An effective recipe for healing is to couple your talk-therapy with a body-centered psycho-therapeutic approach. Body-centered models like somatic experiencing, bio-energetics, and core energetics, engage both your mental faculties and your capacity for deep feeling, supporting a more integrated healing. Your negative self-talk may be manifest as thinking, but its roots are often in the traumas endured within the emotional and physical bodies. Our traumas were a felt experience, and if we want to transform them we have to meet them directly, within the body itself. The feel is for real.
The key to the transformation of challenging patterns and wounds is to heal them from the inside out. Not to analyze them, not to watch them like an astronomer staring at a faraway planet through a telescope, but to jump right into the heart of them, encouraging their expression and release, stitching them into new possibilities with the thread of love. You want to live a self-empowered life? Heal your heart. That’s the best affirmation of all.
CONTINUING THE WORK
Building a healthy self-concept takes more than recognizing why we don’t have one. We have to do the work to construct a new egoic foundation. That work is not merely conceptual- it is rooted in embodied, lived experience: supportive relationships, positive affirmations coupled with meaningful action, addressing our emotional wounds, and eventually healing our way home. If you can stay with these tools for long enough, the voices of internalized shame and self-hatred will grow quieter, and a voice of self-love will rise up to occupy space inside of you. Your inner narrative will shift from a tone of shame, to a tone of self-value. You will no longer make choices sourced in an over-compensatory quest for external validation, you will make choices that are rooted in self-love. Self-regard will become your natural and organic way of being, and you will become emblazoned on your path, living your life like the force of purposeful nature that you are.
We are all beautiful and brilliant beings, at heart. The trick is clearing the obstacles and doing the rewarding work to build a foundation of enduring self-regard. When we do, we stop getting in our own way, and we live the life we were born for.
Sometimes, you are going to put up a good fight for as long as you can, and realize that there is no other choice but to let go.
Sometimes, you are going to need to put down the computer, turn off the phone, shut the door, lay down and go to sleep.
Sometimes, you are going to need to walk away from the relationship, the job, the friend that isn’t wrong, but isn’t totally right, either.
Sometimes, you will find yourself on the wrong path and it will take everything within you to be bigger than your pride, to admit something is wrong, and to get off it.
That’s the thing that most people don’t understand about giving up: it requires so much more strength and clarity and discernment and self-assuredness than you can even imagine.
Because you never have to give up on something that’s totally wrong for you. If it were totally wrong, you wouldn’t have done it in the first place. You wouldn’t be interested. You wouldn’t have started the relationship, or the career, or whatever it is. If something is really, completely wrong for you, there’s no attachment there.
What you have to give up on is the almosts. The maybes. The somedays.
What you have to give up on are your unrealistic expectations. Your own relentless pressure to mold yourself into a person that you were never meant to be. Your desire to force a relationship that just isn’t going to happen.
What you have to give up on is the old life that your former self-drafted up in your mind. You don’t have it because you’ve changed. You’re different, you’re new. And yet so many people spend so many of their days mourning the lives they thought they wanted when they were someone else.
So many people think that in the gospel of success, the #1 virtue is never, ever loosening your grip on what you want.
They think that achievement comes only from grit, only from the resilience that it takes to get knocked down 7 times and stand up 8.
But what about the resilience it takes to admit that maybe, your struggle isn’t a sign of growth? What about the inner strength it takes to realize when your struggle isn’t noble, it’s a red flag and then a dead end.
Yes, life is hard sometimes. You have to show up every day. You aren’t going to be amazing at anything the first time you try it. You are going to have to log your 10,000 hours before you can even think of mastery.
But when you keep trying and keep failing, when doors stay shut and opportunities don’t rise, when you aren’t motivated and doing what you’re doing makes you feel depleted, exhausted and filled with self-hate… sometimes, it’s because something isn’t quite right for you.
It takes a lot of courage to admit when you have to give up.
It takes a lot of guts to leave the relationship that you still want to salvage some potential out of, the job that is pretty good but more draining than it is inspiring, the old dream you had about something that you’re pretty good at, but not quite amazing.
The things you give up on are not synonymous with the things you’ve failed at.
Nobody really knows what they want until they’ve experienced what they don’t.
The problem is when people get too wrapped up in their egos to admit that they chose wrong, they thought otherwise, and they now have to choose and think again.
So some people spend the rest of their lives stuck, only because they never get the strength to let go. People think holding on is the hardest thing you have to do, but it’s not, because it doesn’t require change. It doesn’t mean you have to face the unknown. It doesn’t mean you have to rewrite the whole story of what you thought your life should be.
Often, holding on is what you do when you’re not strong enough to scrap your plans and start anew.
Just like how being indecisive is what happens when you know the answer, but cannot accept it.
The truth is that sometimes, the most loving and important thing you can do for yourself is give up.
Because the sooner you give up on what you know, deep down, isn’t for you, the sooner you can start putting your energy toward what is. The sooner you start again, the sooner you will arrive. The sooner you let go, the sooner you can find something new. The sooner you rest, the sooner you will be ready.