I made the choice/decision to stay out of my way emotionally and be very careful about what I tell myself, my “self-talk.” Self-talk includes the words in my head that can seem like a conversation with myself. Sometimes it may be in the form of images or mental movies of events. These streams of words and images that describe and interpret events can direct my actions and influence my feelings. This stream of self-talk seems automatic, as if having a life of its own. When such self-talk is repeated over and over, it becomes a “mental habit” and is ingrained. Such self-talk can misinterpret events and distort events and make situations worse than they are and prove counterproductive.
A key to strengthening one’s resilience is the ability to engage in less negative thinking. There are significant benefits if individuals can generate three to four positive thoughts for every negative thought (3 or 4:1 ratio of positive to negative thoughts). The goal is not to eliminate completely negative thoughts. Negative thoughts can be motivating. The key is to tip the balance of positive to negative thinking. Individuals are not at the mercy of their emotions.
I can become a “thought detective.” For example, I can learn to ask myself the following Hinge Questions on a regular basis:
- “When I am feeling down, I can ask oneself—what message am I giving myself? I can stop and look for the message I am giving myself.”
- “When I say this to myself, I tend to feel…”
- “How can I learn to watch out for the ‘self-attacks’ of what I say to myself.”
- “What am I thinking that makes me feel…?”
- “What is another way of thinking that could help me manage my emotions better?”
- “How can I plan ahead to anticipate situations that are likely to trigger these emotions?”
- “How do these feelings affect the way I see things? Am I being prejudiced about how I see myself, only focused on the negative?”
- “If I am feeling completely undervalued, unappreciated and unsupported by others, what is the data (evidence) for these beliefs? What can I do to change this situation? What specific things can I do to improve my relationships?”
- “Do I do things to try and avoid unwanted thoughts, images, and memories of traumatic events?”
- “Do I consume alcohol, drugs; engage in risky behaviors and avoidance to cope with specific memories, symptoms and bad feelings?”
- “If I do these things, then what is the price and toll I and others pay?”
- “If this happened to someone else, would I come to the same conclusions?
What advice would I offer?”
- “What can I do to improve the Quality of My Life?”
- “Is there a way I could reframe this trauma, distress, as a challenge?”
- “Can I think of an example that does not fit my belief that I am X?”
- “Can I think of something that would make my happiness grow?”
How To: Talk Back to My Brain Differently
The part of your brain that is involved with emotions and memories is the Amygdala. The Amygdala is the brain’s “gatekeeper” for incoming emotional memories. Traumatic memories can stay trapped in the Amygdala and can continue to trigger frightening images and strong emotions. Such emotional memories can be triggered even when no real threats are present and act like “faulty smoke detectors.” The Amygdala can “hijack” your emotions and put your prefrontal cortex (the front part of your brain which is in charge of self-regulation) “offline”. By learning to “talk back to your brain” you can help the Amygdala “loosen its grip” and you can learn to “put the brakes on” when you need to. You can learn to RE-balance your nervous system. You can teach your brain to separate the past from the present. You can learn how to control your emotions and cravings and bring your “learning brain” (prefrontal cortex) on-line and override your “survival brain” (Amygdala and sub cortex).
You may mistake the movies of your mind for reality. Your body cannot tell the difference between what is actually happening and what you are imagining. You cannot expect a different set of feelings when you use the same self-talk. Your body is reacting to the frightening images and your scary expectations as if they were real. You need to calm yourself down and come back down to earth and check out what is happening.