For some of us, negative self talk is constantly playing over and over in the background and for others it comes up in response to particular situations. My negative “demons” arrive when I have the opportunity to blame myself for something. My entire life I have been very harsh on myself whenever anything I do has an undesirable result. Sometimes my mind even searches for ways to blame me for things that are not even my fault!
Thanks to ACT and mindfulness I can allow this self talk to come and go gently without causing the difficulty and struggle that it used to. Here’s an example…
Recently I was driving to buy some honey from a family that keeps bees and produces it locally. On the way in the car I had been indulging in some unhelpful thinking about something that had happened earlier in the day. As a result I was already feeling less than average. I stopped just near my destination to get some cash out and fill up the car with petrol when I realised that I had left my wallet at home!
Urges, thoughts and feelings started welling up within me. Rather than give in to the behaviours that would normally follow on from this I just observed: I had an urge to cry, the feelings of frustration, anger and disappointment in myself all at once, I had a strong desire to call my husband and complain about my situation and that negative self talk was in full stead…
You’re useless, this is a disaster, you’re going to run out of petrol, there’s no point trying anything, you can’t do anything for yourself, what a waste of an afternoon.
I sat in stillness and asked myself “What would my confident, positive self do in this situation?” and the answer came to me immediately: “Find out if I can pay for the honey later!”. So I contact the woman selling the honey and made a plan to collect the honey and pay her at another time. This solved one of my problems, but I’m sure you’re not surprised that the thoughts and feelings were still there. I defused, observed, surfed and expanded as I continued on my way. I started to calm down once I had accepted everything happening inside my mind and body but then I was starting to worry about running out of petrol. This started my mind racing again! I soon realised that that this was beyond my control and accepted that IF that did happen that I would be ok.
Phew! What a ride I was taking myself on. I started to think it was over when I realised that I’d taken a wrong turn. Instantly all of my thoughts, feelings and urges returned with more volume than before. I must admit that I had to be very disciplined at this point so that I didn’t revert to unhelpful, ‘automatic’ behaviours. I observed my internal experiences while I turned around and found my way again. This time it was self compassion that helped me through.
By the time I arrived at my destination I had allowed, observed and accepted everything that my mind and body could throw at me and I actually started to feel content, grateful and maybe even a little bit chuffed with myself. I resigned myself to the fact that I may not make it home before I needed fuel and that knew that I would cope if this occurred.
So after picking up my honey, home I went. I was very pleased to have managed so well despite the circumstances and wasn’t even phased when I was stuck behind an incredibly slow truck for most of the journey home. And thankfully I made it home with enough fuel to pick up my wallet and to drive on to get petrol.
Without applying ACT during these events, not only would I have remained in auto-pilot and believed what my mind was saying, I would have also caused myself to suffer unnecessarily. Long standing habits of negative self talk can cause the potential for struggle however ACT techniques have the power to empower you and set you free… just like they did for me!