Because we speak to ourselves more than we will ever speak to any other person, it is crucial that we stay aware of how our internal voices actually sound. Without awareness, self-talk can carry on as background noise, going completely unnoticed.
In my senior year of college, I was suffering from both anxiety and depression, which were only amplified by the chaotic race towards graduation. I began internalizing a lot of my hardships. I assumed the difficulty of my academic and personal lives were due to my incompetence, unintelligence, and unlovable nature. Meanwhile, there was always something that needed my immediate attention and instead of slowing down to give my deteriorating mental health the help it needed, I began to resent it for not just going away on its own. The fact that I couldn’t just get over my depression or be able to out-think my anxiety left me feeling all the more inadequate and unable.
One afternoon, I was taking a shower after a stressful day of classes when all of a sudden, the bar of soap I was holding slipped out of my hand and hit the floor. Without missing a beat, I internally shouted “You are such a fucking idiot.” In a miraculous moment of self-awareness, I actually heard these words, and came to the life-changing realization that I was so incredibly mean to myself.
What first astonished me was that I would have never said those words to another person, especially for something as benign as dropping a slippery bar of soap. So why did I deserve such demeaning harassment? In the following days I resisted the temptation to run away from any emotional discomfort whenever it popped up: When I felt anxious, I resisted the urge to reach for my iPhone; When I felt a wave of depression coming on, I withstood the desire to turn on the T.V.; When I became aware of my own abusive self-talk, I forced myself to sit with it, stay vigilant, and observe.
As human beings, we run away from discomfort before we take the time to understand it. But how can we ever transform something if we refuse to touch it? When my anxiety and depression came knocking and I chose to ignore it, it never went away; It would only knock louder. Only when I allowed them to come in—when I welcomed them as old friends—I found they were trying to tell me something important: that the approval, acceptance, and love I was looking for in others first had to come from myself.
So how does healing happen? My shower epiphany didn’t fix my abusive self-talk, but it did allow me acknowledge it. Like anything in life, I had to exercise my positive inner dialogue like a muscle in order for it to grow stronger. I started small with something I could actually control: limiting how much time I spent zoned out or distracted. I limited my intake of screen time, whether it was social media, Netflix, or texting. When I enabled a lack of self-awareness, I created a breeding grounds for mean self-talk.
I also started incorporating more activities that forced me to spend time alone with myself in a way that felt empowering. Things like dancing, playing guitar, and doing yoga were excellent ways to get in touch with my internal world in an expressive, productive manner. Once I began feeling more comfortable being alone with my unpleasant thoughts, I attempted meditating and writing regularly in my journal. Throughout all of this, it was essential that I stayed soft with myself, avoiding self-criticism or holding myself accountable to meet any arbitrary expectations.
Ultimately, there is no right way to heal. Some people benefit with medication, mental health counseling or a combination tailored to his or her own needs. The worst thing any of us can do, however, is to continue living on autopilot, suppressing our problems through shame and toxic self-talk. It is far too easy in a culture like ours, with a stigma against mental illness that runs deep in its foundation, to avoid acknowledging our own needs, especially when it comes to asking for help.
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