Influencing Negative Thoughts: One Phone Call and It All Came Tumbling Down
'Twas the day after Christmas
And all through the house
Not a creature was stirring
Except Sharí was balling her eyes out
One phone call. One 10 second message. A flood of fears and insecurities.
Yep. That's all it took. I listened to a 10 second message on my voicemail and I was triggered. My body was shaking from the effort to hold myself together - feeling like I could shatter at any moment.
What was the phone call? It doesn't matter. What matters it what immediately followed.
Thought patterns that I believed to be long gone charge forward all at once. Within an instant I was the entrepreneur trying to make ends meat. I was the chick struggling with an eating disorder. I was the girl falling apart over a break up. All the difficult, negative, and ugly moments of my life flashed through my mind. And just like hitting play on a recorder, a string of negative thoughts followed.
I don't know what to do.
It's always going to be like this.
I'm always going to be alone in this.
Will this ever just go away?
I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do. I don't know what to do.
And that was the moment. I snapped back into my body for one brief moment and realized what just happened.
Each of those words were pulling me further down this black hole of despair. The record playing had the volume up to full blast.
Now, I would like to tell you that the realization was so strong that I instantly went into badass-mode to solve the problem or conquer the negative feelings. But, I didn't.
The realization was brief. The tears took over again. But this time, each time I had a self-defeating thought ... I took notice of it. Oh, there's one. There's another. There was a small but distinct separation between me and the negative thoughts. A little while after that, I had the strength to question the thoughts. "Do I really not know what to do? Or are there some steps I can take?"
And then, the most POWERFUL question finally hit me. "What choice am I making right now?"
It gave me a sense of control that I had lost. From moment to moment, the thought voiced itself again in my mind "What choice am I making right now?" Sometimes that choice was to cry more. Sometimes that choice was to just breath. Sometimes that choice was to just pet the dog.
The choices didn't have to be "productive." Instead, it accomplishment was that it forced me to be conscious of the choices I was making rather than let the record of negativity play automatically, without reflection.
Even if I was curled up crying on the bed, I felt empowered that it was my choice. And I knew, at any moment I could make a new choice. I didn't feel stuck. I knew I had choices and I was exercising my right to explore different ones.
I found it fascinating that the choices that focused on my words and my awareness of them helped me more than I expected. Here are the choices that I made that transformed the moment into something more bearable and less devastating.
1) Speak It:
I only recently learned that my issues stem from shame. Shame is a paralytic. It holds you in one place and won't let go. With shame comes isolation. Isolation can enhance shame since your theory of "if no one finds out, then I'm okay" is consistently reinforced.
And so, in an effort to break my shame spiral, I spoke out.
I'm a part of a mastermind group with some amazing and caring entrepreneurial women. We have a private Facebook group that we regularly use. It's a safe space. After the first wave of emotions, I went straight to the Mastermind group and posted this:
So, something happened today that has trigger me. All of my most sensitive issues are coming up fast and mercilessly. Just trying to hold myself together. All positives thoughts and energy are appreciated.
The typo is perhaps a small indicator of my emotional overload.
It didn't take long for the group to rally with kind word of encouragement. One of the women texted me right away and said, "I can't talk right now, but I can text. I'm here if you just need to vent." And I did. For the next two hours we texted and gave me to space to vent out ever fear - rational, irrational, understandable, and off the wall - that I had.
With every word I types, the pressure valve release a little bit more.
2) Name It:
There is power in naming something.
When you give something (or someone) a name, it signifies that you have some control or domination over that thing. Kings give knighthoods. Parents name children. Coaches give nicknames. And when something doesn't have a name, it somehow gains the upper hand. Odysseus was 'no one.' Valdamort was 'he who shall not be named' - and it was a significant moment when Harry Potter was the only one who had the courage to use his actual name. (Yes, I just compared Homer to Rowling. I never thought the day would come either, but here we are.) Literature is filled with stories of the power of naming something.
Lacking a name means holding power of the unknown. Naming fears, naming your circumstances, and naming your thoughts can be just as powerful. You have power over something when you can point to and say "I dub thee fear." "I dub thee lesson-to-be-learned." "I dub thee shame." "I dub thee guilt."
I will likely write an in-depth post on this subject in the future, but in the mean time, feel free to check out this article from MIT and Harvard professor Loren Graham.
It's the "something" that will leave you stagnant. "I feel something awful." "Something won't go away." "Something needs to happen." Something is a nebulous concept. It is a watered down version of "the unknown." Something needs a name. And you have the power to name it and rule over it.
3) Write It:
You are reading the byproduct of step 3 here.
When we hit high emotional states, our thoughts are flashing so quickly in our minds that it's hard to keep up. And, they are on a never-ending loop.
That's why it's so easy to feel like you're being sucked in by quicksand, sinking further down into your darkest thoughts.
Writing slows you down. It forces your thoughts to be more intentional. It also can help out with step 2. When you see your thoughts on paper (or on the screen) it gives you another opportunity to question them and seek out alternatives.
(Check out my interview with co-creator of "the 5 minute journal" and how even people who hate journaling can enjoy it.)
One of my favorite exercises is to create two columns on a piece of paper. In one column you dump out all your limiting beliefs. In the other column, you create corresponding empowering beliefs. So, for my meltdown, I had:
- I don't know what to do ------> There as steps that I can take.
- I'm alone ------------------------> There are people I can reach out to.
- No one will understand. ------> Someone will understand. And, if someone doesn't it's okay. Sometimes it's nice just to feel heard.
That exercise gave me glimpses into what I could do next and shifted my emotions from intensely negative to hopeful.
Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that one of my favorite phrases is: Words Are Things.
This phrase has helped me be more mindful about the words I choose - in life and in my self-talk.
Sometimes words can run rampant and you end up creating things you don't want or need in the world. It takes more effort to harness in those words. When you actively look for alternative words, you see possibilities you were once blind to. Words can shift your perspective, change your mind, change your state, change your actions, change your life.
I sincerely hope that this article has helped you in some way - whether that's finding new words to see new possibilities or conquering your own negative loop. If you think that this article could help a friend of yours, please share it. As always, I love hearing your thoughts and questions in the comments section below. Let us know your own tips for dealing with unexpected, intense negative moments.