Saturday, March 1, 2014

Mental Health: Self-Abuse: Negative Self-Talk

March is Self-Harm Awareness Month.


What comes to mind when you hear the words 'Self-Harm'? I bet you think of cutting, suicide, abusing drugs or alcohol, or smoking.

But overarching this is a category called Self-Abuse.

Merriam Webster defines Self-Abuse as: things that you do that harm your own body or health

According to Wikipedia this includes:
  • Self-harm, the intentional, direct injuring of one's own body without suicidal intentions
  • Self-destructive behaviour, patterns of behaviour to inflict metaphorical or literal harm on oneself
  • Self-inflicted wound, harming oneself without psychological problems but to take advantage of being injured
  • A euphemism for masturbation (also under self-abuse in the dictionary)

I'm going to take out the last inclusion, because euphemisms are not what I want to discuss.

I want to focus on a form of self-abuse that is mental. Negative self-talk. This is a form of Self-Destructive Behavior.
Negative self-talk can be a runaway train. Your mind goes around in circles replaying a negative event or your own shortcomings. You may think that you're getting in touch with your true feelings, but bad feelings have a way of getting worse the more attention you give them. -WebMD

Anytime you feel like you want to just give up, that something is too hard, that you aren't 'good' enough, you are abusing yourself.

"I'm not cut out for this."

"I'm not creative enough."

"I can't believe anyone would find me attractive."

"I should curl up in bed and stay all day."

An important aspect of self-destructive behavior is the inability to handle the stress stemming from an individual's lack of self-confidence. -Wikipedia

Thoughts like these are harmful and abusive and often lead to other forms of self-abuse. Convincing yourself that you have no friends, should stop eating, are worthless, or have no reason to be here is the first step on a path to disorder, most commonly, depression.
Self-destructive behaviour is often a form of self-punishment in response to a personal failure, which may be real or perceived. It may or may not be connected with feelings of self-hatred.
In a project by photographer Gracie Hagen (link NSFW) to speak out against the 'Hollywood' view of the perfect body, women were asked to pose for pictures with bad posture and then good posture. Her subjects go from sexy to awkward simply by hunching their shoulders, sticking their stomachs out and contorting their bodies. The difference between the two photos - which are taken in exactly the same light and from the same angle - is staggering and could easily be mistaken for portraits of two different women.

When you believe negative things about yourself, you show it on the outside, too.  Your posture, your words, your attitude, your expression, your wardrobe, your 'aura', so to speak, will radiate to others 'stay away'.

Let's say you think you have nothing interesting to say. If you keep telling yourself that, other people are going to see you that way, too.
In fact, people who think negatively tend to be less outgoing and have weaker social networks than positive thinkers. Multiple studies link positive emotions with more satisfying relationships, more romance, and lower rates of divorce. -WebMD

How can you love others, find happiness, or enjoy yourself if you don't love yourself and allow yourself to have fun, laugh, and enjoy the day?

The opposite of negative self-talk is self-confidence. Now, you can't go saying positive things when you feel self-abusive, because your internal lie-detector goes off and makes you feel worse for lying. (#2 Power of Possible Thinking) So, you need to think that things are 'Possible'. "I know how to do this." "I know what the first step is."

With any process, there are steps. Small and big ones. Sometimes they are scary and unpleasant, but they need to be done and you can do it. Remember how good it will feel to do them, and reward yourself when you do get them done.

What about me?
I have had a rough February. I have experienced some negative self-talk. For me, my husband has been able to help me see reason and quell my fears. Those fears were not entirely irrational, but there was a step to take, a simple one, that I was taking and continue to take, and he needed to remind me that it would protect me from what I feared. I was taking down written data and that could stand for me. I had backup. I had proof. Though I am not perfect, I was trying, and I had proof that I was following protocol and trying whatever I had to do to get through the rough patch. 

I had to stop telling myself that I was useless or stupid or incapable of getting through this. I had to stop thinking that I was going to fail or quit. I had to take solace in the fact that I was doing what I was supposed to and I had a team who would help if they could. I saw my flaws, and I had to figure out how to deal with them. There are so many people I need to thank!

Do I still have flaws? Yes. Do I have a plan for dealing with them? Not quite yet. I will have to tackle my lack of assertiveness one battle at a time. One step at at time. I have to get comfortable with my role and my limits and the room I have to express myself without stepping on other's toes. I'm still stumbling around in the dark and I haven't found the light switch to make everything clear and bright.

And that's okay.

For now.


Anonymous said...

Hi April, looks like a few months since you posted this...hope you are doing well. It's interesting that I stumbled across this today (ok, I Google it!) But still stunned it got a return. My 14 year old daughter is in her 3 month of treatment for anxiety, depression, and a host of other issues that have really been difficult, including negative self-talk and self harm.just today when I was driving her to her group session, she told me a story about how she feels like her friends don't like her and that she is annoying and that she doesn't have anything important to say so thats why nobody listens to her. As I heard her go on about this, it occurred to me that it was another form of self injury. So needless to say when I came across your post, it was interesting to see that someone else look at it that way as well. Thanks for posting it gave me a lot more to think about. Good luck to you!

April Schoffstall said...

14 is a tough age. I have a few 14-year-olds that I work with. Life is ALL about image at 14, and I think it continues to be about image until you 'settle down' and sometimes still even then.
1. She needs some self-confidence. It will start small, like her parent exuding pride in a tiny accomplishment. Maybe she shares one good thing that happened that day, even if it was - I woke up.
2. She needs a goal for the day, the week, the month, and the year. Perhaps it is simply that she not miss a class, paints her nails a vibrant color, or that she feels well enough to visit a fun public place.
3. She needs to reward herself for a job well-done. Maybe she finishes her homework so she listens to a favorite radio station. This is the first step to self-love; self-respect and allowing yourself to have good thoughts and a treat for good choices.

Best Wishes! Thanks for your comment!