The Coping Kete

Monthly Archives: May 2014

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No. 154: Supportive Self-Talk

This week, to attain, maintain or regain your sense of wellbeing…

…practice catching your inner critic when it’s up to its tricks and responding to your self-talk with kindness. This is about learning to label your unhelpful self-talk for what it is and deliberately talk to yourself in a way that builds you up instead of cutting yourself down.  Self-talk is automatic but we can bring it into our awareness and use it to support ourselves through moments of stress and distress. That last bit is key here.

It is important to choose self-talk that feels supportive to you and that you can believe to be true. Sometimes we take ‘supportive’ to mean that we are supposed to try to cheer ourselves up with lots of positive phrases that oppose what we have been thinking and that can often make people feel worse, especially if they really do not believe the positive statement at all. It doesn’t usually work when we try to do this with others, and it doesn’t usually work when we try to do this to ourselves either. Supportive means to hold up, so try to experiment with finding a way of talking back to harsh self-talk that can hold you up in the struggles you find yourself in.

This can be really hard to do, so practice in the ordinary moments first, maybe with your morning cuppa or something like that. Just sit and observe what you notice in your mind as it arises for a few minutes a day. If it’s empty, observe and describe that. If it’s focused on the cuppa, observe and describe that. Practicing noticing the detail. Eventually your mind will start to wander and chatter like minds are designed to do. When you notice, observe and describe that too. Keep a look out for how your mind talks to you. When you notice critical, judgemental or harsh self-talk, describe what you observe, put words to it, name it for what it is. Then take a deep breath and deliberately respond with self-talk that is supportive towards yourself, in a way that has your back, as if to hold yourself up in this moment, not to deny your reality, but to hold you steady there.

Our minds are kind of messy in real life and so observing them can be too. It might go something a bit like this inside in your mind as you do this: “I am sitting here with my cup of coffee I notice my mind is blank. [cue distracting chatter] I can never do these things. How does this even work as a thing. I’m not even thinking anything important. I want to have chicken for dinner. Dammit I’m not paying attention… [good noticing, and you’re back. Describe where you went just then and try your supportive self-talk again]….I notice I am judging the way I am confused about doing this. I notice I am kind of hungry… [take a deep breath and meet this with some supportive self-talk]… This is a kind of hard thing to learn really. At least I am trying. Did I have breakfast? Dammit again! [Good noticing again, and you’re back. Describe where you went just then and try your supportive self-talk again]...I notice hunger distracting me. I notice harsh words about that. No one can focus properly when they are hungry…

Stay with it for a couple of minutes if you can, and then continue on with your day. As you move through each day, pause when you notice your mood change and take a moment to observe what you are telling yourself about the situation and your experience of it, and see what happens if you meet it with some of the supportive self-talk you’ve been practicing each morning.

When you are comfortable noticing, labeling and responding to your self-talk with support, add ‘Supportive Self-Talk’ to your Personal Coping Kete for moments of stress and distress. When times are tough, you’ll be able to catch your harsh inner critic and feed yourself supportive self-talk that helps hold you up. Self-judgement adds another layer of distress to already difficult situations. Giving ‘voice’ to your inner supporter can make distress less intense and easier to cope with.