I once had a therapist ask me, “Do you have a cheerleader dialogue in your mind?” I asked what she meant. Like a super peppy cheerleader, poms poms and all? She said, “Yes! Are you on the sidelines cheering for yourself?” My answer was no. I’m nice to myself, sometimes, but it’s just not my personality to be overly perky -- whether that’s the faulty serotonin receptors in my brain, or just a habit I’ve yet to pick up. But after my therapist asked me that question, I went into a small existential crisis. Is having a cheerleader in your mind normal? Is that what everyone else does? Why is my thinking so flawed that having a cheerleader in my mind sounds like an unrealistic mindset that only self-help bloggers can achieve?
I went into a small existential crisis. Is having a cheerleader in your mind normal? Is that what everyone else does?
When I was in the throes of my addiction, I remember driving down this long, curving road on the way home from my parents’ house and just reciting to myself how CRAZY I was. Keyword: “Crazy.” Over and over again, I would tell myself how crazy I felt, and how crazy I was. My anxiety manifested as constant butterflies in my chest and obsessive thoughts in my head. My depression came forward as self-hatred, compounded by trauma and living in a mind that wanted to kill itself. My alcoholism was just a means to an end to quell all of these incessant negative patterns. Needless to say that I felt crazy, but telling myself that I was “crazy” made me feel even MORE crazy, and that continued to manifest more dark insanity into my reality.
But I learned that having negative thoughts is normal. It is how I worked through them that mattered.
I no longer believe or tell myself that I'm crazy, and I've started turning my thinking from negative to neutral to positive. It started out as a group project with help from family, therapists and psychiatrists. But once I was able to minimize the most severe effects from my anxiety, depression and alcoholism, I was better able to address my daily negative self-talk and patterns.
Here is some advice that I have picked up along the way in transforming my negative thoughts into positive ones, and that has aided me in my recovery.
- Remind yourself that you are NOT crazy. You are human, and having negative thoughts is normal. Instead, focus on how you work through them.
- Brain dump! Journal about everything you are thinking.
- Take time daily or weekly to recognize positive things that you have done and that you are proud of yourself for. Do things that build up your confidence and trust in yourself.
- When you think a negative thought, sit with it for a minute. Are you just throwing a tantrum in your mind? Can you recognize why this thought might be untrue? Even if the thought feels true, try to be as objective as possible and dissect that negative thought. Even if only one aspect of that thought feels positive, hold on to that. It will help you slowly change your mindset and train your brain to see the positive in the negative.
- Ask for help! You do not need to be alone in this battle against your mind, no matter how lonely it might feel.
- Treat yourself like you would someone you love. Take yourself on a date, treat yourself to that skincare product you have been eyeing.
- Make your mind a safe space. The outside world can be hard and cruel enough, why include your mind in the mix of negativity.
- Affirmations! Sometimes I feel cheesy and don’t believe what I’m saying, but if I say them enough, I do start to believe myself. It's like when I would repeat to myself “I am so f---ing crazy.” Now I change that narrative by saying, “I am so f---ing wonderful!”
You are human, and having negative thoughts is normal. It is how you work through them that matters.
Repeating negative thoughts to ourselves is a form of self-inflicted torture. It’s not helpful, necessary or welcomed. Sometimes these thoughts can be totally overwhelming, but just know that these thoughts aren’t forever. Your negative thoughts are just passing through, and it’s about how you greet them at the front door. There were points in my life when I believed these negative thoughts would never stop, and some days they are really hard to shut off. Transforming your thought patterns is not always as easy as “be kind to your mind,” even though that makes a really cute quote for an Instagram post. But if you are having negative thoughts, you are not crazy, and things will get better. You just have to make a choice every day to work toward making your mind a safe space that you want to stay in.
Please check out these resources if you need help:
The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine can be reached Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. ET. 1-800-950-NAMI (6264) or firstname.lastname@example.org
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.