“You’re such a loser!”
“Why can’t you do anything right?”
“Great. Just like always, you’ve messed this up. Now what?”
“Don’t even bother. It won’t work. You never get it right.”
“You can’t do that.”
“That was so simple and you botched it. As usual.”
I’m no longer surprised to hear that a client is struggling with a painful inner dialogue more than anything else in his/her life. Those things we say to ourselves are often far more hurtful than anything others may say to us. I mean really – when was the last time someone actually called you a loser to your face? Actually said that to you? Now think about the last time you said this (or some variation) to yourself. I bet it wasn’t so long ago.
As a therapist, I’ve worked with psychologically exhausted and emotionally wounded women by the fact that they did not enjoy being a new mom. The constant, caustic stream of mental chatter overwhelmed their ability to take pleasure in the baby’s presence. “I must be doing something wrong – all she does is cry.” “If I were doing this right, the baby would be sleeping.” “I am so exhausted I want to give my baby back to the hospital.” There’s more of the same, often much, much worse in word or tone. Along comes mom-in-law who suggests that it might be better to give baby a bottle, or let her “cry it out” at bedtime, or some such advice. This feels to new mom like judgment that she really is “failing” at mothering, and her reaction is so big that mom-in-law is offended, takes her coat and goes home. Now new mom feels guilty about that, too. Really, new mom is NOT failing at anything. She’s finding her way in this new situation and season of her life and doing just fine. The problem is her Inner Troll.
This example is common, but instead of a new baby, it could be a new job…a new relationship…a new opportunity. Trolls are not discriminating. Everything is fair game for criticism.
When the internal troll is talking, we often can’t hear anything else. Our emotional and psychological response appears to others as an overly emotional reaction, a meltdown, or often, an inappropriately angry outburst. We read criticism or judgment into the words of others when in fact the criticism and judgment originates in our own minds.
This internal troll is a combination of ‘voices’ – family of origin, beliefs about self, and life experiences. We form beliefs – negative and positive – about ourselves in childhood and we unconsciously internalize these messages and then repeat the negative ones – with our own cruel embellishments – to ourselves in times of stress. (Funny, that. It seems to be human nature to repeat and embellish the negative much more than the positive.)
The answer to that ugly troll is the habit of mindfulness, the truth of reality, and intentionally focusing on the positive. The mindfulness is necessary because we have to learn to pay attention to what we say to ourselves, and when. Mindfulness is tuning in to the mental chatter that’s always in the back of our minds, and identifying when we are bullying ourselves. The dose of reality is to take stock of what is actually happening, right now THIS minute. Almost always that stupid troll is making dire predictions of some catastrophic failure about to happen, or criticizing for some past failure. The key is the mindful self-talk that speaks the truth of the current moment. “No. I’m not failing, I’m learning how to care for my baby and as I practice, I will get better at it.”
“It’s not true that I “fail at everything” and I’m not failing now.”
“I’m going to practice/get help/change what I’m doing so I am successful.”
These truths are said out loud (out of your mouth into your own ears) and are a direct rebuttal of the lies you’re hearing in your head. The focus on the positive is the element that restores balance. I choose to emphasize what the troll ignores.
We recognize when others are being bullied or trolled – why don’t we recognize or acknowledge when we bully ourselves? Mentally standing up and physically speaking up will expose the troll for what it really is; a figment of the imagination and definitely not worth your time or attention. In fact, get out that imaginary gun and shoot it.
Yes. Just go ahead and do that.