I think that many survivors have a real double standard when it comes to the way they address themselves. I know I say things to myself that I never would never say out loud to another human being. Things like idiot, dummy, stupid, “What is the matter with you, anyway????” And those are the more printable things I say to myself.
I don’t talk to children like that. I don’t speak that way even when I am fighting with somebody. And yet I routinely put myself down in a million different ways. Does wonders for the old self-esteem. Not.
I used to believe I was just being honest with myself, but I wasn’t. I was being rude and cruel. When I figured out that I was the most verbally abusive person in my life, I decided to try and do something about it.
When I meditate, I use a mantra, some word that captures my imagination at the moment. Whenever I notice a thought, emotion, or sensation, I just label it and turn my attention back to the mantra.
Why not try this with my internal dialogue? I decided to try the experiment. Any time I noticed that I was talking to myself with less respect than I deserved, I simply labeled the thought “programming.”
Didn’t matter if it was a variation on the “I’m no good theme” or a specific programmed urge to hurt myself, I still called it programming. And then I didn’t get into trying to figure what had triggered me, or what the meaning of the thought was, I just turned my attention back to whatever every-day thing I was doing at the moment.
For about three days, I drove myself nuts because every second word was “programming.” It began to feel like that awful word had become my mantra! But then I noticed that the undesired thoughts and criticisms started decreasing dramatically and I was actually treating myself pretty decently.
This technique works far better for me than affirmations, because affirmations tend to rouse my inner cynic. And if I counter a negative thought with a positive one, I am inviting myself to get into an argument with myself. With the labeling method, I don’t get all caught up in an endless loop trying to figure out if a statement is really true, or partially true, or sometimes true. The label is the push I need to turn back to the present.
I don’t know whether this would be helpful to others, but I don’t see why it wouldn’t be. It’s a technique where you are in control. It doesn’t seem to shut down memories, it’s something all alters or parts can learn, and it doesn’t cost anything.
From Survivorship Notes, August 1999