I am a very insecure person. Three years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression–meaning that because my insecurity was so severe, it was enough to drive me into hiding under my bed covers, sometimes for 36 hours straight. I feared how others perceived me and that was enough to make me not want to live my life. But it’s not like this is a new kind of epidemic. Everyone feels insecure and everyone feels different levels of insecurity throughout their lives. What varies is whether we let that insecurity dominate our present thoughts and prevent us from walking towards potential futures.
I’m happy to say that I’m no longer the girl from three years ago who would spend her days waiting for someone to save her, whether that someone be God, my parents, or a boyfriend. However, I’m still a girl (woman?) whose mind sometimes slips into moments of dark self-evaluations. I’m not as harsh with myself as I used to be, but sometimes I’m mean enough that I’ll make myself upset.
Last night, I recalled a trick that my former therapist had taught me while I was suffering from depression. She told me that every time I had a negative thought, rather than just accepting that thought as the truth, I should actively try to debate with myself. I should demand evidence for every negative thought, and then counter it with a more rational, positive, or at least neutral thought.
If I made a list to describe myself three years ago, it would look like this:
- I am stupid. Evidence: People call me “stupid” frequently. Ever since middle school, I have always been the butt of the joke for saying stupid things. I’m also taking longer to graduate from college than others.
- I am weak. Evidence: I’ve been called a “crybaby” by multiple people and I’ve been told that other people have it way worse than me.
- I am desperate. Evidence: My attempts to go after certain guys have failed miserably and embarrassingly.
With my therapist’s help, I eventually countered that list with this:
- I am not stupid. Evidence: The fact that I got into college is an accomplishment. Throughout high school and college I received good grades. I’m taking longer to graduate because of emotional issues. It doesn’t have anything to do with my intelligence.
- I am not weak. Evidence: The fact that I’m attending therapy shows I’m addressing my own problems. You can say it’s “weak” instead to just mope and not do anything about your “weakness.”
- It’s true that I am desperate for a relationship, but that is common for people experiencing depression and also common for people my age. Evidence: My fellow single/depressed friends.
Making these lists with my therapists helped to alleviate my dark moods, but when I was tasked to make them on my own, it became a challenge. When I was depressed, I felt like it was hopeless to attempt to counter my negativity because I believed in my negative thoughts so much. It took me a long time, but by practicing the act of debating with myself via lists and diary entries, I eventually learned how to talk myself out of negativity.
Last night, my negative voice came out to say hi again. It told me, “I bet your friends are still thinking why it’s taking you so long to graduate,” “Why did you post that picture of yourself on Instagram, did you actually think you looked good?”, and, “Everyone thinks you’re incapable of taking care of yourself.” That’s when I thought of the list-trick. I thought back to what I used to say to myself and how I countered it with positivity. But instead of making the same negative vs. positive thought lists this time, I decided to try writing four different lists titled: “How I Viewed Myself in 2013,” “Who I Wanted to Be in 2013,” “How I View Myself Today,” and “Who I Want to Be Today.”
I made these lists mentally, but if I wrote them out, they’d look like this:
How I Viewed Myself in 2013: stupid, weak, desperate
Who I Wanted to Be in 2013: smart, strong, in a relationship
How I View Myself Today: lazy, makeup noob, moocher (off my parents and boyfriend)
Who I Want to Be Today: productive, fashionable, independent
Looking at all the data, I realized a few things: 1) My perception of myself has been changing, 2) I still have negative thoughts about myself, 3) But the negative thoughts I used to have in 2013 are gone.
My theory? My neutral/positive thoughts successfully countered the negative ones of 2013. Now, when Ms. Negative Nancy even tries to suggest, “Hey, you’re stupid,” in my brain, I no longer believe her. However, Nancy is still around. Perhaps she will always be around, and she will always come back with new ammunition. But maybe that is not entirely a bad thing. Because of the negative thoughts I used to have in 2013, I was able to eventually develop and embrace positive thoughts about myself. I now think I’m stronger than I realize; I’m in a relationship, but my life doesn’t revolve around it; and I don’t think I’m stupid. I don’t think whether I’m smart really matters either. If other people think these particular negative things about me, it doesn’t matter because that’s not the “truth” I chose to believe. These negative thoughts no longer have a hold on me and I can move on with living my life.
I also noticed that the level of intensity between my negative thoughts in 2013 and in present day are different. While in 2013 I labeled myself with adjectives that are just mean insults, in 2016, I label myself with adjectives that are more specific to things that can be changed, such as “makeup noob” and “moocher.” This reflects my shift in mentality. While depressed, I simply believed that I was a hopeless case. Now, I still have some issues with myself, but I acknowledge that these can be changed and that these words do not completely define who I am as a person. I can definitely get better at applying makeup and I am working towards becoming financially independent someday.
My hope while moving forward is that I continue to counter my negative thoughts with more positive, optimistic ones. If there are more moments where I think I’m lazy, a makeup noob, and a moocher, I want to remind myself of ways that I am trying and to encourage myself to keep trying. Wallowing in the negativity won’t help after all, it’ll just send me back to hiding in my bed.
Writing these lists were helpful for me. They forced me to engage in a self-dialogue rather than allowing Nancy to have her own Shakespearean, weepy monologue 24/7. I would recommend this method to everyone, but I know it won’t always be the same success story, nor is it very easy to do when you’re feeling particularly negative. Hell, it took me years to finally catch on to this trick, and to this day I still feel reluctant at times to even try. But at the end of the day, it comes down to whether you actually do want to change your negative mindset. If you are content with wallowing in your misery–which at one point, I definitely was–then this won’t work. Like me, you’ll attempt to use the rational voice to agree with the negative one instead of actively trying to counter yourself. Like me, you’ll dismiss this method without even practicing it diligently. Back in 2013, I eventually had to confront the sobering reality that if I never put in effort to be positive, I would be stuck in this pit of depression forever. I couldn’t rely on anyone to eventually swoop in and save me. I was in a battle against myself, and the only person who could win it was me. I really surprised myself when I discovered that there was a stronger version of me who could fight. It took a lot of effort to conjure her, but it was really worth it. – Eunice