In a recent post I shared a “Coping Skills” worksheet that I obtained via Indigo Daya’s website. One of these skills was a ‘thought challenge’, wherein you write down all your negative thoughts and then make a list as to why they may not be true.
Given that I could write a dissertation on why my negative thoughts are all valid criticisms of myself, I thought it would be an interesting experiment to take on this challenge, whatever happens as a result!
Part I: My negative thoughts…
Note: I’m not going to write every negative thought I’ve ever had in my life (otherwise this post would win an award for the longest blog post in the history of the world!) so I’ll focus only on the last twelve hours.
- I’m a failure
- I’m worthless
- I’m useless
- I have no passion(s)
- I’m a waste of space
- My voice is so boring and monotonous it inflicts pain on everyone I talk to
- I’m pathetic
- I’m weak
- I’m weak because I can’t just ‘get over’ the abuse I received
- I’m unintelligent
- I’m the most selfish human being who has ever lived in the history of the world
- I’m the world’s worst kisser
- I’m the world’s worst lover
- I go down on women too much
- I care too much about my partner orgasming
- I’m not (sexually) selfish enough
- I should just die
- I don’t deserve to be alive
- My life is pointless
- I am pointless
- I’m a terrible writer
- I’m a terrible blogger
- I’m a terrible emailer
- I’m a terrible photographer
- I’m a terrible everythinger
- My photography is uninspiring, boring and monotonous
- I use too many commas!
- I use too many exclamation marks!!
- My shoulder hair makes people want to vomit
- I’m the fattest fattiest fatty who has ever lived
- My weight is contagious
- My self-harm is contagious
- My illness(es) are contagious
- I’m contagious
- I’m unlovable
- I’m evil
- I’m grotesque
- I’m insane
- I’m too depressing
- I’m too shy
- I’m too anxious
- I’m boring
- I deserve to live alone
- I deserve to die alone
- I deserve to live alone and in pain
- I deserve to die alone and in pain
- My mind is repulsive
- My body is repulsive
- Heck, I’m repulsive
- I’m a terrible friend
- I don’t deserve to have any friends
- No-body likes me
- Everyone hates me
- I should just go and eat worms!
- It’s my fault I was abused
- I deserved it
- I deserve to be punished for it
- I deserve to be punished for all eternity for it
- My arse is too hairy
- It’s my fault I was raped
- I deserved it
- I deserve to be punished for it
- I deserve to be punished for all eternity for it
- My mental illness(es) are a result of my own inability to cope with life’s stressors
- Hell, my mental illness(es) are a figment of my imagination!
- Homelessness is all I deserve out of life
- I don’t like Harry Potter, thus I have no taste
- My hugs are suffocating
- I’m talentless
- I’m a blob
- I’m the blob!
- My thoughts mean there is something wrong with me
- My desires mean there is something wrong with me
- My dreams mean there is something wrong with me
- My thoughts/desires/dreams mean I am evil
- There’s just something wrong with me.
- I’m lazy
- I don’t work hard enough
- I don’t work hard enough to change
- I don’t sacrifice enough
- My opinions are invalid and deserve mockery and humiliation
Part II: Why they may not be true…
…and this is why I’m so terrible at thinking positively about myself.
All the bolded thoughts above were said to me by my abuser, those bolded and italicized were said to me frequently. As no-one believed she was doing anything wrong and I was told by many people I ‘deserved’ what she was doing…my mind concluded that they must be true, otherwise, why did I deserve being told them?
Given that the majority of these thoughts had been present prior to the abuse (some I specifically told her about), all the abuse did was make rational the irrational fears my social anxiety causes me to think.
And once a fear has been rendered rational…it’s almost impossible to deny as being untrue.
But, in the spirit of the challenge…
Is my photography really uninspiring, boring and monotonous? Although they never reach triple figures, whenever I post a ‘weekly photo challenge’ post, more often than not I receive dozens of ‘likes’ and twenty odd plus comments. Unless all these people are suffering from mass delusion, there must be something to like about my photography, isn’t there?
Ditto for my writing! People are often telling me how inspiring and enjoyable they find my blog. Plus, would an editor spend weeks helping me polish a short story and then publish it in a nationwide magazine if it was truly bad?
As for not making enough sacrifices, frankly, what THE FUCK?! I sacrificed my home, family, friends, uni course and future plans in order to move to the other side of the world purely because I loved someone. When my abuser was suffering from Glandular Fever I phoned in sick for work several times purely to look after her, in fact, for over a month I become her 24/7 nurse-maid, never once putting myself first throughout that entire period. Before that, I spent three years putting my life on hold for the benefit of my employer and staff, regularly working in excess of 60-80 hour weeks without overtime, cancelling night classes, social events and social groups in order to do so. Even though I live in abject poverty, I still find money for monthly donations to charitable organisations and have frequently done all I can, when I can, to help whomever I can (including complete strangers!) Even when I was homeless I would regularly give other homeless people money, clothes, food and blankets that I couldn’t afford to part with. Does that really sound like someone not willing to sacrifice things for the health, wellbeing and happiness of others?
You could even use the above to argue over the validity of my alleged selfishness…but the fact I wasn’t there for Grace when she needed a friend instantly renders all this evidence ineligible and one hundred percent proves my selfishness.
However, what about the negative thoughts relating to deserving to be abused? Astute readers amongst you will have connected what I was told following the emotionally abusive relationship to these thoughts. I was literally told I deserved it, ergo it must be true. But the rape? No-one told me I deserved to be raped…and I have no logical argument other than ‘guilt’ as to why I think this is true. But think it I do.
So what if I don’t like Harry Potter? There are so many better young adult fictional series (His Dark Materials, The Dark is Rising, Hunger Games, Narnia) than the tale of this young wizard. Or rather, in my opinion there are so many better young adult fictional series! Just because my opinion differs from others does not make me tasteless, it just makes me different. And while we’re at it…I don’t deserve mockery and humiliation for sharing an opinion, no-one does!
Ditto for all the my desires/dreams means there is something wrong with me thoughts. Just because I have cravings, needs and desires that are considered ‘deviant’ and/or ‘weird’ does not mean that they, or I, am wrong. It just means I’m different. Where’s the problem with that?
As for everything else…I’m afraid I can’t come up with reasons why they may not be true.
The simple fact is I have been living a socially isolated life for the last six years (give or take six months), so if I really am a decent person, deserving of friends, company and relationships, someone who doesn’t deserve to live and die alone, why is it that none of the efforts I undertake to create real-life connections work?
It is impossible to live alone for as long I have without believing that this is all you deserve in life.
The same argument can be used for the kissing, hugs and sex negative thoughts. There is a reason why I don’t get to do any of these things…and it can’t just be because of severe abuse trauma rendering me untrusting and fearful of intimacy. Can it?
The simple fact is, for every single item on that list I could come up with at least a dozen individual reasons for why they’re true. These reasons would be backed up by comments multiple people have told me throughout my life.
As I’ve said in the past, the more you are told something, the more you believe that something to be true. When all you’ve had in your life is negativity, insults, criticism, isolation and abuse…how can you possibly believe you’re a good person?
Part III: What would I tell a friend who thinks like this…
If any of my friends thought like this I’d put them over my knee and spank some sense into them!
But once I’d been released from prison on assault charges (unless the spanking had been consensual, that is :p) I would sit them down and tell them how unhealthy it was to think like that, how brilliant, beautiful and awesome they are and how these thoughts were the product of low self-esteem, low self-confidence and (possible) mental health and abuse trauma related issues.
I would then ask them what I could do to help them think more realistically about themselves. If that meant surreptitiously sending stories to magazines to prove how awesome a writer they are, let them cry on my shoulder, help them organize counseling to defeat their guilt over abuse and/or just spending time with them doing things that make them feel good, I would, without any hesitation.
In fact, I have done all of those things (and a lot more besides) to help friends defeat their demons in the past!
Part IV: Conclusion
Over the years I have exasperated psychologists, counselors and therapists with my negative thinking. Every time any of them issued compliments, positive reinforcement or adulation, my mind would immediately source from my history of bullying, abuse and criticism several comments that proved they were lying. There have been times when these psychologists, counselors and therapists have told me they can see this process occurring; from the moment they issue the praise to the moment I discard it as an irrelevant lie.
None of them have been able to help me find a way to combat this cycle of thinking.
No matter how hard I try to break free, no matter how many times I tell myself I’m wrong, no matter how often I can see the awesome bastard that I am, the damage from all the bullying, abuse and isolation seems to run too deep to be overcome.
And if you don’t believe me, if you think I’m just being lazy and not working hard enough, go and spend six years on your own, living on the streets, frequently being physically and emotionally abused whilst receiving no praise, positive reinforcement, human contact, touch or compliments…then get back to me and tell me how easy it is to think ‘positively’ about yourself and your life.
However much I would like to think less negative thoughts, it is going to take years of intense work to fix the damage caused by abuse, homelessness and isolation.
But, as with everything, I’ve already begun to work on it. This challenge is part of me moving toward fixing the damage, as are the social and support groups I’m trying to attend, as is this blog and so many other skills, therapies and treatments that I’m currently undertaking.
It would be easier to lose myself to these thoughts, to let them overcome me, but I refuse to let them simply because there is no way in hell I’m going to let my abuser win.
I’m way too freaking awesome to let that happen!
(Even if I don’t believe this most of the time!)