Insecurity: quieting your inner critic

Phoenix rising from the ash thing...

There are days when I feel like Superwoman, due to the generous nickname I have been dubbed with. While there are other days, when my internal monologue is similar to a tug of war with a greased rope- a mess! Part of this is the type A perfectionist in me, while the other is due to residual trauma. Since the majority of my adult life has been spent healing, learning, and doing that "Phoenix rising from the ash thing"- I've got a pretty great handle on it most of the time. But what do I do when I feel myself sinking into that nasty self-talk? 

Something like a goiter or cellulitis...

Two words. Cognitive distortion. It sounds like a horrible diagnosis. Something like a goiter, or cellulitis. Nothing good comes from such a thing. Now, most people engage in distorted thinking from time to time. The key, is to recognize when it's happening- so you can stop it in it's tracks. I tell patients that you can recognize distorted thinking when you can feel the sinking gut. You know, the panic you get, when you're sure you left the curling iron on- after you get to work in the morning? The feeling when you wake up from a nightmare about waiting tables, when you are sat a 44-top that wants separate tickets, and the computer doesn't work? No? Ok, that's just me then. I ask you, how many years will I have this dream? Take whatever scenario you have comparably created in your mind, and go with that. "Sinking gut" usually means you're going down a nasty distorted road to bad-town. 

Did you see that slow mental trainwreck?

Though there are many distortions we are likely to get caught up in, one of the biggest I catch myself doing while insecurity nips at my toes is a two parter: mindreading, and fortunetelling. First, let's look at mindreading. You've done it. You run into a friend at the store, and say, "hi!" They appear distracted, and not necessarily happy to see you. After a seemingly rushed exchange, they leave you in the dairy section bewildered about what just took place. You ask yourself- "Did I do something? Is she mad at me? Oh, no- I hope Amber didn't tell her about the birthday dinner I didn't invite her to. That's it! I'm sure of it. She's mad at me because I didn't call her to go to sushi last Friday!" And there you have it, mindreading. Did you see that slow mental trainwreck? Little did you know that your friend just got some bad news about her sister's health that day, and was simply wrapped up in worry and fear. It had nothing to do with you. We are all so egocentric, that we automatically assume the sun (and everything else) revolves around us. Big mistake. 

Next up, fortunetelling...

Next up, fortunetelling. This is a big one with worriers. Fortunetelling is exactly how it sounds, you predict the future. This is not often done in a favorable light. Since we are talking about insecurity, I want to give you a good context. Let's say your friend has extra concert tickets to go see a band you really like in concert. It's on a Tuesday night, and you have to get up the morning after to go to work. You know a lot of your old friends like this band too, but you would rather not run into them, because they are more successful than you professionally- and this makes you feel inadequate. You tell your friend you can't go to the concert, even though you want to, because you have already decided your fictional friends that may or may not be going to the concert- will run into you and talk about their success in life, making you feel "less than." Better just stay home. Did you see that? I mean, it seems crazy, but this is a real conversation people have with themselves in their head. The fact is, you're about as likely to run into these people as you are winning the next Oscar for lead actress in a comedy. Not going to happen. Also, a horrible reason to avoid a concert you really want to go to. But you tell your friend it's because you have to work in the morning- to minimize your embarrassment. 

How do we get out of these sticky situations stewing in our brains? Something called an adaptive thinking strategy. Now, there are many of these thinking strategies to choose from, but I'm going to discuss my go-to's.

Unbiased person to bounce things off of...

1) Survey technique. I like using this one because you have the opportunity to bounce information off a trusted friend, and see if you are in fact, totally off base (or not). I have a handful of friends I'm not afraid to look like a fool in front of. I'll call and describe the situation, and either I'll get,"I think you're overreacting, or why do you care what they think anyway? You are awesome. Get over it." It's a built-in checks and balances system to figure out when your thinking is off axis. Now, if you don't have a person you can go to, that's a fantastic opportunity to seek out counseling- an unbiased person to bounce things off of. I'm a huge fan.

2) Collect the evidence. I like this one because I'm a data kind of gal. If someone tells me drinking diet coke causes you to grow a third eye, I'm going to want to see the research to back that up before quitting my very last vice. Similarly, I insist on finding evidence to support my thought, before accepting it as the gospel truth. With our first example at the grocery store, I would ask a few questions: Did she say she was mad at me? Did she storm off calling me names? Does Amber even talk to her that often? Does Amber even gossip? No. Is this about me? NO. Conclusion, There is no evidence to support that my friend is mad at me. Done deal. Immediate relief. Insecurity squelched! Ba-bam!

Smash them like a whack-a-mole...

Truth be told, we all feel insecure from time to time. I can wake from a dream, totally immersed in the feelings of yesteryear, with residual loneliness, or rejection. This is not reality! I take the tools I've learned to combat the sinking feelings and smash them like the whack-a-mole game at the arcade. They only persist if you feed the negative feelings with your thoughts. Stop it! Like all mental yoga, this takes practice before it comes naturally. When you identify an insecurity, look at it a little more closely. Call a friend, journal your thoughts about potential evidence supporting the insecurity. With time and consideration, you'll be able to disprove the origin of your yucky gut, freeing you to think all sorts of healthy and yummy thoughts.