Negative self-talk and other self-defeating behaviors are automatic in many people. “That was stupid!” is a standard internal refrain when something goes wrong. We do not want these behaviors to continue, yet they persist. We keep thinking and talking badly about ourselves.
Changing these behaviors is challenging, exceptionally so. It is a doable process requiring cognitive restructuring. Here is how therapists do it with my brain-injured clients when I send them to my psychotherapy expert’s office.
A Cue to Initiate Change Permanently
Permanent personal change occurs in five steps.
Here’s a rundown of each step:
- Identifying the behavior to change
- Focusing on the change in the short-term and long term
- Using the behavior as a cue to respond differently to situations and life events
- Considering your feelings and thoughts when the unwanted behavior occurs or when you want to use it.
- Deploying new and different responses instead of unwanted behavior
In short, you take the unwanted, conditioned behavior and swap it out for more desirable and productive actions.
An Example Using Negative Self-Talk
Suppose you are prone to scolding yourself with phrases such as, “That was stupid!” or “What a dummy!” These phrases might not be so bad if you said them rarely, but they are more destructive with repetition. You are calling yourself stupid and unacceptable all of the time.
That undermines your self-confidence and your efforts in many areas of life. Using my process, this is what you would do: Target negative self-talk as a behavior to change, precisely the phrases “That was stupid!” and “What a dummy!” Evaluate the origin and meaning of negative self-talk.
Think, “There it is again!” when the malicious behavior occurs. Consider the trigger for the adverse action (or for the temptation to engage in it. Assess your thoughts and feelings when triggered and when negative self-talk occurs automatically. Use alternative phrases/alternative actions as substitutes for negative self-talk.
The frequency of these negative phrases should decrease over time. They may even disappear altogether from your lexicon.
The Origin of Automatic, Conditioned Behaviors
Negative self-talk is just one example of automatic, conditioned behavior. Other examples include smoking cigarettes, punching walls, and eating certain comfort foods. To change these behaviors, you must examine their origins and their purpose. If your self-talk remains negative, perhaps you use phrases that your parents used against you as a child. You began to imitate them until the self-talk was automatic.
Maybe you smoke when you get stressed because your first sweetheart did the same. Perhaps as a teenager, you turned to binge eating to combat boredom and loneliness, and the habit persists to this day. You may not even realize that you have been bored or lonely. A medical and sometimes a legal professional can help you review your past. So now you can identify the various people’s influences in your life. Together, the two of you can figure out the purposes of malicious behavior and discuss which alternatives could be realistic and productive.
Constant Diligence Is Required
You must continuously monitor yourself to change automatic behaviors. Monitoring yourself requires a tremendous amount of discipline, but dramatic life changes occur as a result. After all, you are replacing a destructive element in your life with something more productive. You make the conscious choice to identify and recognize problematic behaviors and deploy substitute thoughts, feelings, or actions that serve a better purpose.
Some people accomplish this task alone, but a qualified professional can help. Learn more from brain injury lawyers near you to discover more about paying for therapy after suffering from a personal injury from an accident. Call us today. (213) 596-9642.