We already touched on the relationship between assertive communication and positive thoughts. A lot of anger stems from negative thoughts, or negative self-talk. Think of negativity as a fuel that anger uses to get itself burning red hot. Positivity is fuel for happiness or calm. Two sides, One Coin Like anger, there are two general ways of thinking of yourself. One is positive and the other negative. Let’s first take a look at some examples of negative self-talk. See if you can identify any of these within yourself. Once awareness of a negative self-talk pattern is achieved, we can work on turning it around to positive thoughts. Here are some examples of negative self-talk:
- My friends hate me because I always cancel my plans.
- Why can’t I ever do anything right? I can’t believe I made a mistake.
- My children don’t love me, that’s why they never call.
- I can’t believe I said that to Josephine; I’m such an idiot!
Self-talk could have developed as a coping mechanism in the past. Maybe you developed it as a child, when reprimanded. You didn’t clean your room, so you were told you were a bad kid. You trampled the garden, so you were told you were clumsy. Self-talk may have aided you in labeling events or actions in order for you to avoid them later, especially if those actions got you in trouble. Unfortunately, negative self-talk generally turns into a downward spiral that can take work getting out of. Accentuate the Positive Just like expressions of anger, self-talk is a learned habit. Positive self-talk is possible! Positive self-talk includes self-affirmations and positive thoughts even during otherwise negative situations. Here are a few self-affirming thoughts:
- I like myself and accept myself for who I am.
- I am able to grow and progress.
- I am loved.
- I define my own success.
- I trust myself.
- I am able to handle the situation.
Now, let’s look at self-talk during a stressful situation or a situation of conflict:
- I made a mistake, but now I can learn from this.
- I can still do this, even if it stresses me out.
- I deserve respect.
- I am okay with being reprimanded, and I can improve next time.
Negativity and Survival There is a reason our childhood experiences can influence our self talk and thoughts so greatly. This reason is that we are built to survive. We are equipped with these amazing brains that want us to breathe and live another day. It is for this reason that our brains quickly lay down memories and tracks related to what we perceive may kill or harm us.
The problem is that strong emotions sometimes can trigger that life or death response, when your life or health may not actually be at risk. It can almost seem at times that our brain is always on the lookout for danger, real or not. This can create a negative mental filter. If we are not careful this filter may causes us to filter out everything that isn’t perceived as a “threat.” Think of the last time you walked through a grocery store. Did you focus on the way the food was arranged nicely on the shelves, the people who were pleasant, and the general calmness that was present in the store? Or did you notice the man who blocked the aisle with his cart while he shopped, or the cashier who seemed unfriendly when she rang up your food?
Often times the positive things do not even register for us, we literally can walk right past them without seeing them. The seemingly negative experiences can quickly lay down strong thought and behavioral patterns that completely overhaul our experience of whether the world is a safe, pleasant, place, or a dangerous, unpleasant one.
Strengthen the Positive Now that you know how quickly the negative can take over and dig in its claws, you also know the importance of teaching yourself to focus on the positive. You need to work on shifting your perspective to add a positive mental filter, to allow yourself to start seeing the positives. Seeing however is not enough, you have to allow yourself to truly see and feel the positive experiences around you. Here are a few ways to start doing this for yourself:
- Practice feeling positive emotions, really feeling, noticing as many tiny details of these emotions in your body. Just like you brought awareness to your anger, bring it to your happiness, joy, contentment, excitement,etc. Find something that brings a strong positive emotion for you, maybe relaxing while cuddled up with a loved one or pet, maybe relaxing in nice warm bath, or maybe dancing to your favorite song. Practice letting yourself feel these moments in as great of detail as you can. Feel where these positive moments are showing up in your body. Are your shoulders relaxing? Do you feel warmth in your heart area? The more you pay attention to thoughts (I like my pet,) the feelings (I feel love for my pet,) and the sensations in your body (when I cuddle with my pet my jaw finally starts to relax), the more you will continue to lay down positive tracks that will literally change your brain.
- Another way to start doing this is to set an intention. Set an intention to find five things in any given moment that are positive or even neutral, anything that is not negative. Start to practice seeing all that is around you, not just perceived threats or negativity.
- Gratitude is amazing. Take time for gratitude, time to focus on what is working, going well, going beautifully, or at least not hurting you in your life. Even the smallest of things are worth giving some recognition. Breathing is something you do constantly and often without thought. Yet we would die without breathing, so it may not seem like a big thing but each breath really is pretty amazing. Why not be grateful for each breath?
Exercise Write down examples of common self-talk you experience, both the negative and the positive. Rewrite the negative self-talk as positive. For example, “I am useless,” can be remodeled to say, “I tried my best, and I can continue to grow and learn.” You may turn to negative self-talk in times of stress, when your brain is on autopilot.
It’s good to be attentive to your negative self-talk and note when it happens. Continue tracking when you feel angry and when conflict arises. How do these times correlate to your self-talk? How does your self-talk correlate to your communication? If you’re particularly down on yourself one day, does it manifest itself by aggressive communication?