Imagine Yourself Podcast

How to Stop Negative Thoughts from Holding You Back (w/Psychotherapist Blaine Lawson)

April 29, 2023 Imagine Yourself Podcast Season 5 Episode 5
Imagine Yourself Podcast
How to Stop Negative Thoughts from Holding You Back (w/Psychotherapist Blaine Lawson)
Show Notes Transcript

Do you have a constant inner-critic? Are you tired of believing the toxic nonsense it spews on a daily basis?  If you feel these thoughts are holding you back, you should know there are strategies to conquer what is often called negative self-talk. In this episode we dig into it with Blaine Lawson. She’s has spent decades dedicated to mental health and wellness as a Psychotherapist and a Behavioral Health Practice Manager.  Blaine will walk us through how to change our relationship with our thoughts and break the cycle of negative thinking.

Listen to Saying No to Negative Self Talk 

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Sandy Kovach  [00:00:01]:

Here's a question. Do you have a constant inner critic? Are you tired of believing the toxic nonsense it spews on a daily basis? If you feel like these negative thoughts are holding you back, you should know there are strategies to conquer what is called negative self talk, which is definitely a common problem, but we don't need to live with it. So in this episode, we dig into it with Blaine Lawson, who spent decades dedicated to mental health and wellness as a psychotherapist and behavioral health practice manager. Parts of our chat were featured before on an episode a few years ago called Saying no to Negative Self Talk. We thought this is a great time to bring it back up. It seems to be such an issue these days. I'm Sandy, and on behalf of Lanee and myself, welcome to Imagine Yourself podcast, where we help you imagine your next chapter of life with grace, gratitude, courage and faith.

Lanee Blaise [00:00:56]:

Here we are trying to release negative thoughts and negative self talk. Welcome to imagine yourself, Blaine Lawson.

Blaine Lawson [00:01:03]:

Thank you so much for having me.

Sandy Kovach  [00:01:05]:

We are so happy to have you talk about this, because while some people might say, yeah, the negative self talk is a big problem for me and I need to do something about it, other people might say, yeah, really, what's the harm? So I am criticizing myself on a regular basis. I'm guessing that negative self talk is not good for anybody.

Blaine Lawson [00:01:28]:

Absolutely. It's a very common thing. And just for the purpose of clarity, when I'm talking about negative self talk, I'm talking about that sort of internal dialogue that we have with ourselves. We all speak to ourselves in our heads throughout the course of the day. And so negative self talk is when those conversations tend to lean towards the negative, tends to be very critical of ourselves or of how we are moving through the world, how we're reacting to things. Some folks will engage in it more than others. Absolutely. And some of that has to do with our own personal histories. Quite often I've asked clients in session, when negative self talk is a problem, whose voice do they really think they might be hearing? Because I think a lot of it can date back to relationships we've had in the past. And so, of course, as a therapist, I'm not trying to encourage you to blame your caregivers or your parents, but sometimes that's where those attitudes and that negative self talk comes from. These messages that we've internalized growing up, because we've heard them over and over again, that we're not good at certain things, that we're problematic in certain ways, and we sort of internalize those messages and then we keep them on repeat in our mind. It can be useful to think about where do those messages come from, and sometimes that helps to distance us a little bit from those things.

Sandy Kovach  [00:02:46]:

Do you think that you named parents but it could be a teacher, it could be a coach, it could be a best friend.

Blaine Lawson [00:02:52]:

Absolutely. So anyone that we've had a significant relationship with that can be parents, that can be grandparents, that can be family of choice, that can be our peer group, folks that we spend a lot of time with, and also folks whose opinions weigh heavily on us.

Lanee Blaise [00:03:06]:

I have a question here because I want to admit that when Sandy and I first thought about this topic, overall, I was thinking, I'm Linnee. I'm very positive. I talk positive things. I say nice things to myself. I overall like myself. But once I dug a little bit deeper, and now that I'm listening to what you're saying, I realize I have a major pain point. And I know that a lot of other women have it, too. Whenever I get really vulnerable, sometimes stressed, sometimes tired, I start telling myself personally three big lies. And Blaine, I don't know now that you've said this, nobody ever told me these things, and I don't know how to get these things out of my mind. So I think that my brain created them. And now I guess you and me and Sandy will have to help get it out. But this resonates with anyone. These are the ones. Number one, I'll say I am completely incompetent. I'll say that I am just completely and hopelessly overwhelmed. And the worst one, that when I'm really vulnerable, I am worthless. And that is just damaging and critical and false. And I can say that today, right now, but in the really bad days, words like worthless or dumb or huge or sick or ugly can pop up. And I don't know whose voice it is, but how do we tamp that down?

Blaine Lawson [00:04:36]:

Excellent question. Negative self talk is a really difficult thing to just stop doing. This is something that's constant in your head. My goal with folks in therapy is never to get them to not experience the negative self talk. I mean, it's kind of my goal, but it's not my initial goal. The goal is really to change your relationship with your thoughts. Because if I tell you, don't think about an elephant in order to do that, you have to think about an elephant to try to not think about it. And negative self talk is the same way. If I tell you not to do it, you're just going to notice probably that you do it more or when you're doing it. And so what we try to do is change your relationship with your thoughts. What that means is many of us operate on the assumption that our thoughts are these accurate reflections of ourselves and that they're true. And that's not necessarily the case. We actually have no evidential proof of that, that our thoughts are actually true. In the larger sense, that goes for positive and negative thoughts, but we experience them so intimately and so personally that we assume that they're true. And so this idea that if I'm having the thought that I'm worthless, it's because I am worthless, and that's not the case. And so what I work on in therapy is trying to change, to shift that relationship. What if your thought isn't true or not true? What if it's just something that you're experiencing? I help clients to start to visualize this differently. So one of the common things that we use is what I like to call leaves on a stream, if you will indulge me for a moment. So if you close your eyes and you imagine that you're looking at a stream, the stream is moving along nicely, and surrounding the stream are these beautiful trees. And so you're watching this stream, and as you're watching, some of the leaves are going to fall down into the stream. The leaves will do different things. So some of the leaves will start at one end of the stream and quickly float to the other end. Some might get stuck and spin in circles. Your thoughts are the same. So if you think of your brain as the stream, the thoughts are the leaves that fall down, and they do different things. Some come quickly and are fleeting and pass right by. Others get stuck, and we can't seem to get rid of them.

Sandy Kovach  [00:06:50]:

Yes.

Blaine Lawson [00:06:50]:

And if you experience your thoughts or think about experiencing your thoughts in the same way, it's much easier to say as opposed to saying, Linnae, stop thinking that you are worthless. It's much easier to say when you're having that thought experience, like, I'm having this thought that I'm worthless. It puts a little distance between you and the thought, and it gives you the space to decide the validity of the thought and also what to do with that thought. Once you have a little distance, you can push it a little farther away from yourself.

Lanee Blaise [00:07:19]:

I even love the fact that it just makes me think of it as a thought, not who I am. Because I think that might have been my issue.

Sandy Kovach  [00:07:29]:

You were owning it, right as truth.

Lanee Blaise [00:07:32]:

And as who I am versus this was a thought. This was the type of day that I had that led to the thought. And that's okay because I was trying to tell myself, stop thinking that. And you're telling me to let it just flow on down through the stream.

Blaine Lawson [00:07:51]:

Or even notice that it's getting stuck. Because once you just put that little bit of distance, you're able to think about the thought differently because you can actually investigate. So if you're saying, I'm having the thought that I'm worthless today, having that distance, then you can say, well, why am I having that thought right now? Why today? What happened today that makes me feel this? And it can be something that just happened, which often is the case, or it can be something that's kind of been brewing for a while. And so then having that insight as to where this thought may have come from can also be useful in sort of investigating it and pulling it apart, as some people will want to do, to see what's underneath this thought. Where does it come from? When we have that distance, our thoughts don't have as much power over us because they're not necessarily who we are. It's just something we're experiencing. And it's the same thing with feelings. For example, if you are feeling really upset or emotional in the moment about something and you can say, I'm experiencing a lot of anxiety right now, or I'm experiencing a lot of anger, like, I am super upset, you can take a step back from it within yourself and say, okay, why am I so upset? What is it about that just happened that makes me feel so full of rage? When we create those little pieces of distance, we're able to more accurately assess the situation as opposed to being stuck in it.

Sandy Kovach  [00:09:10]:

And then also probably thinking about, well, I'm not worthless, and thinking about it logically. And now, once you've decided where it came from, then you have to toss it out, right?

Blaine Lawson [00:09:21]:

Yeah. Or you can give yourself some space and be gentle with yourself about it, I think is a really useful way. It's hard for us to throw out these thoughts. I would love it if we could, but I think most folks are very attached to these thoughts. That's why they continue. That's why when we have the negative self talk, it's quite often the same running things. It's not usually new material. You get the same stuff every day. Every time you mess up, it's the same sentiments and thoughts that are being shared in your internal dialogue. And so it's really hard for us to just let go of those. But I think what we can do is start to experience them differently. When we have a handle on the fact that I'm experiencing this thought, it doesn't have to be true. And you can even find ways to counterargue with yourself. Here's some evidence that I have from my own life that is actually not true. And that can be very powerful too.

Lanee Blaise [00:10:11]:

I like that the most too, because just like you said, it's a go to. When I hit the rock bottom, I go to that same broken record with the same words. So maybe I can also come back at it with the same line of speech that combats that and says it's not true, because I was really just thinking like, goodness, and maybe you tell me this too. I just need to take a walk and eat a little something and drink some tea and take a bath and do that. But sometimes those external physical things don't always get it. It helps getting fresh air, getting some sunshine, trying to change the perspective. But sometimes that little thing wants to.

Sandy Kovach  [00:10:51]:

Come back and as a person of faith. Linne, you probably think about what does God say about me? And reflect on that a little bit.

Lanee Blaise [00:11:00]:

I do, personally, absolutely. Because I'm thinking there's definitely positive affirmations. I got some unofficial feedback from some ladies who I'm very close with and do have a strong sense of faith. And I got to tell you this, some of them are able to overcome some of these things and see it as far as we're made by God and we're just the way we're supposed to be and to try to accept ourselves and love ourselves.

Blaine Lawson [00:11:26]:

Actually, think about this.

Lanee Blaise [00:11:27]:

Do you ever have a situation where you have a friend or a family member and you're like, she is just so beautiful and smart and helpful and talented and likable, and then you find out that she has only negative things to say about herself. And I always say I wish she could see herself the way I see her, the way God sees her. And sometimes I think people might say to me, they see me a certain way. I wish I could see myself the way they see me. What do we say to that, Sandy and Blaine?

Blaine Lawson [00:12:00]:

Absolutely. I'm giving you all of my best therapy nuggets here for freezing.

Sandy Kovach  [00:12:06]:

Thank you.

Blaine Lawson [00:12:08]:

One thing that I do, I've run multiple group therapies, especially folks that have experienced trauma. And one of the things that we do quite often, it's sort of become a bit of a ritual because the folks that have participated in group have liked it so much, I've tend to carry it on to new groups. Is that at the end of group lecture let me back a little bit. So during group, of course, a lot of sensitive personal information is shared about folks lived experiences of trauma. And in that folks are very vulnerable and they share, whether consciously or unconsciously, we tend to share a lot of our deepest, darkest insecurities about ourselves because trauma can amplify those things that we feel badly about, that shame, and all of that can come out in group. And so group is very beneficial, I think, in two ways. And part of that is because you get to be someone else's support person. And I think a lot of times we empower ourselves when we attempt to empower other people. We feel good about that. There's some psychological and psychic healing that happens in that process. And one of the things that happens as group is that folks start to notice the vulnerabilities of the other people in the room, what they're most scared of, what they're most ashamed of, all of those things. So what we do at the end of group, it's usually our last session, because group usually runs like eight to ten sessions or so by the end of eight to ten weeks, folks tend to know each other pretty well. And what we do is we're not allowed to give physical gifts in therapy, this whole ethical situation. But what we do is we give each other imaginary gifts. It's a nice way for folks to remember what someone else saw in them and what they saw that they might need. And so one of the most common gifts is an imaginary magical mirror that you could see yourself the way that I see you sometimes. It's more specific people would name. I know that you struggle with this particular piece. It can be body image, it can be feeling confident that you're doing a good job at work, whatever those things are. It allows you for a brief moment to see how the other people in the room experience you. And that can be such a powerful and transformative moment of healing, because we sit with that negative self talk, we sit with these ideas about ourselves and we hold on to them like they're truths, even though they may not be. And having that counter viewpoint of someone else who we've let into our most vulnerable, insecure spaces. I think it's so validating to hear that someone else sees you differently. And you can do this outside of group therapy, right? This is something you can do in circles of folks that you're really connected with that's faith community, your family, things like that. You can actually have these conversations. I wish you saw this piece of yourself because this is how I see you. And it can be really powerful and help to challenge some of those deeply seated negative thoughts that we have about ourselves.

Sandy Kovach  [00:14:54]:

That is very powerful. And it kind of reminds me that we should talk a little bit too, about not only ourselves experiencing self talk, but or negative self talk when we know maybe our kids or our friends or spouse or whoever it is. And that mirror thing is amazing. Are there any other tactics that we can use if we know somebody is doing this?

Blaine Lawson [00:15:18]:

Absolutely. So I think part of to encourage people to be vulnerable, sometimes it's useful to be vulnerable ourselves. And I've found that in therapy too, you don't want to come at it from like a hierarchy, like so I've noticed that you might be struggling with this. You want to level the playing field because it's hard to share and be vulnerable when you feel like someone else is in a place of judgment. So I think you start by saying being vulnerable yourself to whatever extent you feel comfortable, depending on the relationship. For example, let's say you're speaking with your child about something that you feel like you're struggling with. You can start by saying something like, you know, I know for me, when I was your age, I really struggled with this, or even now I still struggle with this. I think it's good to let your children know that you are not perfect as an adult either, and that they should not strive for that because it is unattainable and they will struggle with that, and then I'll see them in therapy anyway. Yes, exactly. See, it all comes full circle, but letting them know I sometimes really struggled with anxiety, and this is how it showed up for me. Like, oh, I had trouble sleeping, or I had difficulty concentrating or whatever. It showed up, like, for you and being vulnerable about those pieces and saying, sometimes when I interact with you, I notice whatever it is you're noticing. And I'm wondering if maybe you're struggling with anxiety or you're struggling with these pieces too, and maybe we could talk and help each other. When you take that kind of an attitude, I think it allows people to be vulnerable without feeling judged. And I think that that's really important. It's an important space to create, to get people to really be authentic and honest. And I think you have to be prepared that some folks may not be ready to go there with you, and that's okay. And so you need to be comfortable with it. You might share, and they might not share back, and that that's okay. People have their reasons for that, and people have defenses around things that are really fragile for a reason, and you don't want to go in there trying to break them down. They may need those, and that's something. As a therapist, you have to struggle with this balance between helping folks to kind of bring their walls down in terms of defensiveness, but not so quickly that they feel like the rug has been ripped from underneath them, because that's not going to be good, healthy, adaptive behavior for them either. And so you may only get a little piece, and that's okay. You work with the piece that you're given. So they might say, yeah, I do sometimes feel really anxious. You can ask some more questions and see if they want to talk about it, and if they don't, that's okay too, and just letting them know, because I've dealt with this, or I'm still dealing with this. If you ever want to talk about it, feel free to reach out. That's enough to let people know that the door is open.

Lanee Blaise [00:17:46]:

You have just absolutely given us so much juicy, wonderful, free information... therapy.

Sandy Kovach  [00:17:54]:

Thank you.

Lanee Blaise [00:17:55]:

What about those people who have listened to this, or they have family members and they're thinking, this podcast was great, of course we love that, but that they need to go the extra step to have their own professional session? I know there's Psychology Today to go online and find a therapist in your area. Do you have any other thoughts to say on that, Blaine?

Blaine Lawson [00:18:17]:

I absolutely think that when you feel like the negativity is getting a bit intense, absolutely reach out and get some support. Psychology Today is a wonderful place to do that. I also think that folks can work really well within their insurance providers. So, like, looking who's considered a network, I know finances can certainly be a concern for folks. So making sure that you can get covered and finding out what's covered, if it's a number of sessions or partial sessions, to find out what copayments are very important things to do, because, yes, absolutely, negative self talk can become really toxic for you. It can feel overwhelming, and you can have difficulty feeling safe and comfortable in your own head and body. And when it gets to that point, you do need to reach out some of the things I talked about changing your relationship with thoughts, for example. It's not just, oh, Blaine said, this is what I need to do, and then you do it. It takes practice. And so that's part of what I do in therapy with clients, is that we practice putting some distance between ourself and our thoughts and examining thoughts for what's underneath. And it's like muscle memory there, too. As you get more used to that, it changes the narrative. It changes your experience in your head, and then you can change the narrative, and then you can actually start to get rid of some of those negative thoughts or just laugh when they pop up, kind of thing. Like, oh, here I am having this crazy thought again about such and such. Then it's not that we're no longer having the thought, but it doesn't have the same weight or resonance, because we know that it's not true.

Lanee Blaise [00:19:41]:

Give it a name. Mr. Somebody.

Sandy Kovach  [00:19:44]:

"Mr. Stinky thought"

Blaine Lawson [00:19:48]:

You laugh. But that's actually a technique that I use, especially with younger children. Their imaginations, I think, are so much richer than ours, and so we use that imagination can be your friend. Like, you don't have to just imagine the bad things. That's what adults do. We imagine all the possible things that could go wrong instead of imagining all the ways that things go well. Yeah, we do tend to use imagination poorly after a certain age. I think we got to work on that as a culture. But children are often better at being more flexible in that way. And so I have talked to kids that experience what we call intrusive thoughts. You see that a lot with kids that are diagnosed with, like, OCD, for example. I worked with a child who was eight or nine, delightful little girl, and she kept having the thought, don't ram your head into the wall. Don't ram your head into the wall. And it was terrifying to her because she didn't want to ram her head into the wall. So she thought, what's wrong with me? Why am I thinking this? Do I want to hurt myself? And she'd never engaged in any self injurious behavior or anything like that. And so to have that thought was very scary. It helped for her for us to sort of separate out that this is just sort of a funky thought, like a misfire in your brain. And she didn't understand misfire in her brain, of course, because she's like eight years old. We explained it as that it was just sort of like we put it over here and we gave it a name and we called it something else. And she was able to laugh when it happened. And then because it no longer had the gravity, the anxiety response was no longer there, she stopped having the thought altogether. Wow. But it's hard when she kept having the thought and was thinking, oh, wow, there's something really wrong with me because I keep thinking this.

Lanee Blaise [00:21:21]:

Good humor to the rescue. Good humor can be very powerful, too.

Blaine Lawson [00:21:26]:

Yes. Especially for negative thoughts. If we can laugh at some of the things we think about. I know I do. I use humor to get through a lot of things. I work in trauma, so I have to have a sense of humor. Otherwise, I think I would be really upset most of the time. You need that balance, being able to laugh at yourself a little bit, not to take yourself quite so seriously even inside your own head.

Sandy Kovach  [00:21:46]:

I love that.

Lanee Blaise [00:21:47]:

Now we always have takeaway time at the end. Is there anything, Blaine, that you want to make sure that our audience members go away with?

Sandy Kovach  [00:21:57]:

Get rid of Mr. Stinky thought?

Blaine Lawson [00:21:58]:

Exactly. Well, I would just reiterate to give yourself a bit of grace. And also I would reiterate what I just said, which is that I think that it's important to not take ourselves so seriously, even within our own minds, and to challenge the thoughts that are plaguing us. They're not necessarily true, and that we can make that determination for ourselves when we have that negative thought. We can say, okay, this is what I'm thinking right now. Why am I thinking that? We have the mental capacity to investigate a little bit and to give ourselves some space to have that thought without it becoming this overpowering thing in our body or in our minds is happening at the moment.

Sandy Kovach  [00:22:37]:

I love it.

Lanee Blaise [00:22:38]:

I do, too. I feel like I could just take a deep breath right now and just joy and just gratitude. Everything that you said was so powerful and so strong and so true. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for being on the show today.

Blaine Lawson [00:22:54]:

Thank you for having me. It's been a privilege to talk to you all and to have the message spread to other folks as well.

Sandy Kovach  [00:23:00]:

Thanks so much for listening. We'll link up to the whole episode with Blaine saying no to negative self talk in our Show Notes. If you'd like to hear more also in the Show Notes, our website, Imagineourselfpodcast.com is linked up with our social media as well. We'd love for you to join the Imagine Yourself podcast community by following and subscribing.