Do you have any idea what you think about all day? No, really. Have you ever stopped to ponder this? It sounds like a silly question, but most of us don’t actually observe the drama that’s constantly going on inside our heads.
I encountered this recently in a way that makes me a little uncomfortable to share; however, I think it makes my point very well. If you coach with me, you know that when we talk about negative self-talk, I encourage you to name your inner saboteur—you know, the one who tells you that you don’t belong at the table or that you’re too much or that your voice doesn’t matter.
Well, my inner saboteur is Ursula after the wicked sea witch in the children’s movie the Little Mermaid. This has served me well, because my inner saboteur often beats me up as she tries to wrap her tentacles around me to force me to conform or tries to steal my voice so I don’t have my authentic voice anymore.
Recently, I was upset because of the way someone was treating me. As I tried to process what was going on, I kept referring to this person as Ursula and it actually made me more and more angry that this person was treating me this way. My husband tried to help me see that this person did not have negative intent. However, I kept telling him that he was wrong, because it’s exactly what this Ursula was doing. I finally was so angry that I talked about this with my therapist. She asked me about the characteristics of Ursula and then the characteristics of this person in my life. She asked if I wanted this person to ascribe good intent to me and I of course said I did. She then asked if this person would want me to ascribe good intent to them and I of course said they did. I immediately then jumped in with a bunch of “but” statements to explain why that person didn’t deserve good intent. I had already determined they were evil and was going to prove it. I got a little intense in the session and then I paused and as I did, I suddenly could see what my husband and therapist were trying to get me to see. It’s okay to refer to people and even my inner saboteur as Ursula when they truly are mean and evil; however, using Ursula more broadly actually could be hurting me.
I was so focused on this person’s actions of trying to get me to do something I didn’t want to do that I quickly lumped them into the Ursula bucket and couldn’t shake that loose. By constantly referring to that person as Ursula, I started to see everything that person was doing as meanspirited when that wasn’t the case.
What I was focused on, this person’s actions that I determined were mean spirited, eventually expanded to become how I perceived this person and it really wasn’t fair. It is disconcerting to me how quickly I could go from thinking this person was lovely to evil simply by referring to them as Ursula after one encounter with them.
Once I shifted to thinking about this person as nice and good-hearted, I could see that there was no ill intent to what they wanted me to do. I could simply tell them “no” and walk away. I wish I could say that that was the end of the story, but it wasn’t. I continued to have an internal narrative about this person whenever I interacted with them and evil Ursula started to bubble up again. I finally asked my husband if I should read more into an interaction I had with the person and he said no, because he had a similar interaction, too.
Through all this, I’ve learned that the trick is to think about the positive and not about the negative. Trust me, it’s not easy to change this habitual thinking; however, just being aware of it is a step in the right direction. I now catch myself in my internal dramas. When I do, I try to change the thought to something that makes me see something positive. This helps me feel better and get ‘unstuck’ from the drama going on in my head.
Consciously slowing down my mind and just being present has made a huge difference on my state of mind and overall mood, too. Meditation, prayer, nature walks and making a list of things I’m grateful for also help.
“If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got.” In other words…you must change those habitual thoughts, self-talk and reactions to get better results.