Self Talk & Grieving

I’m not sure where I heard/read about this book, but it arrived early this year and I felt it was a sign to help me in my grieving process.  A big part of my personal development in retirement has been to better understand my self-limiting beliefs, which I often hear as a critical self-talk inner voice. It’s been interesting to read about modifying self-talk via a filter of grieving. The book: The Self-Talk Workout by Rachel Goldsmith-Turrow

Self-talk is how you relate to yourself. Is yours adversarial, full of put-downs and criticism?  Do you have a nagging sense of never being good enough or of not doing the right things?  Does making a mistake send you into a tail-spin of feeling incompetent and second guessing rehashing? All signs of negative self talk! Just saying, “I shouldn’t beat myself up so much” is not enough to shift the existing well-entrenched brain pathways of negative self-talk. You need to learn how to encourage more and criticize less.  And it will be reflected not only in your self-talk, but also in judgment and criticism (acceptance) of others!

Humans have an innate negativity bias towards threats, problems, things that might go wrong, as well as things that did go wrong and the possible implications (loss of love and belonging). It’s our default mode. We worry about tasks not completed and imagined threats. We ruminate about perceived past mistakes. We judge others quickly, restricting our relationships. We avoid things we worry about, restricting our lives.

“The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.”  Psychologist Rick Hanson.

Mental habits (mental pathways) are fast, unconscious, automatic, effortless, hard to control, and hard to change.  So it’s about shifting mental habits in the brain from self-criticism to self-encouragement. The self-criticism mental habit actually zaps motivation while self-encouragement fuels it.  Reinforcing the positive (rather than pointing out the negative or what needs fixing) is actually a better motivator!  It’s also about slowing down, reconnecting to the body, and permission to let things be (nonjudgmental, acceptance).

I’ve always wanted to become good enough, to meet expectations and do the right things so I wouldn’t be abandoned, to belong to the “inner circle” (be accepted).  And I never feel like I’ve accomplished any of that!  Hence, I still have significant negative self-talk pathways, and a strong judgmental streak.

It takes a lot of repetition to teach your brain new mental (self-encouragement) pathways – to counteract years of habitual self-criticism. The tools presented to help create new mental pathways were not new tools to me, but all presented in slightly different way and usually citing research behind the claims.  The power lies in the repetition.

  1. The Breath. “Inhale, my friend, exhale, my friend”.  Building on traditional regular breath work by adding in self-talk (my friend, my dear, my love).  Interestingly I settled on my friend, hoping perhaps to continue to break my self-limiting belief that I’m not a good friend!
  2. Spot the Success – 10 things done.  To counteract the negativity bias and feeling of not enough, focus not on the to-do list, but the “I did it list”.  Every day, write down (and celebrate a bit) 10 things you did.  Seeing what you did accomplish (even if minor) increases self-appreciation and helps motivate you to do more. Small actions matter – tending to friendships, tending to the home, tending to the self. Thank yourself for all you do.
  3. Meditation.  It teaches the brain how to refocus attention on the present moment without judgment (not rehashing the past, second guessing or worrying about the future, thinking about worst case scenarios). It helps reduce the self-criticism brain pathways because it trains the brain to be more mindful of the experience (nonjudgmental of the moment).
  4. Just Start.  Aka Behavioral Activation. To overcome self-critical thoughts of not being good enough, fear of failure, or fear of looking like a fool/an incompetent, “just do it.”  Praise the effort, the process… not the result.  It’s about engagement, not mastery!  Look at “failures” with curiosity, a what did I learn mindset.
  5. Loving Kindness Meditation.  Another one I’ve read about, and one that’s actually part of Practicing Positive Psychology, but a tool I’ve never implemented.  This silent mantra of words cultivates feelings of goodwill towards yourself and others, as well as pushes aside self-criticism and rumination, as goodwill and criticism are simply non-compatible. 
May I be safe.
May I be happy.
May I be healthy.
May I live with ease.
May you be safe.
May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you live with ease.
Loving Kindness Mantra

6. Feel your feelings.  Aka Emotional Assessment.  A variation on a tool I’ve used for years as part of my morning journaling.  Allow a full range of feelings. Negative/painful feeling will not just go away. It is not about ruminating on the “what-ifs.” Just say no to situation reanalysis! It is not doing things to distract from the feelings. If you bottle up, then you blow up! It is not criticizing yourself for the (unwanted) negative emotions nor for “handling them badly.” It is: Name them, feel them (notice body sensations), allow them to be, and then accept them.

Beyond re-exploring these six tools, some other insights I had from my reading –

  • An intriguing idea:  How many aspects of “social acceptance” do you fit into?   How much of an “other” are you? This idea was related to the more “other” you are, the more likely you have negative self-talk pathways created in your brain.  Socially acceptable: White, heterosexual, male (or mother if female), cisgender, thin, able-bodied, neurotypical, free from mental health challenge, young, rich, rooted in dominant culture. Surprisingly I am 7 of 11. My heart goes out to those who deal with the negative self-criticism associated with fewer aspects of social acceptance.
  • “I’m human. Who am I to think I will never make a mistake?  Never forget to do something? Be an expert at something (perfect) without practice?” What a powerful question to ask myself!
  • Reappraisal – Instead of “If only I had done X”, think “What would most people have done?” The first is strong self-criticism.  The second is realization of your humanity and the fact that humans make mistakes even when trying to do their best.
  • Human suffering is not a contest.  It is not a Compare & Despair… I’m not sad enough. My situation is not bad enough. I’m not “other” enough to claim a self-talk problem.  Your suffering, your situation, your need for more self-encouragement is unique and worthy of self-focus.

While the tools presented are not new, the insight into repetition to shift brain pathways of self-criticism to self-encouragement was a new spin. I’ve been using the My Friend Breath mantra, the Did-it list (I’m am a list lover!), and Emotional Awareness the past couple of weeks to help me during this time of grieving.

Are any of these tools in your life tool-box?

Picture credit: me – from garden visiting

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18 thoughts on “Self Talk & Grieving

  1. My dad was a very negative man and so I have spent my entire adult life working on being a positive person. Most of the time I am successful in shutting up the little voice and focusing on “doing my best” and giving from the heart – whether it be to others or to myself. It doesn’t always work and sometimes I beat myself up but I am definitely getting better at it. Thanks for a very thoughtful post. I hope the book, the post and time are helping you cope with grief. Bernie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Bernie, I was, for most of my life, a highly critical pessimist. Being more positive about things is a recent development for me and unfortunately it’s easy to slip into the critical. Reminders of tools like the ones in this book are helpful to get me back on the track of positivity. And yes, things like this book’s reminders and time are both helping. As are all my blogging buddies comments.


  2. Pat, I like the ‘things I did’ list, idea. It rewards ‘doing’, and not perfecting. Sort of like getting a participation ribbon! Finally, I understand that concept. When we begin to accept ourselves as ‘participants’ and drop the notion that we must become the shining star, friend to everyone, and master of all things, life opens up, doesn’t it?

    P.S. The comment you made to your friend Candyse reflects your inner beauty and shows your true self. I hope you believe for yourself all that you wrote to her. Thanks for all your words of encouragement. Be well and have a wonderful week.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh Suzanne, I never thought about it like a participation ribbon… I actually think teaching children to strive for mastery of something is a good thing. I achieved mastery in my career and while I struggled with work/life balance, I’m not sorry I got to the mastery level. I am proud of that achievement and really enjoyed my work. I’m feeling its a bit contradictory, but kinda of a been-there, done that, so now I’m OK with engagement. I’m using the “I did it list” tool in my next blog post!


      1. I don’t see that what you are saying is contradictory at all and you should be extremely proud of your accomplishments. You are not speaking to the past in this post, you are preparing for the future, and those of us who find ourselves in the same boat appreciate your analysis and encouragement.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “Humans have an innate negativity…..” Wow! What a shame! But it makes me feel a little better that I can’t seem to bring my thinking around to the positive side of things. I really try to stay positive and I find it comical that I end up berating myself because my first instinct is to be negative. You know, I have a negative thought, “I can’t get in shape”, then I get angry with myself for not thinking positively so now I’m in double trouble! And retirement hasn’t helped. If anything I feel like it has made it worse. I don’t do as much (when I saw the list making idea my first thought was I don’t accomplish 10 things a day) so surely I have time to do the few things I want to do – of course, get thin and in shape.
    Anyway, I think those of us that were pretty powerful and accomplished in their careers struggle more with these things during retirement.
    I might need to get that book!
    Oh and by the way, I am so happy you are feeling better, even a little bit. Day by Day.
    And….you are a great friend! I miss you!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Candyse, Yes, get this book and read it! There was a number if times I wanted to call you and read you sections… she talks about the “double trouble” as you call it, the negative trying to motivate, the constant berating.

      And it’s not 10 “accomplishments” – its 10 things you did. I’m thinking already today you made the bed, read and commented on blogs, did the crossword, got dressed & did make up/hair, snuggled with JoJo, maybe even did a workout or dance class or planned something. That’s 7-8 right there. Add in quiet dinner conversation with hubby, favorite restaurant visit, chat with daughter, some art-crafting. Yeah, you do more than 10 things in a day! You fill your days with movement, connections, creativity. All the tools are designed to shift brain pathways to be encouraging, not berating/critiquing.

      And BTW, you are probably in better shape than 85% of other women your age (and probably 10 years younger too). Maybe 95%. So, sorry girl, you ARE in shape. Could you get stronger? possibly. More flexible possibly. Thinner? possibly. But you cannot say that you are “out of shape”. Face reality.

      Miss you too.


  4. Hi Pat! This paragraph sounds exactly like me: “I’ve always wanted to become good enough, to meet expectations and do the right things so I wouldn’t be abandoned, to belong to the “inner circle” (be accepted).” WOW!!

    I’ve printed this post and will try to start incorporating some of these steps into my day. I’ve tried the ‘I did it’ list before but didn’t keep up with it… a trait of mine is to start things but stop when they feel boring 😦 I’m always looking for immediate gratification – ugh! Lately I’ve been trying to tell myself to ENJOY THE PROCESS and stop focusing on the outcome.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sharon, I’ve used the mantra “engagement not mastery” when trying new things, and that has helped a lot with my crafting, doing Zumba and cardio drumming, even riding my bike. Celebrating trying something and not worrying if it’s good or bad.

      I’ve been doing the “I did it” list now for a couple of weeks and I’m liking it… it actually gives me that sense of gratification – I did something yesterday (even if it was “just” sitting outside reading a book). Tomorrow I’m going to put on it “spotted the owl in our backyard” – my husband had seen it 4 times but I never did. I saw it this morning! Yeah, my “I did it” list seems to capture moments of joy too.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve tried to start meditation a number of times, and never stuck with it. I do other things that are similar to meditation…journaling, solo beach walks, yoga. One thing I liked for awhile was the Balance app (I got it first year free and used it for a few months, then cancelled). I’ve heard others like the Calm app. I tried Chopra, when they offered free month trials. I’m sure there’s lots of YouTube options as well, for a more guided meditation. I’m working on some of the other tools although the author was a strong proponent of meditation! Good luck. Like all skills/new habits, it takes time and repetition.


  5. Thanks for the helpful reminders and new ideas. Maybe I’ll try the “I did” list. It’s only since menopause that I’ve been able to give the negative self-talk a good SHUT-UP and have it work. One of my joys in growing older.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Annie, I’ve been enjoying the “I did it” list (doing it for over a week now). Not sure if its changing brain pathways, but it’s definitely helping me feel better about my days, even my used-to-be non-productive days. Yes, tomorrow there will be “I replied to blog comments” on my did-it list!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Pat – interestingly this ties in a little with my post today – where I’m questioning why we always second guess ourselves. There are so many times in life where a challenge has arisen and my first thought is always something along the lines of “I can’t”, “I’ll fail”, “I’m not enough”, “what will people think” etc etc. Quietening that little voice is one of my second half of life goals – because we’re all so much more than we think we are. I hope your strategies pay off for you. x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leanne, I’m pretty sure I picked up this book for that very reason… how to quiet that negative inner voice. As I try a few of these new tools, it will be interesting to see if it works. It’s a bit different approach than just trying to quiet the voice…trying to change unconscious brain pathways! I’m heading over to read your post now!


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