When Your Own Brain Hates You: And How I Fight Back
Affirmations vs. Intrusive Thoughts
Unsurprisingly, I’m a writer and content creator. I love what I do. But lately, I’ve come to realize that much of my writing is merely a coping mechanism. For what? For the voices screaming in my head.
Don’t check me into a mental hospital yet (though no shame to that end, I’ve been close to that as well). Turns out hearing voices in your head is actually far more normal than we once considered. Recent science has proven that 30%-50% of people have a narration in their mind as they go through their day.
So if you’re in that lucky category of those with an inner monologue, perhaps this also resonates with you. The tricky part is when those voices don’t cooperate.
The Cognitive Triangle
The Cognitive Triangle was initially developed in 1967, though it has since been adapted for general use in cognitive behavior therapy. Simply put, the cognitive triangle shows how our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors work together to create much of the activity that goes on in our brain.
Now if we’re talking inner monologues, we’re addressing those inner thoughts most of all. However, the key to conquering your inner monologue is actually by seeing the other two factors at play.
The Two Types of Inner Monologues
Intrusive Thoughts are exactly what they sound like. They’re thoughts that are decidedly unwelcome in your mind. They often come along with a host of mental health disorders. Anxiety, depression, OCD, PTSD, the list goes on- all have some mention of intrusive thoughts in their list of symptoms.
My top hits of intrusive thoughts tend to include “You’re not anything special.” and “It’ll always be this bad.” on repeat. Yours may be different. It’s common to have nuanced intrusive thoughts that harp on specific past traumas you may have experienced. When my anxiety is bad and I don’t want to drive sometimes I find that “You’re a bad driver” echoes in my head- reminding me of the car accident I was in just recently.
Even if you don’t have mental health issues, intrusive thoughts are still pretty common. More than 6 million people in the United States alone have reported sometimes having intrusive thoughts.
The other type of inner monologue you may have are affirmations. Unlike intrusive thoughts, these affirmations aren’t just welcomed, they’re actively and intentionally curated by the people who use them. And they’re all the rage right now. With over 550,000 search results on Google, everyone from Oprah to Khloe Kardashian is using them to find mental wellness.
My favorite affirmations are those that make me feel supported and uplifted just by saying them either in my head or aloud. “Everything will be alright in the end.” has gotten me through a lot of lonely nights and tearful relationship issues.
The Battle Within
When we break down all of our inner monologues into these two categories, we see that it becomes a bit of a battle in our own heads. One voice perhaps is constantly yelling at us to “Never mess up again, because you’re stupid” while another is screaming back, “I can trust in my mistakes to lead to growth.”
Just like war in our real world, this inner conflict can have real impacts. As The Cognitive Triangle tells us, our thoughts don’t work alone. If we let our intrusive thoughts run away with us, it can have big consequences. For example, my fear of driving can lead to nervous actions on the road. Then, ironically, those nervous actions may provide a higher chance of getting in a wreck and in turn feeling that much more overwhelmed by driving. There’s a trickle-down effect. I’d even argue there’s a correlation between the majority of drivers having some of this driving anxiety and the fact that a majority of us have also been in car accidents.
What to Do
The solution is clear, we need more affirmations. But it doesn’t end there. We also need to strategically use affirmations to address those things we are most fearful of. We need to be aware of all of our thoughts- those that harm us and those that make us feel good.
This level of metacognition (thinking about our thinking) can allow us to be back in the driver’s seat of our brains.
I’m a woman of action myself, so here are some hot tips I have for developing just that:
- Keep a journal. Sometimes invasive thoughts come out through writing or expression there.
- Practice “interrupter” thoughts that catch an intrusive thought in its tracks. “Hey, Becky! You just had one of those thoughts that makes you feel like crap! Stop it!” works for me.
- Post affirmations everywhere. The more you read them, the more your head is reminded of the powerhouse of positivity within you.
- When you do find an intrusive thought, don’t dismiss it, just dig in. Why would you have that thought? How is it actually making you behave and feel?
So there you have it!
In the battle of you vs. you, put your money on the “you” you want to be. Learn to trust the voice in your head is actually leading you in the direction you desire.