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Excerpted from The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook by Edmund Bourne. Copyright © 2005 by Edmund Bourne. Excerpted by permission of New Harbinger Publications.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Negative self-talk is a series of bad habits."

  Edmund Bourne,
The Anxiety and Phobia Workbook,
Part 2

Some Basic Points About Self-Talk

Self-talk is usually so automatic and subtle that you donít notice it or the effect it has on your moods and feelings. You react without noticing what you told yourself right before you reacted. Often itís only when you relax, take a step back, and really examine what youíve been telling yourself that you can see the connection between self-talk and your feelings. What is important is that you can learn to slow down and take note of your negative internal monologue.

Self-talk often appears in telegraphic form. One short word or image contains a whole series of thoughts, memories, or associations. For example, you feel your heart starting to beat faster and say to yourself, "Oh no!" Implicit within that momentary "Oh no!" is a whole series of associations concerning fears about panic, memories of previous panic attacks, and thoughts about how to escape the current situation. Identifying self-talk may require unraveling several distinct thoughts from a single word or image.

Anxious self-talk is typically irrational but almost always sounds like the truth. What-if thinking may lead you to expect the worst possible outcome in a given situation, one that is highly unlikely to occur. Yet because the association takes place so quickly, it goes unchallenged and unquestioned. Itís hard to evaluate the validity of a belief youíre scarcely aware ofóyou just accept it as is.

Negative self-talk perpetuates avoidance. You tell yourself that a situation such as the freeway is dangerous and so you avoid it. By continuing to avoid it, you reinforce the thought that itís dangerous. You may even project images of catastrophe around the prospect of confronting the situation. In short, anxious self-talk leads to avoidance, avoidance begets further anxious self-talk, and around and around the cycle goes.

Avoidance <-> Anxious Self-Talk

Self-talk can initiate or aggravate a panic attack. A panic attack often starts out with symptoms of increasing physiological arousal, such as a more rapid heartbeat, tightness in the chest, or sweaty palms. Biologically, this is the bodyís natural response to stressóthe fight-or-flight response that all mammals, including humans, normally experience when subjected to a perceived threat. There is nothing inherently abnormal or dangerous about it. Yet these symptoms can remind you of previous panic attacks. Instead of simply allowing your bodyís physiological reaction to rise, peak, and subside in its own good time, you scare yourself into a considerably more intense panic attack with scary self-talk: "Oh no, itís happening again," "What if I lose control?" "I have to get out of here now," or "Iím going to fight this and make it go away." This scare-talk aggravates the initial physical symptoms, which in turn elicits further scare-talk. A severe panic attack might have been aborted or rendered much less intense had you made reassuring statements to yourself at the onset of your first symptoms: "I can accept whatís happening even though itís uncomfortable," "Iíll let my body do its thing," "This will pass," "Iíve gotten through this before and I will this time," or "This is just a burst of adrenaline that can metabolize and pass in a few minutes."

Negative self-talk is a series of bad habits. You arenít born with a predisposition to fearful self-talk: you learn to think that way. Just as you can replace unhealthy behavioral habits, such as smoking or drinking excess coffee, with more positive, health-promoting behavior, so can you replace unhealthy thinking with more positive, supportive mental habits. Bear in mind that the acquisition of positive mental habits takes the same persistence and practice required for learning new behaviors.

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