Thoughts: Replacing the bad with good

Almost everyone, despite struggling from an eating disorder or not, experiences a slew of negative thoughts and beliefs toward themselves on a daily basis. Over time, these thoughts and beliefs become so ingrained that we do not even recognize just how harshly we talk to ourselves. In fact, they become so automatic that—even though we may have an idea they might not be true—we still abide in and are affected by those thoughts. My therapist this week reframed this idea beautifully and its one I feel worth blogging about. She simply stated the following

“If someone actually talked to you the way you talk to/think about yourself. Would you be friends with that person?”

My answer was a confident no. Why is it that we have a tendency to be so incredibly hard and mean to ourselves when we—typically—would not tolerate identical treatment from someone else? My best guess would be that it stems from the behavior of taking a small imperfection, problem, etc and magnifying it to the extreme. It’s kind of like when a blemish appears right on a clearly visible area of your face. You feel like that is the only thing people see and are thinking about when they look at you. Maybe—also—that you feel as if they are negatively judging who you are as a person just because you have a zit. Yeah, it sounds silly, but I feel like everyone has experienced a similar social situation where they have felt like they were under a microscope (for reason X ) and that everyone around them was using reason X to look-down upon them as a human being.

The mindset that comprises an eating disorder has got to be ranked up there with the meanest and most degrading thought and belief system. The amount of messages the Ed will send you that influence your actions is amazing. We hear the beliefs everywhere “Oh I shouldn’t eat that, I missed my workout this morning” “I’m really going to have to be ‘extra good’ the next few days after eating all that” (the examples go on forever)

So how do we change such an ingrained thought pattern? Well, labeling and being aware of the negative thoughts and beliefs is definitely a step in the right direction. At least that’s what I feel, as does my therapist. Over the past few days I have tried to remain extra mindful of how I speak of/and think of myself internally and I am astounded the amount of eating-disorder related content I have been able to distinguish. My therapist instructed me to write these thoughts down when I could and then re-write that thought as a recovery message so that the next time that same thought resurfaced, I could replace it/think of a positive one. Here is some of what I came up with. The ed thoughts are italicized

You are not good enough // Anna, you never give yourself enough credit
You don’t need to eat today // Anna, you need to take care of yourself as instructed by your treatment team
Your weight is fine and do not need any sort of treatment // Anna, your husband advocated for you to find help and to recover. Your body isn’t working as well as it used to.
All of these people are lying to you. // What could ‘all of these people’ possibly be gaining from lying to me. They want to see me healthy and happy.
Listen to and obey me and everything will be okay. // I have tried listening to and obeying you and it has only brought me strife.

In addition to the rephrasing, I came up with several recovery ‘mantras’ to help move me passed the intense emotions of re-feeding and everything else that the initial recovery stages can bring. Having the mantras on a flash card at meal times has helped some. I don’t believe some of the mantras sometimes—especially when I am wrapped up in overwhelming emotions—but I read and reread them anyway. And, somehow, they do help to bring me back to calm.

Five Recovery messages:
You need to trust your outpatient team.
Trust in the process
You are stronger than you think you are
Everything will be okay, this emotion will pass
Reach out to your supports
Don’t be afraid to find more help
You are doing the right thing

Try becoming more aware of how you speak to yourself, you might be surprised as to how mean some of your thoughts are. With that awareness, you can then take those thoughts and gradually work to replace them. Which…from my experience takes effort! Automatic thoughts didn’t become ingrained overnight and they won’t go away overnight. But persistence in replacing those thoughts with kinder/positive ones will eventually help to diminish the negative mindset and—hopefully—get you talking better to yourself. It may require conscious energy, but I’ve got a feeling that every ounce of that energy will be totally worth it.

“You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection.” –Guatama Siddharta


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