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Self-Care for the Mind

Cassette Tape 1

This is part three in our series on self-care. (You can read part 1 here and part 2 here.)

In our last post we discussed the importance of caring for the body. Today we will look at nurturing the mind. 

What kinds of messages do you send yourself as you move through your day? How well do you know your inner voice?

Many of us are unaware of how negative our self-talk is. As Dr. Alice Domar explains in her her book  Self-Nurture: Learning to Care for Yourself as Effectively as You Care for Everyone Else    most of her female patients discover that around 90% of their self-talk is negative when they record their thoughts throughout the day. Thoughts like "I'm fat and I'll never feel good about my body," "I'll never amount to anything," "My husband is no longer attracted to me," and "I'm a horrible mother," can hound us into full-blown depression and fuel anxiety, shame, despair, and self-loathing. 

Many of these destructive thoughts are learned from our parents and families. Domar has observed a wide variety of negative thoughts in her research and interactions with individuals, but she lists these as "the greatest hits":

'I'm not a good enough daughter.'

'Nothing I do will please Mom/Dad.'

'I will never amount to anything.'

'No matter how hard I try, I cannot accomplish _______.'

'I can never be successful enough.'

'I am too self-centered.'

'I will always undermine myself.'

'I don't feel worth loving.'

'I'm lazy.'

(Photo: Mira Pangkey via Compfight)

Having a loved one in your life who struggles with addiction often creates its own unique, negative thought patterns. For instance, your mind may tell you it is your fault your loved one drinks too much or that if you could only be a "better" person, you would be able to "fix" your loved one or end their addiction. 

Self-punishing thoughts patterns are the foundation of our low self-esteem, says Domar. "How could we not become anxious when we repeatedly tell ourselves what terrible things are about to happen? How could we not become depressed when we repeatedly tell ourselves that we're worthless and that our lot is hopeless?"

What is the solution? How do we stop the negative tape loops in our heads and treat ourselves with greater compassion and positivity?

As Domar details, the answer is cognitive restructuring. "The process of identifying, questioning, and ultimately changing our automatic negative thoughts from and about our parents, is the most liberating form of mind nurture."

The ability to replace negative thoughts with kinder, more realistic assessments of ourselves is the ultimate form of mind-nurture. It "bolsters self-esteem, not by having us attack others or fatten our own egos, but by building a realistic compassion for ourselves and others."

Cognitive restructuring, a process that exposes inner demons and the sources of our negative thoughts, is pretty straightforward, but not always easy to accomplish. It is essential to practice the process regularly; you may also want to seek the support of a therapist who can help guide you through these steps, which are detailed in Domar's book:

First, identify one common negative thought pattern, one tape loop that plays repeatedly in your head.

Write down this negative tape loop as a sentence or two.

Now, ask yourself these four questions about this negative thought:

  1. Does this thought contribute to my stress?
  2. Where did I learn this thought?
  3. Is this a logical thought?
  4. Is this thought true?

As Domar says, "before you can restructure an automatic negative thought, you must first honestly confront that thought, discover its origins and effects, and put it to the test of logic. That is the purpose of the four questions."

The final step is to replace the negative thought with a kind, more realistic assessment.

Using Domar's process, one patient "turned the negative thought 'I'm a horrible mother' into the more affirmative 'I'm actually a very good mother who has tried to attain perfection and fallen short in my all-too-critical-eyes.'"

Here are a few more examples of restructured negative thoughts from Domar's book:

Negative Thought: "I'm not a good enough daughter."

Restructured Thought: "I have tried to be a caring daughter, but my care has not always been received or appreciated."


Negative Thought: "I have no right to success."

Restructured Thought: "My parent(s) may have ingrained in me the belief that I have no right to success, but I do. I can uncover my own sense of deservedness and can learn to recognize the areas in which I am successful."


Negative Thought: "My mother can't stand me so I must be defective."

Restructured Thought: "My mother is emotionally ill, it's not my fault, I'm not defective." 


Negative Thought: "My children never appreciate all that I do for them."

Restructured Thought: "I must do the best I can and then have faith, knowing that my love and support is intrinsically nourishing for my children, and that I will come to feel worthy as a mother, no matter how much they do not express or show it."

Nurturing the mind is as important as nurturing the body. Make a commitment to yourself to identify your own negative thought patterns and to replace them with more truthful, compassionate beliefs. Be sure to watch Module 7, "How Do I Care for Myself When Negative Feelings Get in the Way?,"  and to complete the module's Key Observation exercises.  The following journal exercises will also help  you get started. 

(Photo by Claricethebakergardener via Compfight)

Journal Exercise

For one day try listening to the voices in your head. When possible, record these thoughts on paper or in your journal here. 

Now examine the messages you tell yourself throughout the day. How much of your self-talk is negative?

Identify one of the destructive phrases you repeat most often to yourself.

Write down this negative message in your journal as a sentence or two.

Now, ask yourself these four questions about this negative thought and record your answers in your journal:

  1. Does this thought contribute to my stress?
  2. Where did I learn this thought?
  3. Is this a logical thought?
  4. Is this thought true?

How can you turn this negative belief into a phrase that is more compassionate and honest? Write down the restructured thought here. 

Now practice changing your usual thought pattern. The next time you catch yourself repeating the same old, negative tape loop, stop. Take a deep breath. Repeat this newly restructured thought instead. 

As the month unfolds, apply this process to each negative message you routinely tell yourself. As you practice cognitive restructuring, can you feel the internal shift from negativity to positivity? Record your observations here.

♦  Should you choose to purchase a book we have highlighted here in the Sanctuary, please know that your purchase will help support the AiR website



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