How do you talk yourself through hard times?

Researchers know that depressive people like me tend to see the world through a negative lens. For instance, on an unusually hot day in the summer, a well-adjusted person might think, “This is a perfect pool day!” A depressive person like me will think, “Definitely global warming. The world is going to end soon.”

Years ago, a therapist taught me that I needed to counter my unrealistic negativity by constantly feeding myself more positive, realistic thoughts. At first, I didn’t think it would work, but she told me that was just my Negative Voice talking. Don’t you hate when your therapist has an answer for every excuse like that?

Anyway, I tried this positive affirmation business, and it worked amazingly well.

It has been about 15 years since then, and the positive affirmations have caused a second personality to form within me. I’d love to call her Miss Positive. In reality, it’s probably more accurate to call her Miss Slightly Less Negative. At any rate, these are the types of things that this more realistic voice tells me when life feels like a struggle.

(Note that not all of these sayings are original. Some are a part of the human collective consciousness, but I still find them useful.)

When Life Feels Too Hard

“Everything always works out eventually. This will, too. And if it doesn’t work out, that means I’m dead, so it won’t matter anyway.”

“Anything is possible, even this.”

“Just put one foot in front of the other.”

When I’m Too Scared to Take a Risk

“It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.”

“I need to do this. Otherwise I’ll always wonder, ‘What if I’d had the courage?’”

When I’m Lusting After Something I Can’t Afford

“If I had that, I’d probably be really unhappy.”

When I’m Wallowing in Self Pity

“Build a bridge and get over it.”

“There are much worse things than this.”

“This, too, shall pass.”

When I Feel Overwhelmed

“I’ll get it all done. I just might not get it all done today.”

“Am I really going to care about this when I am on my deathbed?”

When I Feel Like a Good-for-Nothing Loser that My Own Dog Doesn’t Love

“I’m definitely going to get my period tomorrow.”

When I’m Mad at My Husband

“Someone has to be the big person here. He’s obviously not going to be that person, so it’s going to have to be me.”

When I’m Tempted to Skip Sex, Exercise or Meditation

“I’ll feel better when it’s over.”

“If I don’t do this, the Negative Voices will take over. No one wants that.”

When I Feel Mean Mommy About to Surface

“If I die of a massive heart attack right now, do I really want my last words to be, “Stop acting like such a brat”?”

“Just close your mouth and walk away from the child.”

“Ignore her. Ignore her. Ignore her. Ignore her. Ignore her. Ignore her.”

When Mean Mommy Surfaces Anyway

“My mom told me that I got on her last nerve about 6 billion times, and I turned out all right.”

“She’s going to end up in therapy whether I slip up and call her a brat or not. Stop feeling so guilty.”

“At least I’m not as bad as that lady on Halloween who cursed her kid out because her kid wouldn’t walk up to a door to get more candy. Now that’s a kid who will end up in therapy.”

When Someone Leaves a Nasty Comment on My Blog

“That says more about her/him than it says about me.”

What are the things that you tell yourself during life’s harder moments?

18 comments… add one

  • MarthaandMe November 11, 2009, 10:09 am

    Thank you for these! I too have learned to “talk to myself” to work through things and it is very helpful. I will definitely use some of these

  • Robin November 11, 2009, 1:53 pm

    I’ve already started having anxiety about Christmas. family issues, money issues, gift giving issues. any suggestions on how to talk my self through Christmas?

  • Alisa November 11, 2009, 2:21 pm

    Robin–I hear you. The good news about the holidays THIS YEAR is that nearly everyone is having a tough time financially. It’s the one year that you could mass email friends and family and say, “Hey, money is tight this year. I’m embarrassed to do this, but I just can’t do the gift giving thing.” Then, for your own kids, you have to keep telling yourself, “This is how it is. The most important thing is that I love them.” Seriously. When they grow up, that’s what will matter–that you loved them. Not that you showered them with gifts on Christmas.

    Family issues are usually a bit more complicated, so that one is tough for me to respond to without knowing the specific situations. But, I like the mantra, “If they don’t understand me by now, that’s their problem and not mine.” Sometimes you have to keep reminding yourself about who owns the problem–and that you don’t have to own it if you decide not to.

  • Sarah Liz November 11, 2009, 2:46 pm

    “Everything always works out eventually. This will, too. And if it doesn’t work out, that means I’m dead, so it won’t matter anyway.”
    That’s my favorite. Not to sound morbid, but my mom and I have always joked that the dirty house or late bill or whatever will always be here tomorrow, and if we’re not–well, than it won’t matter anyway. I love this!

    “Just put one foot in front of the other.”
    Totally agree, I tell myself this too! Often.

    “There are much worse things than this.”
    Yep, I say this too–there’s always, always someone who has it worse than you do–in any capacity–money wise, time wise, health wise, life wise. It’s so important to remember.

    “That says more about her/him than it says about me.”
    Everyday. When someone makes a comment about my voice (why do you sound that like? What happened to your voice?), when someone comments on my small stature (I’m 4.11 and 90lbs), “oh my god, I’ve never seen anyone so small.” I just say, “Well, I’m not a midget and now you have!” When someone comments on a scar they notice….it DOES say WAY more about THEM than it does about me; that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. And honestly, I don’t know how I’d handle people leaving negative comments all the time on a blog I write. A book review, that’s different….filtering through constant comments–good and bad, God Bless you, Alisa! :)

    “Ignore her, ignore her, ignore her, ignore her…”
    I do this with annoying people, my husband, my mother, whomever….sometimes, if someone is just BEGGING for attention in a negative way, you just have to ignore them.

    Being the bigger person; yeah, it gets tiring, but it’s so true! Thanks for the reminder!

    I think talking yourself through things is huge! I love quotes, my favorite quote is “I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.” It’s from the song “The Dance,” by Garth Brooks. Some days, I have more pain, some days, I KNOW it is my DANCE! Like my wedding day, the days I wake up without pain, the fabulous job I now have, the fun, the happiness–they’re ALL my Dance…pain (on any level–physical, mental, emotional–tough times for everyone, I mean) is inevitable in life…but eventually, it turns good again, joyful, happy, okay. And that is when I dance! (Literally and figuratively!)

    I think this is a fantastic post, Alisa! I think encouraging others and reminding us all (including me) to stay optimistic (even when it is difficult, because sometimes it is) through hard times, learn to rely on OURSELVES (and not outward sources) to lift ourselves up and out and onward…very awesome! We all could use a little more of this! Thank you, have a great week!

    Happy Veteran’s Day too!

    Many Blessings,
    -Sarah Liz :)

  • Dave November 11, 2009, 2:49 pm

    A lot of good ideas Alisa, although I think your negative voice came out with the looking at something you can’t afford example. Instead of adding another negative like “I’d be really unhappy with that Aston Martin” maybe reminding yourself that a day at the beach with your family or the perfect sunset is worth so much more.

  • Sarah Liz November 11, 2009, 3:01 pm

    As for Christmas….remember what it’s truly about….the gift of life and love and miracles. Even if you’re not necessarily Christian…the premise of Christmas or Hannukah/Kwanza/Ramadan, etc…. it all means a time of great miracles. The miracle of life and birth and re-birth; family, continuity, unexpected miracles in the darkest of times.

    And for some of us, these are certainly the darkest of times–at least financially speaking. But there is always hope! I think for me, the key is to remember that (hopefully) this isn’t our last Christmas and SOMEDAY there will BE another HUGE all-out gift giving bonanza Christmas, just not this year. So I’m focusing on the smaller things…..

    The holidays ARE incredibly stressful, but last year, my family & I instituted a NO GIFT policy….and I have to tell you, it was one of the best Christmases ever!

    My birthday is right around Christmas so that meant I also didn’t get a bday gift, but that’s okay. I got to spend the day with my husband and my mom made me breakfast that morning–that was gift enough.

    I have to admit though, on Dec. 21st, my husband and I broke down–handed each other $20 and said “Go,” we gave each other 1 hour to pick out $20 worth of gifts (3 little ones or one big one) at Target–and you know what–I got exactly what I wanted….a pair of slippers and a tea kettle….he got a favorite movie and a a gorgeous picture frame. It was lovely. We remembered what we got and the day then was about just being together, eating a great meal and seeing a movie.

    I think it’s important to keep the focus on TIME with loved ones if at all possible…..and focusing on our BLESSINGS.

    Don’t get me wrong, I WANT a lot of things for Christmas this year–but do I really NEED anything? Not really. If we NEED food and shelter, than that’s a priority, over gifts too.

    I could very well make a Christmas list, but I won’t. Because that’s not what it’s about. Not doing the gift thing with anyone but my husband made Christmas last year so truly enjoyable and so much less stressful.

    I know a giftless Christmas isn’t always possible, and there are some families (especially with kids) who will never go for that–but it’s just a thought.

    If you can’t go giftless, definitely stick to a budget with gifts. Pick a Secret Santa. Put a cap on the amount of money you can spend on each person and vice versa. Every little bit of planning helps. I’ve noticed that PLANNING is really the key to a low stress holiday. You don’t have to do it ALL, be it all, serve it all, find, buy, wrap & give it all. Everyone knows now that I don’t give gifts; but they’re always welcome to come to my house for a great home baked treat or delicious meal and a festively decorated home–especially our Christmas tree! That’s my “thing,” at the holidays–the rest, I just let go and let someone else do it. I do, however, send Christmas cards–those are gifts within themselves now because so few people do it and the stamps and cost of sending them are special, I think so at least.

    Just remember to ENJOY the season–it’s a time of joy and miracles and (new) traditions. It isn’t in a box or pretty bow–it’s in our hearts and minds and spirits. Showing our love, gratitude and appreciation for each other–family & strangers–I think that’s the best holiday gift of all!

    Many Holiday Blessings,
    -Sarah Liz :)

  • Alisa November 11, 2009, 3:02 pm

    Dave–so true. For me the “unhappy” part is sort of a long thought process that goes like this: If I had more stuff, I’d have more stuff to worry about. More stuff to clean. More stuff to protect. More stuff to worry that it might break or someone might steal. If I have less stuff, my life is simpler–so I’m happier.

    But I like your saying better. I think I’m going to swap!

  • Natalie November 11, 2009, 4:33 pm

    I do a lot of what you do. I tend to fall into the “what if” trap, so when it gets bad, I start “what iffing” in the positive voice. A big one for me used to be “What if I fail at this marriage thing?” I countered it a lot with “What if this is the best decision you’ve ever made and you’re married for 60 years?” I think I’ve done that enough to not have that “what if” happen so often anymore.

    “This too shall pass” and “It is what it is” are to very simple (yet hard to apply) concepts I use a lot.

    Lists help me too. If I’m feeling particularly negative about myself or about my marriage, I write lists in the positive voice. Usually, I come up with more things than I thought I would, even if some feel “forced.”

    I love talking back to my negative self. And, it used to take me weeks to be able to do that. Now, it takes a day or two.

  • Kathy November 11, 2009, 4:37 pm

    The other day when I was mad at my hubby, I thought and then later said to my girl friend “I can’t wait till I’m single again”. LOL!!!! It took the sting out of what he had said to me. No, I didn’t say that out loud to my hubby. That wouldn’t have been nice.

    When life is getting me down: “Give it time”. Now the really negative side of me will say, Yeah, give it time to get even more fucked up. LOL!!!

    “My mom told me that I got on her last nerve about 6 billion times, and I turned out all right.” My response, and your mom still has a nerve left for you to get on that one too.

    I love “Miss Slightly Less Negative”. I think I’m your twin sister.

  • dr aletta November 11, 2009, 10:47 pm

    Cognitive Behavioral Therapy CBT is often referred to as the positive self-talk therapy. I like when you say, “…these are the types of things that this more realistic voice tells me when life feels like a struggle.” More ‘realistic’ or more ‘reasonable’ are better words (instead of positive or happy) to describe the words we use when we try to respond better to that nasty negative voice bringing us down.

    This is my first visit to your blog. I will be back.

  • Amy L. Musgrave November 12, 2009, 10:21 am

    Hi Alisa,

    It has been so long since I have checked this email, I have missed so many of your wonderful posts I am sure. It’s odd that I decide today to finally take on the 500plus emails and this is one of the first I come across. Thank you for helping me set myself straight again, at least on the path, this is one I am saving for sure. I wish I had some helpful hints for you all, but the way I have been feeling lately all I can say is get out of bed… see what happens, oh yeah… and try you best not to crawl back into that bed, your nice hiding place (or wherever you may hide).

    Thank you as always, and I miss you.


  • Katherine November 12, 2009, 1:41 pm

    Read all the time, although I’ve never commented….

    Mine is, “It’s just NOT THAT BIG A DEAL”.

    My husband and I have been going through some tougher-times-than-usual. Our house has always been where everyone gathers for Thanksgiving day. I started having anxiety about this a few weeks ago. I took the giant step of talking to my husband and telling him I just didn’t feel like I could put on a dog-and-pony show, even if it was just for a day.

    You know what he said??? He said, “Then don’t”. It was as if a giant burden had been lifted off my shoulders. My kids are a little unhappy, but they’ll get over it — which is once again the itty-bitty positive person in me saying “It’s all going to be all right”.

    Thank you for your blog, I really enjoy it.

  • Judy November 12, 2009, 2:27 pm

    I am the Queen of Negative Self-Talk. So when I am having a hard time with something (like something my husband did that is eating away at me.) and my emotions are welling up and I know I am going to get overwhelmed and head into a downward spiral…..I give it to God. I say, “OK, here it is God. I don’t want it, I don’t need it and I will not be a party to it. I’m putting it in your hands because I cannot deal with it. I am giving it to you. Please take care of it for me.” I then take a break from whatever it is. I distract myself if possible. 9 times out of 10 I realize that it is not as bad as I thought. Sometimes, I write it all down in a letter form. Only I don’t send the letter…I just keep it and sometime later, I read it again and usually see that I was over reacting. It reminds that I cannot always trust my emotions. LOVE YOUR BLOG!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Meredith Resnick - The Writer's [Inner] Journey November 14, 2009, 12:24 am

    Alisa, I absolutely love your take on life, your sense of humor and your honesty. Your authenticity shines through. Oh, and I love this list you’ve created.
    .-= Meredith Resnick – The Writer’s [Inner] Journey´s last blog ..The Writer’s [Inner] Journey on My Faith Project =-.

  • Michael Dundas November 19, 2009, 6:39 am

    This one made me really laugh:
    “If I don’t do this, the Negative Voices will take over. No one wants that.”
    .-= Michael Dundas´s last blog ..Leadership isn’t about you =-.

  • Michael Newmark December 7, 2009, 1:59 am

    “When I Feel Mean Mommy About to Surface”….wow, just wow. I never knew others used terms like this. I never knew about any of this others felt, I’ve kept it inside for so long. I hit your website tonight and …just wow.

    My daughter used to call it “the Bad Man” when I’d yell at her. Although we’re pretty much past that, her being 12 on Tuesday and our relationship is rock solid now. But still, others name that part of our personality too???

    I’m in a celibate marriage too, to add to the pain. My wife was abused as a child so there’s that. She’s on Wellbutrin for depression and has been on some form of anti- depressant for years before I met her. We’ve been to multiple therapists and none have changed anything. I last had sex with her over a year ago (it was pretty horrible, I think, for both of us), before that it was 8 years of nothing.

    And I think she’s beautiful and it doesn’t make a bit of difference. I used to live in Chicago and was going through a divorce and I would look up at the adverts on the “el” cars and see one every day from some local school with the tag line from Eleanor Roosevelt “You must do the thing you think you cannot do” and it would get me through the day.

    I say that a lot to myself now.

    I’m sorry, this is disjoined and rambling and I sound pitiful.

  • Alisa Bowman December 7, 2009, 7:02 am

    Michael: you do not sound pitiful! I enjoyed reading your comment. Hang in there! I wish I had advice for your situation. I think you are a good man for being so supportive to your wife. And, if it helps you to feel any better, the other night my daughter was planning “school.” She gave my husband a red slip and sent him to the office. I was the “principal.” I asked her what I was supposed to do with him and she whispered, “Just be Mean Mommy.”
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..Help a Needy Writer =-.

  • Donte Covey August 28, 2010, 11:52 am

    Hi, thank you for your post. You don’t know how this helped me.


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