Here’s the deal. I’ve been in and out of therapy for years. When you’ve got a mom that’s crazy (as much as I love her, she and I will both own that title), and then you start showing signs of the same disorder, you end up straight into the therapist.
Actually, to be fair, I ended up at the therapist because my parents were divorced and they were pretty sure we kids were gonna be scarred, but that’s neither here nor there.
In my time in therapy, I learned a lot of different coping skills. Most of those have gone out the window now, as science is always evolving as we learn new things. Some of them are tried and true, though. For instance, when you’re angry, you’ve probably heard that you can punch a pillow. That one’s been a standard for a really long time, and I’ll admit it, I’ve used it way more than once. Or, another anger fighter is to shred a piece of paper into the tiniest pieces you can manage. To start with, you’re burning rage, but by the end you end up so focused on the task that most of the anger has drained away. Bonus: you’ve now got confetti (which will likely make your mom angry when you throw it….heads up).
My favorite, by far, however, was a love/hate list.
As a teenager (and even now still as an adult), it can be really easy to get down on yourself and focus on all of the horrible things about you. “I’m ugly” is an easy one, or “no one likes me” or, my frequent favorite, “I’m just too crazy.” Is it true? I have no idea. Really, it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not because it feels true to you.
The activity is simple. Sit down and write out a list of all the things you hate about yourself. Go nuts. be as mean as you want and petty and all that nastiness. It’s alright. Frankly, whether you put it on paper or not, you’re probably calling yourself all these names already. Do it until you’ve got yourself a good pile of nastiness, or you run out of things you really care to write about.
Do you feel better?
Yeah, probably not so much. You might feel a little relief just having said it all and gotten it out into the open. You might also be looking at that list and feeling like a big pile of crap because seriously, how could you come up with so much awful stuff and god, what kind of person are you?? (deep breath….it’s okay. Just because you came up with a list doesn’t mean you’re horrible… I promise) Take your time and read through that list. Think about it all. How much of that stuff do you really believe? Are there any things you’d cross out now that you’re a little calmer? Any things you maybe said because you got caught up in the rush of things?
If so…cross them off.
If not….that’s alright.
I know when I did this one for the first time I had a whole page of text, narrow rule, completely full with stuff. And I believed every single thing I saw there, so no crossing anything out for me. It was a bit eye-opening. I knew I was angry, and I knew there was a lot I didn’t like, but I think up until I reached that moment I had no clue just how much I hated. I resolved to change that. Thus, the second part:
This is definitely the harder part, but it’s so worth it. Now it’s time to write out all the things you love about yourself. Can’t manage love? Fair enough….maybe just start with the things that “aren’t so bad.” Can you whistle? I can’t (and I hate whistling), but good for you! Add it to the list! Did you once draw a heart that was almost perfectly symmetrical? Add it to the list. Maybe you’ve got amazing style. Maybe not, but who cares because at least you’re always comfy. Either way, add it to the list.
Some of mine:
- at least when I’m stressed, I clean
- I love my family very much, even when I don’t feel like they love me
- I could read an entire 500 page novel in a day
- It didn’t really matter what other people thought of me
It can be anything, big or small, but if you start with the small stuff it can be easier to build up to the big. Eventually, you might find it even easier to come up with stuff as one idea reminds you of something else.
Now….here’s the tricky part though. Your goal is to come up with at least as many good things as you did bad for your list. If you’re really wanting to stretch yourself, go for twice as many (yeah, that means my one page of hate turned into two pages of love, and it was worth every annoying minute of it).
Well, what’s the point?
The point is, it’s really easy to get caught up in the awful. Most of us know that on a logical level, but it’s really hard to remember when the evil wheel of hate starts spinning. We can get so caught and crushed that it’s impossible to see the good stuff that’s there as well. That’s why this exercise exists.
For me, it was a very visual reminder that there is something worth appreciating in me, even when I don’t feel like it. In fact, I ultimately taped my lists to my wall as a truly visual reminder. Whenever I had a new thought of self-doubt or hate, I would add it to the list, and then add another two positives to the other list. It was always growing and changing through the 4 years I had it up.
Now it’s a little more internalized as I’ve learned to catch myself thinking those thoughts and stop them before they get too far, but sometimes…. sometimes it’s good to fall back on these activities.
Let me know… if you get a chance to try this one or if you’ve tried this one out, let me know what you think. It’s a little activity, but I really did find it helpful when I was a teenager. Do you have something else you do when you get stuck in a cycle of negative thoughts?