Gary McClain, PhD, is a therapist, patient advocate, and writer who specializes in helping clients—as well as their family members and professional caregivers—deal with the emotional impact of chronic and life-threatening illnesses.
Living with a chronic condition can mean all kinds of requirements and restrictions. “You mean I have to do that? Every day?” Along with uncertainty, good days and not-so-good days seem to come out of nowhere. “And I have to put up with what?”
It’s not easy.
You may be newly diagnosed and have just found out what your chronic condition is going to mean for your daily life. You may have been living with your chronic condition for awhile and are now faced with new challenges. Regardless, it’s normal to experience those times when it all just feels so overwhelming.
Feelings go hand-in-hand with thoughts. Your thoughts can encourage you to have an optimistic attitude or can encourage more negativity. How do you know when that’s happening? For a start, take a look at what you’re telling yourself. “I can’t. I won’t. I’ll never.” Are any of these familiar? Defeat begins in your own mind.
So what do you do about all that self-defeating thinking when it sneaks in? Here are six steps to overcoming self-defeating thinking.
1. Adjust your attitude
Ask yourself, do the challenges and responsibilities of your chronic condition feel like they are just as bad as they possibly can be? Insurmountable? That’s called awfulizing. The more you make things awful in your mind, the more they’ll seem awful in reality. If things are that awful, how can you expect to be successful? That’s right, awfulizing opens the door to “I can’t” and his doom and gloom brothers.
2. Stand up to your thoughts
Your thoughts are just thoughts. They aren’t you. Your thoughts don’t have to be reality unless you allow them to be. When they creep in, you might start by trying to set limits. Indulge those self-defeating thoughts for a specific period of time, like 10 minutes. Time yourself. When the time is up, it’s up. Thank those thoughts for their input and send them on their way. You can let your thoughts disempower you, or you can choose to disempower your thoughts.
3. Take it a step at a time
Small steps. Expecting to make big changes overnight is a setup for letdown. Break your goals down into small pieces. What can you commit to today? What about tomorrow? Tackle changes one by one. Set priorities.
4. Review the evidence
If there’s one thing a negative thought can’t stand up to, it’s the truth. Each step you take in a positive direction, no matter how small, is evidence of success. Keep track of your progress by keeping a list of your successes each day. Pull your list out and review it when you are having a bad day. Evidence! That’s what’s real.
5. Add a new word: Yet!
Talk back to those self-defeating thoughts with one small but powerful word: Yet! Sure, you’re not where you need or want to be in your self-care at this moment, but that doesn’t mean you’re stuck. How about: Not there yet. "Yet" opens up the door to all kinds of possibilities, including adding more muscle to your emotional coping skills and fine-tuning your self-care and compliance routine.
6. Get support
The right kind. Identify the people in your life who are willing and able to give you encouragement. Ask for their support, and keep in touch with them. Beware of people who echo that voice of self-defeat you are trying to shut up. This may require asking for help from professionals who can advise you on how to live with your chronic condition and friends and family members who can offer encouragement. Enlist your support network to “yet” along with you!
Living with a chronic condition is a journey traveled one step at a time. Not where you want to be in coping with your chronic condition? Well, not there yet, but on the way!
How do you shut down self-defeating thinking? Share with the community in the comments below.