Do you know those thoughts that randomly pop into your head and drag you down a rabbit hole? Or those images that flash in your mind? They seem to come automatically and can fill you up with anxiety. Even now as I write about this experience I feel almost overwhelmed. In the therapy world, we refer to these unwanted and distressing thoughts and images as intrusive thoughts.
You can think of intrusive thoughts as random scraps of paper that don’t really have a place to go but your brain tries to file them away. These random scraps have no meaning but your brain tries to stick them somewhere. What makes them distressing is the sense we try to make of them, the meanings we attach, and the fact that these thoughts (and images) tend to stick in our minds. They stick because they’re often fantasies or thoughts about things we find unacceptable and fear we might act on.
Here are some quick tips to cope with these intrusive thoughts:
- Allow yourself to have them. Remind yourself that they’re thoughts, not facts. If you think or see an image in your head, but don’t really plan to act on it, that’s completely normal. It’s not harmful, and not something to worry about. Remember that these are automatic thoughts, so it’s outside of your control whether they happen or not. It might be helpful to try to label the thought as intrusive and then carry on with your day.
- Check the facts. Ask yourself how likely it is you will act on this thought. (Disclaimer: If you think you might harm yourself or someone else, it’s important to check in with a medical professional for support. You can access a distress helpline or the local emergency room for that immediate support).
- Start a mindfulness practice. This will help you notice and let go of intrusive thoughts.
- Keep going! Try to continue whatever activity you were previously doing and allow yourself to move on from the thought.
Intrusive thoughts are common. If they start to feel unmanageable, then it could be an indication of an underlying mental health concern, such as anxiety, OCD, and PTSD, to name a few. It’s important to check with your doctor if you’re feeling highly distressed by these thoughts and images.
Disclaimer: This is a personal discussion around self-compassion and self-love with details about my own disappointments, sexual assaults, and critical self-talk that may be difficult for some clients to read about. This blog is divided into 3 parts to address the: disappointments, critical self-talk, and sexual assaults.
Part 1: Disappointments
Self-compassion was something I first heard about during my MSW. It refers to extending compassion to one’s self in instances of perceived inadequacy, failure, or general struggle. It was advertised as the holy grail of therapy. I say this because I didn’t know how to practice it or feel at all connected to this concept. In my head, I would think “yeah, that sounds like someone who’s making an excuse for something. Why wouldn’t you just keep pushing through when it’s tough? That’s so weak of them.”
I had connected emotional strength to avoidance and tolerance, which didn’t help when I was faced with some personal crisis (I couldn’t find a job coming out of my MSW in the field despite starting my search 3 months before school had even ended. Everyone else in my class was getting hired and I wasn’t going anywhere. Plus, my partner of 6 years decided that our relationship was over. My world was spinning out of control).
You’re probably asking “what does this have to do with self-compassion?” Well, I believe looking back with the self-compassionate lens I have now, I can connect with the parts of me that needed care during that distressing time. Disappointments in life are something we all have to adjust to. Self-compassion gives us the emotional buffer and resilience to get through it. Looking back, a practice of self-compassion would have helped me accept that the job market is tough for anyone. Especially with 250 University of Toronto MSW graduates (not to mention graduates of other universities in the area) seeking work in the same field!
Part 2: Critical Self-Talk
When it comes to practicing self-compassion, it’s really important to examine where your critical self-talk comes up (my colleague Melissa wrote an amazing piece on that, click here to read more about it).
You can think of “critical self-talk” as the harsh internal dialogue you have with yourself. For example, my critical self-talk usually sounds like this: I complete a task/project at work and my critical self-talk says “you know, you need to check over that work. It’s probably wrong. You probably fucked it up again”. Where does this voice come from? It’s the critic I developed at home and at school. It’s that version of me that doesn’t feel like I’m good enough. That inner voice had benefited me growing up when I needed to accomplish things. Now it diminishes the effort and work I put into my achievements and it diminishes me as a person. A compassionate voice in the same situation would sound like this: “you got it done. I know, I know. You’re not sure if it was perfect. Then again, we’ve done such great work we didn’t think was perfect and here you are, still alive and standing. Achieving more and more each day”.
Is the compassionate voice easy for me to connect with? 100% not, and especially not when I’m in a raw and vulnerable spot or feeling miserable. However, this voice that I’ve had to practice (first by asking loved ones for reassurance and then trying it out with myself daily) has brought me great relief during difficult times.
Part 3: Sexual Assaults
When we don’t show ourselves love and compassion, we tend to end up in precarious situations that can be damaging to our body, mind, and spirit. For me, a loud critical self voice and a non-existent presence of self-compassion meant that if a partner wanted something from me, I didn’t have the voice to say ‘no’ even when I didn’t feel comfortable in engaging in intimacy or to feel like I deserved to say ‘no’ and set my own limits. I found myself feeling inferior and emotionally numb after certain sexual experiences. Without my self-compassion, I allowed others to cross my boundaries, and when they did, I blamed myself. I continued to blame myself even in situations when I had said ‘no’ or tried to leave. Sexual assault isn’t meant to be taken lightly. My accounts of it are purely my own experiences. Although the practice of self-compassion in these moments is hard, remember to take time to speak kindly to yourself as you would with a loved one. Being able to love yourself is the way you show others how you need to be treated.
How we speak to ourselves through our inner voice (whether it be critical or loving) spills into all aspects of our lives, whether it be in accomplishments or disappointments, fulfillment or harm. A practice of self-compassion is one we need to cultivate as individuals and as a society.
As I’m sitting here trying to write this blog, I’m finding my own anxiety rise and I have a desire to stop writing because, “how can I ever make this the best article on procrastination ever?” You’re probably reading this and thinking, “Well, you really can’t make this the best article ever, and how would you ever know if it was?”
I agree with you on that one. It’s not possible for me to know if this will be the best article on procrastination ever, but what I do know is that having that thought has already made it challenging for me to sit here and write this article.
Procrastination is defined as the action of delaying or postponing something. The action itself can bring up feelings of dread, disappointment, frustration, overwhelm, anxiety, shame, and guilt to name a few. We have to get the task done and yet, it’s so hard to do it. If I could get rid of my worrying thoughts and uncomfortable feelings I may have an easier time avoiding procrastination. At the same time, it’s really hard to get rid of thoughts and feelings, which are an important parts of what helps us react to our environment, think, and make decisions. Here are some tips to minimize procrastinating based on this understanding that our thoughts and feelings impact it:
Target those thoughts that get us stuck in procrastinating. When anxious thoughts around the tasks at hand come up, challenge them (e.g. what proves that I won’t be able to write a good article? What are examples of times I’ve written articles and it went well? What would I tell a friend who has a worry of writing the best article ever?
Check in with your feelings. It’s important to know how we’re feeling about the task at hand. If I check in with my feelings, I can address them and come up with an action plan. Here’s an example: if I’m scared that others might judge my article, I could write it and then have coworkers and friends I trust give me some feedback.
Chip away at smaller tasks to reach the bigger goal(s). See if there are smaller tasks that are required in order to achieve the bigger goal you have in mind (e.g. for this article, I started with thinking about examples of things I do to help me minimize my procrastination and then wrote a paragraph and took a break). It can be extremely overwhelming if we only focus on the final end goal which can feel far away, instead remember that every goal has smaller tasks attached to it.
Start something. Just like the Nike tagline, “just do it.” By taking action, regardless of how small, we are actually overriding a part of our brain (our emotional-reaction center, the amygdala) and teaching it to respond to a task’s completion as a pleasurable experience.
Take breaks with an action plan. Make sure you have a planto restart the task before you take your break.
When all is said and done, make sure you reward yourself for a job well done! For those of you still finding it challenging to manage your procrastination, it could be there’s something deeper underlying the issue. Try talking to your therapist about it.
It seems like it’s become harder and harder to date. Dating articles range from “why did they ghost me?” to “why are they all hot and cold?” These behaviours are all marvels that are becoming more common as a result of the online dating and app world.
In this day and age, not only do we have multiple options, we also have to search through those multiple profiles, go on multiple dates, have multiple chats and potential connections, and possibly go through multiple break-ups in order to get to be with someone (that is, if monogamy and serious relationships are your thing). Just thinking about all of this and typing it makes me exhausted!
So, how on earth can we make sense of this messy online dating and app scene?
Think about the following, always with your own needs as your true compass:
- What do I want when it comes to dating? Do you want something casual, to see how things develop, a serious relationship, marriage?
- What do I want in a relationship? Would you be okay with long distance, for example?
- What do I need from a partner? For example: kind, thoughtful, considerate, attentive, etc.
- What are my boundaries? What behaviours am I not okay with?
- What is my gut saying about what’s going on? If it doesn’t feel right, check it out. If it still doesn’t feel right, consider saying no to this relationship.
At the end of the day, only you will know what works for you. By being your authentic self, others who appreciate who you really are will take notice. It’s more than enough to give.
If you have questions on how to further explore and understand your relationships, it can also be helpful to explore this with a therapist.