By Ms. Paige Abbott, M.Sc., R.Psych.
With any chronic condition, including mental health, addiction, and, of course, pain, our minds and bodies can become stuck. It is easy to focus on treating symptoms rather than looking at underlying contributors to difficulty. One such contributor is often self-talk, another name for our internal dialogue.
People have over 30,000 thoughts per day. You can imagine that if these thoughts are riddled with strife, self-doubt, all-or-nothing statements, and negativity they can play a significant role in our overall mood and ability to cope. Working with self-talk is also an important part of holistic recovery for chronic pain, as well as mental health and addiction, because it addresses the psychological or emotional component of health.
What Do I Do? The first step to managing self-talk is to develop awareness about how and what you think. Many people begin this process by journalling or logging common thoughts they experience in a day. This initial tracking can be done over a period of days or weeks; as long as you feel you need to understand your patterns of inner dialogue.
Once you have developed some awareness about how and what you are thinking about, it is important to start identifying changes that you would like to make. For instance, if you notice statements like “I am useless because of my pain” or “My pain means that I am weak” stecoming up, you may decide to develop alternatives to respond to these statements. The next time you hear “I am useless because of my pain” you consciously take time to shift this to be “My pain limits me but does not define me, I can still do this, this and this.”
The next step is practice, practice, practice! After you have developed awareness of your self-talk and begun to develop some alternative statements that you can implement into your thinking pattern, it is important to remember that this process of change does not happen overnight. These are patterns of thought that have developed over years and, therefore, take diligence and consistency to make changes to. Continued journalling and talking to others about your inner journey can reinforce progress and help you deal with challenges along the way.
Chronic pain patients are often shocked by how much their inner emotional world, which is directly related to self-talk, impacts their pain. If you are living in an internal world of limitations, your external world and physical health will reflect this. If you are able to shift to an internal world of acceptance, awareness, and compassion than the possibilities for emotional and physical change are endless.