Try this self-talk when you’re scared and see what happens:
“I’m not sure what will kill me, but it won’t be shame.” The content typically matters when you’re feeling is shame. If you think a component of your suffering is shame, find a way to get some words around that, either by talking or by writing or both. Then, share it with someone you trust. Use shame as a cue to connect. It’s okay if your shame story changes or it seems like you are saying contradictory things while you’re sharing your shame story. Part of the reason you feel shame is likely that you have an idea about how you or some part of your life is supposed to go, and what’s actually happening is not fitting that narrative. Try to figure out how you think the narrative is supposed to go and how that’s different from what’s actually happening. What’s actually happening is My mind perceived a difference between what is happening and what I think is supposed to be happening. I judged that difference as bad and inferior. I felt shame and worthlessness. If you understand the difference between what’s occurring and what you’re expecting, and you accept what’s occurring, you won’t feel shame. And, then you’ll have options. Then, you can use your shame to connect and mobilize. It’s a very painful feeling, but certainly not one about which to make life-changing decisions. Shame doesn’t have to kill you. Get some language and some connection to get through it.
“I’m always one moment from recovery.” Shifting your relationship with anxiety, OCD, or another form of psychological suffering happens in moments. They are not life-altering moments. They are just effective moments. It’s the moment that you notice that in the past you would have done one thing and now you are doing the opposite. Do that again. Do it a thousand times more. Then, you’ll be good. If you feel stuck, you either don’t understand what your options are or don’t believe that attempting to do something different will actually be helpful to you. Or, both. It can take some time to understand your options, because avoidance can be very sneaky, you’ve probably been doing certain things for decades, or everybody else in your family does it too. You can’t even tell that you could do something different. That’s okay. We’ll talk more. I hope you’re not stuck on the idea that taking helpful action towards doing something different won’t work for you. That’s not true. It just takes time and work. Rather than focusing on all the avoidances you have, or the compulsions, or the fact that after starting to date you have to face all the anxiety related to being in that relationship, focus on the next step and give yourself credit for it. Your self-talk is: “This is my next step and it’s my path towards recovery. I am always one moment from recovery when I’m on this path.”
“I’m always one moment from the present.” Sometimes your exposure is redirecting your attention to the present moment. You might need to do an exposure and response prevention exercise towards the trigger that makes you feel anxious. That is, you might need to identify an anxiety-provoking situation, go towards it in some way, and surrender to the thoughts, feelings, and sensations you have while going towards it rather than doing something to make them stop. Great. Try that. Also, you might be trying really hard to use exposure to anxiety-provoking situations to make your anxiety go away. WRONG! Don’t do that. That won’t work. You’ll get trapped in a paradox where the more you hope that you’re doing something to make anxiety stop, the more anxious you will feel. A lot of the suffering that comes from OCD and anxiety is not situational avoidance, but rather experiential avoidance. You’re up in your head about who knows what, rather than in your life where there’s messiness and vulnerability and the opportunity for connection. Come down into your life whenever you can. You’re always a moment away from it. You can just try it for a second and then go right back into your mind if you need to.
“I’ll do it scared.” I feel great about this one. You’ve captured the spirit of CBT when you can identify what you value and go towards it regardless of how you feel. You’re thinking is, “I want that. I’m going to do it scared.”
“Let me use my own words for that.” When I give you self-talk, I want you to add your own spin on it. For instance, I might say, “Way to go! You shifted your attentional focus towards your valued action despite the urge for experiential avoidance and it challenged your clinical perfectionism.” You might say, “I’m proud because I wrote an email that I was avoiding.” Same same. Great job. You don’t need my language unless it is helpful. Whenever you notice that you’re thinking differently or acting differently and it’s helpful, find a way to capture it in a mantra or a metaphor. We can do it together, but also you can do it on your own.