For Introverts, Mindfulness Is the Key to Combating Negative Self-Talk
“Things will fall apart no matter what I do.” “I’m sure they all hate me.” If you say things like this to yourself, mindfulness can help.
I sit silently at my desk, mentally blocking out the office chaos that surrounds me. I don’t notice my coworkers laughing over an inappropriate joke or the fact that my lunch has been going cold for nearly half an hour. I’m deep in thought trying to figure out how to handle an email from an unhappy client while also fighting back the voices in my head screaming, You’re not good enough. You’re not good enough!
In moments of stress or pain, I turn inward. As an introvert, introspection helps me process my thoughts and sort out my feelings. That’s an essential part of what introversion is.
However, the problem with turning inward when you’re dealing with something difficult is that negative self-talk inevitably makes an unwelcome appearance.
What Exactly Is ‘Negative Self-Talk’?
According to Psychology Today, “Your self-talk combines your conscious thoughts with your unconscious beliefs and biases.” In other words, self-talk is that little voice inside your head that’s constantly present.
Positive self-talk, like saying to yourself, I’m good enough, or It’s OK if I make a mistake, can lead to a deeper understanding of yourself and others. It can also boost your confidence and mood. Unfortunately, most of the self-talk we do — up to 70 percent — is negative. Things will fall apart no matter what I do. It’s just no use. I’m sure they all hate me.
Everyone experiences negative self-talk from time to time, both introverts and extroverts. But introverts may be more prone to dwelling in self-inflicted pain. According to neuroimaging studies, introverts show a higher level of blood flow in the part of the brain associated with self-talk. Introverts are also more at-risk for anxiety and depression than extroverts.
If you consider that the average introvert likely spends the majority of the day in their head, that leaves a lot of space for negativity. Ruminating on negative self-talk is extremely destructive. Left unchecked, these thoughts can do deep harm to your mental health — and your life.
The key to managing negative self-talk is to transform the experience from a subjective one to an objective one. You can do this through the simple practice of mindfulness.
The Benefits of Mindfulness for Introverts
Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to help lower anxiety by reducing our tendency to ruminate on negative thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness can also help us get in touch with our unconscious beliefs and biases, as well as view reality through a more objective lens.
According to Carl Jung’s theory of psychological types, all introverts lead with a subjective cognitive function. As introverts, we’re wired to make sense of the world based on our own perception. So, in a sense, our thoughts and feelings truly do shape our reality.
Mindfulness is not meant to eliminate all negative emotions but to help you accept them and manage the amount of mental energy they take up.
Mindfulness Techniques for Introverts
Here are four mindfulness practices that help me combat negative self-talk. I hope they help you too.
1. Accept that negative thoughts will happen.
Have you ever found yourself trying to put a positive spin on a bad experience even somewhere as private as your journal or in a conversation with your best friend? It’s not that bad, you might say. Or, It doesn’t bother me. This form of positivity bias happens because we consciously want to feel like we’re in control of our future and our lives. And who doesn’t want that?
It might even feel like our negative thoughts are too evil to acknowledge, so we suppress them by trying to focus on the positive.
While it’s beneficial to focus on positive thoughts (more on that later), an essential part of being mindful means accepting that negative thoughts will happen. They are perfectly normal, and there’s nothing wrong with you for having them.
2. Get the negative thoughts out of your head.
We tend to ruminate over negative thoughts and feelings that seem incomplete. An unresolved fight with a significant other or uncertainty over changes at the office can keep us awake for nights on end. While we can’t control how another person will respond or what will happen tomorrow at work, we can control the time and energy we allow for these thoughts.
Private by nature, we introverts may bottle up our negative thoughts and feelings, instead of expressing them. But if you’re going to move past them, it’s crucial to get them out of your head.
Make the self-talk “real” by putting it on paper or speaking it out loud to a trusted friend or your therapist. This will help you view it through a more objective lens — which may even make the worry seem less troublesome. The idea of doing this may seem intimidating — especially to us introverts, who would rather deal with our problems on our own — but trust me when I say that the experience can be really therapeutic.
You may even want to set up a daily or weekly routine to write or talk about your negative feelings. You could try an exercise called mental chatter. This exercise involves writing your thoughts as frequently as possible for two weeks. During this time, be careful not to police your thoughts or throw a positive spin on the negative. Just let them out as they are.
3. Choose a time to focus on positive self-talk.
Just as it’s healthy to take time for negative self-talk, it’s important to focus your energy on positive self-talk on a regular basis. I prefer to do this during my morning commute. I use this time to set my intention for the day and focus on the positive opportunities ahead.
For example, if I have to lead a work meeting (yikes!), I spend the time reminding myself of my skill and experience instead of dwelling on stress and fear. Of course, negative thoughts still try to sneak in, but actively concentrating on the positive helps me manifest a happy mood and an overall better experience. I can do this, I tell myself. Even if the meeting doesn’t go perfectly as planned, I’m still proud of myself for putting myself out there.
As someone with an overactive mind, meditation has never come easily to me. However, I recently learned a technique that helps me stay focused. This breathing exercise can also be done during a quick work break or anytime you feel stress creeping in.
Set a timer for the amount of time you want to focus on the exercise (one to five minutes is a good starting point). Take a deep breath. When you exhale, begin to slowly move your thumb along the bottom of your pointer finger starting from the bottom. Continue exhaling until you’ve moved your thumb entirely up and down your pointer finger. Repeat this exercise until the time is up.
Focusing on this hand gesture helps the brain focus on something other than the breath, which makes it more difficult to get distracted. It also ensures that you’re exhaling for the appropriate amount of time. Many of us focus on a deep inhale but not a deep exhale — and it’s actually the exhale that calms us down.
If hand movement exercises don’t work or are not an option, guided meditation can also help you start a regular mindfulness practice. I recommend the Headspace app. It’s free to sign up and listen to one guided meditation each day.
When it comes to negative self-talk, introverts might choose to take one of two options — repress the emotion or dwell on it. Neither is a healthy, long-term solution. Practicing mindfulness will strengthen your relationship with self-talk, boost your confidence and mood, and improve your quality of life.
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