LGBT people are all too familiar with the sickening feeling that comes from being bullied. Our youth are twice as likely as heterosexuals to be bullied, and studies show that bullying is linked to multiple mental and physical health problems, including depression, suicide, and drug or alcohol abuse.
What happens when the bully’s taunting voice comes from inside our own heads? When we let our bullies define how we think and feel about ourselves?
We become our own worst enemies, that’s what.
Everyone has a voice in their head that functions as a kind of narrator and interpreter, providing a running commentary on our lives. At its best it helps us make sense of things, tells us what they “mean,” and puts them into the bigger picture of our lives.
But we can feel awful, even be driven to harm ourselves, when that voice tells us something we said or did, or, worse, who we are, “means” we are a bad person, a failure, or unworthy of love.
So how do we shut down the bullying, shaming inner voice? We do it by teaching our inner voice to speak to (and about) us in a new language: the language of positive self-talk.
Positive self-talk leads to positive thinking, which helps us to manage stress and can even improve our health. Positive self-talk is speaking optimistically to us about ourselves and our circumstances. It builds our self-esteem and sense of personal worth.
It is also a cornerstone of resilience. Reinforced by positive self-talk, resilience helps us cope with adversity, stress, and trauma by giving us a hopeful view of ourselves, confidence in our strengths, problem-solving skills, and ability to manage strong feelings or impulses.
We can build our resilience by using positive self-talk to remind ourselves that we have the capacity to overcome our problems. It helps us not to feel overwhelmed when problems do arise, and gives us the broader perspective we need to keep ourselves from being sucked under by immediate circumstances.
Here are three things you can do to teach your own inner voice the new language of positive self-talk. Together they will give your inner voice a new, resilient fluency.
Reframe your story: Use positive words and language to tell yourself the story of what your challenges “mean.” Don’t berate yourself for having challenges; everyone does. Instead, make yourself the hero of your story. Look at your life as a heroic journey in which you are learning and growing as you go, and don’t make yourself feel badly that you haven’t arrived at the point where you have it “all figured out.”
Cheerlead yourself: Tell yourself that you will be okay, that whatever is causing you stress is not the whole picture. Reassure yourself that you will pull through it not only intact, but better for it because you have already come this far in your life and the latest bump in the road is just that, a bump—not the end of the road.
Show yourself compassion: You know better than anyone else the challenges and obstacles you have faced in your life. You also know how you have managed to survive and thrive in spite of them. Call upon this knowledge to remind yourself that you will get through whatever it is you need to get through, and that you will be okay.
The alternative to positive self-talk is pessimism and negative self-talk, beating up on yourself, blaming yourself for your difficulties. It keeps you locked in an endless cycle of misery because the more you beat yourself up, the less likely you are to think clearly and find the solutions you need to improve your life.
It’s bad enough there are people who bully us because we are “different” from them. Don’t let the bullies win by taking up residence in your head. Instead, shout them down and shut them up with positive self-talk.