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Do You 'Musturbate' or 'Should' on Yourself?

Musturbation was coined by the late Albert Ellis, who developed REBT.

Raise your hand if you’re among the legions of people with a psychological dis-ease known as musturbation—bowing to the demands of others, the world, and the negative self-talk—also known as "shoulding" on yourself. If you suffer from this malady, you have a relentless voice that lives in your brain, ruling your mind and life, bludgeoning you with oppressive words such as must, should, ought, and have to: “I must win that contract”; “I have to get that promotion”; “I should be a better person”; “People must do as I say”; “Others must see my point of view”; “I should have done better on that project”; “Life must be easier than this.”

Sound familiar? I thought so. Meet your “Musturbully.”

Source: Dev Asangbam/Unsplash
Source: Dev Asangbam/Unsplash

Assault and Battery

Your “Musturbully” never rests and follows you 24/7 everywhere you go. It knows where you live and where to find you. And it does. That booming eviscerating voice blinks in your brain like a neon sign and kicks you around, reminding you of your flaws and defeats, making you feel as though you’re constantly struggling. Do you hear it? It could be attacking you right now with something like, “You must be all things to all people.” From the wings of your lizard brain, the cells of your body hear the demand, throw up their hands, and yell “Holy sh*t!” They drench you in a cocktail of neuro-peptides that cause you to react to the imagined threat in a matter of seconds. You can feel the exact moment your lizard brain dumps a tonic of heart-pounding enzymes into your bloodstream. The surging adrenaline and cortisol act like a tidal wave, hijacking your thoughts and leaving your emotions to rush to action. You dig your heels in, try harder, and immerse yourself in reactions that mire you deeper into the problem. But it’s never enough. Your Musturbully’s self-imposed mandatory rules create an inner prison that keeps you trapped. When inevitably the world and other people don't conform to its "musturbatory" rules, It drives your outlook, feelings, and actions, giving rise to frustration, anxiety, and depression. Ultimately, the continued assault and battery on your brain whittle you down to a stub, undermine your happiness and success, and lead to decision fatigue, stress, and burnout.

Mother Nature’s Elegant Design

Mother Nature designed your lizard brain with a Musturbully to keep you safe from harm at all costs. In protecting you, ironically your Musturbully cages you by overestimating risks and exaggerating judgments about yourself and other people and situations. Threatening situations grab your Musturbully's attention pushing its buttons so you can survive. Your job is to go beyond survival mode and avoid taking the bait every time a musturbatory thought clobbers you. Neuroscientists have an old saying: “Neurons that fire together, wire together.” By taking a different tack when you hear the pressure of the musturbation, you can rewire the way you treat yourself by speaking to yourself in a more supportive way. With some dedication to changing your old self-talk, you can change the way your brain fires in the moment. This is known as neuroplasticity. In the same way, a cut on your hand regenerates new healing tissue, the pliability of the brain makes it possible to rewire connections of neurons to adapt more positively under pressure.

Make Peace With Your Musturbully

The solution? Befriend your Musturbully. No, I haven’t been sniffing the ink cartridge in my computer. Studies show when you come down hard on yourself, the pressure can reduce your motivation and chances of success. It’s counter-intuitive, but it’s just as easy to build yourself up as it is to tear yourself down. You can’t get rid of your Musturbully anyway because you can’t get rid of yourself. So the solution is to be for you—not against you, but for you. If not, then who will be for you? That sounds simple enough, but chances are you’re not used to being for yourself. If you’re like most people, your Musturbully strikes with such lightning speed that it runs roughshod over your awareness, and you don’t even realize it’s there.

First of all, Musturbully isn’t you; it’s a part of you—not all of you. It’s the lowercase “self.” What a relief. But if Musturbully isn’t you, who are you, then? You’re the Self with a capital “S”—the one who hears and sees the lowercase “self”—the one who speaks back to it when it pops up. Try holding it at arm’s length and listen to it with a dispassionate ear as a part of you—not as you. Imagine someone scolding you over your cell phone, and you hold the phone away from your ear. In the same way, listening to the message from afar gives you distance from it and keeps you from clobbering yourself. Instead of fighting your Musturbully or pushing it away, observe it with curiosity much as you might notice a blemish on your hand. Then try talking to it as a separate part of you. I know, I know. We used to say that people who talk to themselves were crazy. But now we know the opposite is true: inner self-talk with loving kindness is one of the most effective mental health tools available to help you master your psyche and heal your mind from the abusive self-talk. Try acknowledging the voice with something like, “Hello Musturbully, I see you’re active today,” and watch what happens.

Cultivate a Heavy Dose of Self-Compassion

When you’re frazzled and start to sizzle, you can avoid hotheaded action and cool down your lizard brain with self-compassion. As you bring a compassionate voice, your prefrontal cortex comes back online and offers an impartial, objective perspective on the thoughts. Once you get in the habit of letting the Musturbully come and go without fighting, personalizing, or ignoring it, you develop more self-kindness to chill its voice. Studies show that self-encouragement and self-support are game-changers. The more self-compassion you bring, the greater your emotional arsenal, happiness, and success. Self-compassion is like a best friend that talks you off the ledge, bounces you back when you feel disheartened, and propels you closer to your goals. Pep talks, affirmations, or an arm around your shoulder are good medicine for this dis-ease. I don’t mean someone else’s arm. I mean your own capital Self’s supportive arm can be a huge Rx for healing the inner abuse. When you self-soothe through letdowns—instead of attacking yourself—you feel better and cultivate the confidence and courage to face life’s many outside challenges.

Replacing mandatory statements with empowering words puts you in charge instead of at the mercy of situations, and it enhances your well-being. By asking if your self-talk is compassionate or oppressive, you become more aware of what you require of yourself and can choose more supportive, compassionate words: “I can do my best to win that contract” or “Although life isn’t always easy, I can still meet its challenges.”

It’s a No-Brainer

Next time your Musturbully blasts off, call on your brain’s prefrontal cortex to help you stay on the launch pad. Be mindful of whether your self-talk is compassionate or oppressive and become aware of what it requires of you. If it’s musturbating you, choose more supportive, comforting words such as "I can"; "I want to;" or "I choose to." Once you realize the voice isn’t you and that you don’t have to live up to its demands, you can take a breath, step back and chill. By intentionally bringing your prefrontal cortex to threatening situations, you create a more chilled life inside and out.

Sometimes your biggest obstacle lies between your own two eyes. Vincent Van Gogh once said, “If you hear a voice within you say, ‘You cannot paint,’ then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced.” I say, “If you hear a voice within you say, “You must or should do or be something,” then, by all means, talk to it with loving kindness, reminding it that you will be the one to choose. That voice will be silenced, and you will get out of your own way.