I realise that I may sound slightly crazy asking this question but have you ever had an argument with yourself? I find myself doing it quite often and am constantly searching for ways to stop. It’s usually when I’m stressed about something; when I’m calm there is only me in my head but when I’m anxious it seems like there’s a whole bunch of other people who want to get in there with me. The worst part of it is that they all tend to speak at the same time and they’re often, without to put to finer point on it, a real pain in the ass! They have nothing positive to say to me and seem to be constantly looking for ways to make my life difficult.
Now before anyone starts looking up numbers for psychologists for me to go an visit, I am perfectly well aware that I reside in my cranium alone but it’s the only way that I can really explain how stress and over-thinking are connected. To give you an example, when I know that I’m going to be meeting new people, I’d really like to be able to be able to show them the ‘real’ me right from the off but my inner dialogue kicks into overdrive:
Me: “Just be yourself”
Cranial interloper 1: “What if they don’t like you”
Cranial interloper 2: “That’s their problem”
Cranial interloper 3: “What’s wrong with me? Why won’t they like me?”
Cranial interloper 4: “There’s nothing wrong with you but they can’t be very nice if they’re going to be all judgy”
Cranial interloper 5: “I don’t think I’m going to like them if they’re going to be like that”
Me: “Shut up the lot of you, they haven’t even opened the bloody door yet!”
And so it goes on; because the ‘they won’t like me’ scenario has been run through my head like a movie trailer the memory of it (if you will) stays with me and I find myself adjusting my character to try and avoid it becoming a reality. I try to be super pleasant and friendly, probably overly so and often come away from new meetings with a headache and jaw ache from smiling all the time. The problem with over-compensating like this is that:
- People I meet for the first time don’t get to see the real me and therefore any judgement they make is based on something other than the genuine article
- By trying to connect with them and please them rather than engaging with them on an equal footing, I risk losing any chance of a real friendship with them
- It’s very difficult to sustain a ‘faux’ personality for any length of time so, at some point, my real personality will break through and it will be perfectly clear to the other person that the relationship they thought they were building was, in fact, just an illusion.
- I’m well aware of what I’m doing and why and so my confidence takes a bashing from the cranial interlopers who gave me the problem in the first place.
Unfortunately this is the way that the human mind works. It attaches emotion to past experiences and then uses the memory and the emotion attached to it to prepare us for future, similar situations. When the system works well we ‘look forward’ to things. Maybe you fell in love in Paris and walked hand in hand past the Eiffel Tower and the Sacre Coeur feeling nothing but happiness and complete contentment. If so, when you think about going back to Paris those feelings and happy memories will resurface and you will look forward to any future trips with great anticipation.
However, if the next time you go, your flight is delayed, your luggage is lost and it rains every day, it is likely that the negative feelings that have become associated with Paris could start to erode your earlier wonderful memories. If you arrange a third trip your mind will have two sets of memories to choose from and, it’s at that point that you will probably start to stress out and your cranial interlopers will start bickering:
“Just remember how wonderful it was the first time!”
“Yes but look what happened last time, it was awful”
“I know but it could be like the first time this time”
“But what if it rains again?”
And so on and so forth.
This means that the wonderful memory and mental images have been a little tainted. So, before you’ve even booked your flights you’re wondering what you can do to make this trip better than the last and that’s if you’re a positive sort of person! If you’re negative you’ll probably throw your Paris snow globe in the trash and forget about ever going there again.
In my quest to rid myself of the cranial interlopers I’ve have tried untold number of different things; thinking positive didn’t work, at least not by itself. You can tell yourself that Paris will be sunny and warm and romantic as much as you like but if, when you get there, it’s chucking it down and the hotel have no record of your booking, the disappointment will be twice as bad than if you had resigned yourself to the trip being a disaster. It’s better to be positive when you’re actually in the situation: I’ve lost my luggage so that means I can go shopping – that sort of thing.
No, I’ve found that the only thing that really works for me is to be aware that, from time to time, a bunch of negative nellies try to work their way into my mind and, when they do I just say these few simple words to myself…….
“SHUT THE F*** UP!”
It seems to work pretty well ;O)