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Communication with Self

I used to have an old cassette tape in my head that said that I was always on the verge of being in trouble. As a kid, there was this joke in my household that if something went wrong, it was my fault. And while I’m sure my adults didn’t say it maliciously, this story really stuck with my child self, and until I learned how to manage my mind, I was constantly worried that I was effing everything up without even realizing it. That old cassette tape would start playing in my mind every time a supervisor said they wanted to talk with me, and I would start beating myself up mentally and would start racing through every task I hadn’t completed, every email I had sent, sure that I’d done something terribly wrong. I was mean to myself in advance because it was my habit. A thought habit that lead me to be defensive and unkind to the most important person in my life: me, and in turn to communicate with others in an equally defensive and less-than-awesome way.

Last week we talked about some of the ways we communicate with others, and this week we’ll be diving into some of the drivers for how we talk to ourselves, and in the coming episodes I’ll be sharing more about the ways I shift my thoughts every day to change how I feel about myself and the world, starting with how I communicate with myself, with others, and how I manage my mind. Stay tuned my love – it’s gonna be a good one!

Communication with self!

My sister is a 4th-grade teacher and the other day, she told me about a book that she is reading to her students. It’s called The Mighty Miss Malone, and she highly recommends it to the 10ish-year-old set in case any of you listeners out there are in the market. So, in this book, the main character, Deza, who is a 9 year old girl, talks about having two brains–the brain that talks to her most of the time and that helps her do well in school, have a best friend and, basically, function, to engage in socially adaptive modalities for meeting the world. Then, there’s her second brain, the previously-adaptive, now-maladaptive brain that puts her down, that focuses on the negative, that encourages her to throw punches both verbal and literal. I love that this idea–this reality that a lot of us experience of having multiple voices in our heads–is in children’s literature not only because the little mammals also need to hear that having competing voices in our heads is super normal but also because many of the stories that inform that second brain or that other voice in our heads come from our childhood experiences. And if this talk about adaptive and maladaptive responses is new to you, keep on reading!

So, back to Deza’s second brain. Today, we’re going to focus on communication with ourselves–with how we talk to ourselves, how we treat ourselves, and the images we display to ourselves–all of the modes of communication but with an inward focus. As anyone who knows me knows, breathwork is my jam. Our breath is so powerful. Not only does it literally keep us alive, but it can also serve as a tool to help us ground and center ourselves so that we can do the work we need to do to bring our best selves into the world, to bring healing energy in and to move old energy and thought patterns OUT. Today, we’ll do a few deep breaths to get ourselves in a space where we can listen to the internal chatter, to our various brains, and do a little investigating to see what sort of communication we have going on and what, if anything, we may want to change about it. 

Let’s try something

Let’s do it: If it feels comfortable to do so, close your beautiful eyes and feel either the ground under your feet or the surface supporting you under your seat. You can even lie down for this one. Just bring your attention to whatever is holding your body up and supporting you. As you breathe, imagine that each breath brings attention to where your body makes contact with its support. Take a few more breaths like this…now, notice how strong your support is. If it’s your feet on the subway or in your kitchen doing the dishes, a bed, floor or a cushion, it can hold you up, keep you supported. The ground doesn’t judge your mood. Your cushion doesn’t have an opinion on your latest insta post. You are supported, no matter what. Take a few more deep breaths and let that sink in… you are supported and held, literally and figuratively, without judgment. As you feel into that, notice any shifts in your body, mind, spirit or energy field. Slowly bring your attention back to your breath and to the space around you. If you had your eyes closed, slowly open them. Notice how your body feels. Notice any thoughts in your mind. No need to hold onto them, just notice.

You may notice a lot of thoughts, or you may notice a remarkable lack of chatter. Either way, when we do breathing practices, and the more intensive pranayama practice I teach, we clear the fog in our minds, we bring in clarity, ease. And when we focus on an idea, like that of being supported no matter what, we pave the way for some powerful thought work, too. 

Since today is all about how we communicate with ourselves, it’s important to consider that as your support–whether it was the floor, a cushion, a car seat–your mind is always there with you and, when we understand how our minds and thoughts work, your mind can always support you no matter the circumstances. 

Now, what exactly do I mean by this? Let’s go back to Deza and her second brain. Her second brain, like many of our second brains, produces thoughts–a lot of thoughts–that generally don’t help us or her to feel strong, positive, or connected to our best self. But, wow those thoughts are powerful! Our minds and the thoughts they produce have enormous power because they determine our feelings. Our feelings then lead us to take action in the world. When we start to understand that many of our thoughts are coming from our second brains, that so many of the thoughts we THINK are true without question are just old habits, old cassette tapes in our brains from childhood, ancestral beliefs, cultural or societal stories, we can create some cognitive distance to ask ourselves if these thoughts serve us – if we want to keep thinking them, and we can grab the reins and can lovingly, gently, with peace and calm in our heart, begin to redirect that second brain, and therein and thereby – we are regaining our power. We are setting ourselves up for success and for the happiness that we all want and all deserve.

Our second brain

With the idea of that second brain in place–the notion that we have a part of our consciousness that can feed us negative or harmful ideas in the form of thoughts about ourselves or about our situation–let’s take some time to investigate how this second brain gains its power and what keeps it humming. 

We learn thought patterns in our childhood years. Our families of origin and communities teach us through example what sorts of things are okay to think, say and do. In order to build bonds and, at its most base level, to literally survive, we have to adapt to some degree to our social surroundings. As we grow up and our social circles and sense of self in the world shift and grow, sometimes those thoughts don’t serve us anymore. We call these sorts of patterns that persist even after they serve us maladaptive behaviors.

Let’s consider some examples. Let’s say you were taught to think that one certain way of being in the world was superior to others – for example that thin is good and fat is a sign of complete moral decay (sigh) then that’s what you’re likely going to carry into adulthood as a guiding thought in your life. That thought will then inform the sorts of things that your second brain says to you. That you’re less than, that you’re lazy, that you’re not deserving of love. When we tell ourselves these things, we are literally creating our reality. We are unlikely to find love if we walk around telling ourselves we aren’t deserving of love. That thought will inform our feelings and our feelings will dictate our behaviors and actions. Likewise, if you experienced a lot of anger around you as a young one, you may speak to yourself with anger. Not only does that angry talk damage our bodies by releasing cortisol and other chemicals into our bloodstream, but it also colors the way we see the world and how we carry ourselves through it. When we walk through the world in anger, we are less likely to see the positive and to project it out into our surroundings.

Negative self-talk

Now, when I work with clients on tuning into their self-talk, I hear a lot of similar resistance to the idea that this self-talk is something that can change. Remember, our brains do not like change! Homeostasis is the name of the game for mammals like us and change is scary, not just in our minds and hearts but on a neurological level. I hear clients say, “I’m not being negative. I’m just being honest” when they replay their tapes of self-deprecation or blame. That response, one that I’ve heard so many times, only makes sense. If we don’t have the tools to recognize and analyze our patterns, or to step outside of our thoughts, we fall back on our habitual responses. The boss says our report needs to be revised leads to, “I’m a fraud! It’s a matter of time before they figure me out.” Our friends canceling on us for dinner…again means they never really wanted to hang out in the first place and who can blame them? Our pants fit a little more snuggly than last week and suddenly we let our mind take over with images that make us feel bad for being regular old humans who expand and contract all the time.  

It’s worth assessing in these moments of knee-jerk negative and harmful self-talk where the words and images are coming from. The most common sources for this toxic communication with the self are Number 1, confusing thoughts with facts on the one hand and number 2, telling ourselves someone else’s story about us (and believing it) on the other hand. While there are so many other sources, these are the most common in my life and my practice and, once we understand them, these are ones that we can start to shift

Let’s look first at how easy it is to confuse thoughts with facts. Thoughts are, quite literally, electrical reactions in our brains. That’s it. And as the old saying goes in neuroscience, what fires together, wires together, meaning that the thoughts that we think over and over, and the associations we make with those thoughts create strong electrical pathways in our brains. Imagine running a wheelbarrow over soft ground over and over again creating a rut in the ground. Our brains are not so different.

Let’s look first at how easy it is to confuse thoughts with facts. Thoughts are, quite literally, electrical reactions in our brains. That’s it. And as the old saying goes in neuroscience, what fires together, wires together, meaning that the thoughts that we think over and over, and the associations we make with those thoughts create strong electrical pathways in our brains. Imagine running a wheelbarrow over soft ground over and over again creating a rut in the ground. Our brains are not so different.

Why not turn the tapes off?

Another source of harmful communication with our beautiful and perfect selves comes from the old tapes, you know, the tapes we talked about way back in earlier episodes, those tapes that contain other people’s negative stories about us that we have had on replay forever and ever and ever. This source of nourishment for the second brain is a sort of cousin to the confusion of thoughts and reality. When someone else tells us something negative about ourselves, and for those of us raised and socialized as women there can be so many contradictions in these messages, and we buy it hook, line and sinker, our brain takes in that information as another electrical message. When we replay that tape over and over again, we create yet another wheelbarrow rut in our brain.

One question is why we play those tapes over and over again. Why not just turn the tape off? Well, my loves, I imagine many of you have first-hand experience with this and know just how hard it is to turn off the tape. Our minds are drawn to things that stand out, that don’t fit the pattern, that doesn’t make sense. When it comes to the negative stories others have about us, often a lot stands out and a lot doesn’t make sense. In our cores, at our deepest levels, we are made of love and of acceptance and connection. When we are told that we are less than enough, unworthy or otherwise bad, and when we take that opinion as some sort of truth, a part of us pushed back because we know it can’t really be true.

Brains are awesome!

Our brains are amazing machines built to notice patterns and solve mysteries. We can’t help it. Perhaps you remember a time when you couldn’t remember some piece of information, like which album that Indigo Girls song was on, and then, boom, three hours later, in the middle of a shower we remember it was Swamp Ophelia, duh, because our brains work nonstop. When we take in other people’s negative stories about us as truth, as some form of reality, our brain goes to work trying to figure out how it could be and in the process runs that wheelbarrow back and forth, over and over, leaving a deep and when unchallenged, a potentially damaging rut.

By getting into our breath and a better understanding of how our thoughts work, we can put other people’s critiques into perspective. We can see them for what they are–one person’s opinion informed by their experiences. We can start to see them not as some commentary on our most inner selves but as information. And it’s great to have more information about ourselves, particularly when we have tools like the Thoughtwork Protocol I teach to help us rewrite those stories, rerecord those cassette tapes. In so doing, we get better control over the messages we tell ourselves and the habits of mind that we build. We can improve our communication with ourselves which is a beautiful gift to give ourselves.

In closing my loves…

Next week we’ll be talking more about how we communicate with ourselves and others and in coming episodes, I’ll be outlining exactly how I shift my thinking to shift my feeling and thus, my actions because you KNOW I love actionable lessons!

Meanwhile: Awareness is, as always, the first step. Start by bringing your attention to when you’re playing old tapes, when you’re labeling a thought like “I always eff everything up” as a fact – because it’s not a fact. It’s just a thought. And continuing to think that thought doesn’t serve you, my perfect, beautiful angel.

In closing, I’d like to say that the ways in which we talk to ourselves informs how we live our lives and how we feel about ourselves and thus, how we communicate with others – our thoughts create our feelings and we take action based on our thoughts and have outcomes or results in this sweet human lifetime based on the actions we do or don’t take…. If we don’t get into the habit of regularly pausing to examine how we talk to and about ourselves, which brain we’re activating and engaging, we are not fully in control of our lives, we’re not managing our minds. It’s hard to change the things you can’t see, so the more in touch with yourself you can get, the more awareness you can bring to the ways you’re communicating with yourself, the more power you take back to direct your thoughts and thus, create the outcomes you want in life.

If you’re thinking old, self-defeating thoughts, if you’re listening to your old cassette tapes on repeat – the ones that say that you’ve failed before so why try now, that you’re not enough, not worthy of love or attention, that your choices don’t matter…. Then you’re going to feel every feel those thoughts provoke as though they were TRUTH. And they’re not. They’re just old stories. We all have them. And you can shift them. I know you can. You can do hard things. Borrow my faith in you if you’re not feeling it quite yet… and if you’d like some more of my voice in your ears, and a meditation you can use to help calm and center yourself in a challenging moment, head on over to victoriaalbina.com/bodyscan to download 2 free bodyscan meditations. I’ll be adding more meditations and a free breathwork demo soon, so make sure you’re on my email list so you get those goodies. I love presents!

Well my beauty, Thanks for taking the time to read this week’s episode. Be gentle and loving with yourself. You’re learning, you’re growing, and THAT is a beautiful thing. Nothing to beat yourself up about. 

Until next time my love, Be well, and remember: you are safe, you are held, you are loved, and when you heal yourself, you help heal the world.

 

I know not everyone is into podcasts, so I wanted to provide digestible blogs to go along with the episodes! If you’re curious about the podcast and haven’t checked them out yet, click here.  

VictoriaAlbina

Victoria Albina

Victoria Albina, NP, MPH is a licensed and board certified Family Nurse Practitioner, herbalist and life coach, with 20 years experience in health and wellness. She trained at the University of California, San Francisco, and holds a Masters in Public Health from Boston University and a bachelors from Oberlin College. She comes to this work having been a patient herself, and having healed from a lifetime of IBS, GERD, SIBO, fatigue, depression and anxiety.

She is passionate about her work, and loves supporting patients in a truly holistic way - body, mind, heart and spirit. A native of Mar del Plata, Argentina, she grew up in the great state of Rhode Island, and lives in NYC with her partner. A brown dog named Frankie Bacon has her heart, and she lives for steak and a good dark chocolate.

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