When life is uncertain and your anxiety heightens have you ever made up really negative stories that just continue to raise your feelings of anxiety? You may be asking what I mean by a negative story. A negative story happens when we are faced with an unknown situation and in order to help make sense and deal with your anxious feelings, you make up a story that is usually the worst case scenario.
An example of a negative story would be when you first start to date someone. In the early days of dating there is usually a lot of uncertainty. Think back to the moments you texted and did not receive a text right back. You were forced to wait for a response. In the space of the unknown, you may tend to tell yourself negative stories. Negative stories are usually linked to our deepest insecurities. For instance, if you believe you are unlovable, you may tell yourself that “They do not like me anymore.” If you worry that you are not good enough, you may say “They must be on a date with someone else.”
If you are like most of the population, I would have to imagine you have done this once or twice in your life. We fear the unknown. This is why people fear change and are scared of the dark. It is also in these moments that these stories creep up. These stories are usually familiar. You become used to telling yourself these stories when faced with uncomfortable and anxiety provoking situations. These negative stories are familiar, so it feels safe to grab a hold of them when life is tough.
Repeated negative stories can be very dangerous to our mental health, well-being, and ability to take on healthy life risks.
How prevalent are your negative stories. It is important to recognize when these stories begin to take shape. Take a look at the questions below and spend time over the next few days or week to assess the negative stories in your life.
1. What is the recurring theme to your story?
Themes common to negative stories include fearing that you will be abandoned, worrying that you are not good enough, feelings of being a fraud and being discovered, not believing you are loveable, sensing that you will fail, or will not live up to your perceived expectations of the people you love.
2. How has this story helped you?
Negative stories play a role in our lives. There is a reason we keep retelling them to ourselves. Take some time to examine how your negative story has helped you. Sometimes negative stories allow us to stay in our comfort zone because they convey to us that we will not be successful if we step outside that comfort zone.
3. By what means has this story held you back?
By staying in our comfort zone we fail to practice opportunities for growth. In what ways have your negative stories held you back from stepping up to an opportunity for growth? It is common to experience levels of fear and doubt when we step up to a new challenge. It is unhealthy to give up on that challenge because your negative fear and self-doubt stories.
4. What is your earliest memory of this negative story occurring?
Do you remember when you first started to tell yourself and believe these negative stories? Think back to when they started. Can you trace the negative stories back to a certain event, experience, developmental stage, or relationship? Negative stories often start in our early life and follow us for years after. By recognizing the negative stories you begin to gain the power to quiet them and replace them with more accurate and less self-defeating stories.
5. When does your negative story occur?
We tend to have areas where we are confident in our life and other areas in our life that we have less confidence or experience. Confidence is gained through positive stories and experience, which helps to counteract and negative stories or experience. When we feel confident, we push forward. A lack of confidence has the opposite effect. This is when negative stories creep into our lives. These stories become loud, making it more difficult to see and validate our positive experiences. You should reflect on when you rely on these negative stories. Is there a pattern to when your negative story occurs? What emotions are associated with your negative story?
6. How do your negative stories impact your behavior?
Reflect on the moments that your negative stories may have strongly dictated how you interacted with the world. Do these stories keep you hostage? Do they interfere with your personal and professional relationships? How have they impacted your goals and dreams? How much weight and space do these negative stories take up in your life? What is it like for you when you try and quiet the story? How do you feel when you behave in a way that contradicts the negative story?
7. How are your negative stories accurate?
It is important to recognize if and when your negative stories have been accurate. Do you have experiences that confirm these negative stories? If so, have your negative stories helped you to act in accordance with them? If you keep having experiences that confirm these negative stories, take a look at your behaviors. Have you made attempts to do something differently to change the outcome?
Sometimes our negative stories can take up a lot of space in our life, which makes it difficult to live a happy and fulfilling life. It can be helpful to speak with a therapist to decrease your negative stories and increase your positive stories. All the therapists at The Center for Growth/ Sex Therapy in Philadelphia are trained to work with clients on defeating negative stories. Call 215 922 LOVE to schedule an anxiety therapy appointment.