As far back as I can remember, my inner monologue has been loud and hypercritical of everything I do. If I spoke up at lab meeting and I felt my tone was just a little bit off, I would be reminded of that comment over and over again for the rest of the day or week. Sometimes the thought would pop back into my head months later. My brain still frequently reminds me about a comment I made to my cousin while we were on vacation in 2004. When this happens, I sometimes physically recoil.
Before I knew what they were or how to combat them, I had the idea to try to interrupt them.
I would say something – anything - to get my brain to stop reminding myself of whatever thing I said or whatever weird interaction happened.
I would often pick a phrase and stick with that phrase to interrupt my thoughts for a while.
In graduate school, I would sometimes say things like, “You’re fine. You’re fine. You’re fine.”
Sometimes I thought this in my head, but often I repeated it out loud.
I’m sure I made people around me uncomfortable, but it was the only way I could keep myself present and prevent myself from living in the past and spiraling out.
Partway through graduate school I found that my ACE score is pretty high. ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experience, and is a count of how many different types of negative experiences or traumas one experienced before the age of 18. There is research that high ACE scores are associated with negative health and longevity outcomes. When I learned about my own ACE score, I began looking into trauma-aware practices. To add insult to injury, the mentorship I received in graduate school was incredibly harmful and very traumatic. On top of that, my graduate school made it nearly impossible to access adequate mental healthcare services, so, I was doing this work on my own.
As my graduate career came closer to its end, and the mentorship that I experienced continually declined and became increasingly hostile, I found myself struggling with these intrusive thoughts more and more. What I realized was that no amount of me reminding myself that I was "fine" was enough to buffer against the damage of that experience.
It took some conscious effort in the beginning to pivot to this phrase, but it was worth the effort. I still experience intrusive thoughts and I would guess that I say “I love you” out loud at least 15 times on an average day. It’s a good thing I work from home.
Using “I love you” as my intrusive thought disruptor means that on the hard days when I have one hundred intrusive thoughts, I also hear the phrase “I love you” uttered well over one hundred times.
What I find so useful about the phrase “I love you” to interrupt intrusive thoughts is that I am reminded every single day, multiple times per day, that I am loved by the person whose opinion is most important to me – myself.
The relationship I have with myself will be longer and more personal than any relationship I will ever have with anyone else.
I am the person I have spent 24 hours per day with for the last three decades, and the person I will spend 24 hours with every day for the rest of my life.