Repeat After Me: Overcoming Persistent Negative Thoughts About Yourself

It can be extremely debilitating to have your mind persistently returning to one or more negative thoughts about yourself, but could you dispel these using a quick and easy technique?

The following practice has been around for 100 years, but recent studies have shown it to be more effective at stopping negative thoughts than some other techniques being used today (at least in the short term).

What’s more, you’ve probably done virtually exactly the same thing as a child. Do you remember ever saying a word over and over again as quickly as you could until it became somewhat unfamiliar sounding?

Just try it now by repeating the word ‘happy’ out loud for 30 seconds. You should notice that after a short while, the sound of the word distorts and it becomes harder to tell where it starts and where it ends.

Well, this is precisely how a type of therapy called cognitive defusion functions. It was first suggested as a way to treat negative thinking by British psychologist Edward B. Titchener and it works by removing the emotional impact and believability of specific words.

Human beings are prone to self-identification with particular thoughts or words. Thus, if we can turn the emotional dial down for those words and simultaneously make them unbelievable, we break the attachment we have to them.

For instance, if you believe you are ugly, repeat the word ugly; if you consider yourself stupid, say the word stupid over and over; or if you think you are weak, shout out weak. Continue for 20 – 30 seconds for maximum benefit when you should feel the grip such thoughts have on you loosening.

Two scientific studies have shown this approach has the desired effect of reducing the emotional impact and believability of the words.

Both studies were led by Akihiko Masuda, associate professor of Psychology at Georgia State University. Both in 2004 and 2009, he and his team identified almost immediate benefits from the cognitive defusion technique, stating:

cognitive defusion technique reduced both discomfort and believability more so than the comparison approaches

rapidly repeating a single word version of a negative self-referential thought reduced the discomfort and the believability associated with that thought

Now it must be said that the evidence so far suggests that cognitive defusion works best in the short term and that any long term benefits are unproven as yet.

So, as a way of quickly reducing the emotional distress you are experiencing from a negative thought, this method of word repetition is very effective. For longer term relief, other forms of cognitive therapy are still recommended.

At face value, this exercise might seem almost too simple, and until you give it a try yourself, you might well dismiss it as pointless. So if you’re still skeptical about it, make yourself the guinea pig and see if cognitive defusion can soften the impact of a negative self-referencing thought in your mind.

Go on, give it a try…what have you got to lose?

Did you find that this technique helped in reducing the negative thoughts you have about yourself? Leave a comment below and tell us how it went.