Photo courtesy of Sophie Schwarzenberger
3 Ways to Fight Negative Self-Talk
Jennifer Pastiloff was eight when her father died. Her last words to him were “I hate you.” And in that one moment, she decided she was a bad person—a decision that became the foundation of her self-image. She carried that mantra—“I am a bad person, I am a bad person”—for years. She developed depression and an eating disorder. And when she started to lose her hearing, it became more difficult to cope. “People just thought I was stupid,” she says. And down and down the spiral she went.
Until decades later, post-breakdown and on antidepressants for the first time, Pastiloff had a new thought: The voice, that mantra, was a liar. She called it her “inner asshole.” It was time to shut it up or, at least, quiet it down.
“You think you kick it out of bed,” Pastiloff says, “and then you wake up and it’s in bed with you again the next day.”
There are still bad days—sometimes lots of them. But now Pastiloff gets through them differently. And she’s helping other people with theirs, too, through yoga and workshops and retreats that combine movement, writing, and interpersonal connection. Her story—a piece of it is here, and there’s more in her new memoir, On Being Human—is heartbreaking and triumphant. And it has plenty to teach us about listening, forgiving, and ultimately, finding peace.
I don’t look like someone with a disability. My disability is a ringing that only I can hear, a rushing silence where everyone else hears sounds and words—and so people told me who they thought I was: an idiot. Dumb, airhead, not listening, not paying attention. And I believed them.
When I was waiting tables at a restaurant in Hollywood, I took orders from celebrities for veggie burgers and wheatgrass shots and wrote notes to myself on the back of my notepad about how bad and broken I was. I shoved them in the pockets of the dirty apron I wore. For the thirteen years that I worked at that restaurant, I kept my self-hating notes with me, like some sort of reverse talisman—a reminder on paper of who I believed I was.
Because I couldn’t hear, it was hard to take orders. But I tried to hide my deafness. I squatted down, leaned in close, and taught myself how to read lips. If a customer was speaking on the patio and I was inside, they’d be shocked when I turned up at their table with a bottle of Cholula: How could I have heard them?
My commitment to feeling broken meant it took me a long time to realize I had an unlikely superpower. My superpower, even though I can’t hear, is listening. And it took saying it out loud—“I’m deaf”—for me to realize that the thing I was hiding made me stronger.
I’ve tried to figure out why I’m such a good listener. And I think it’s because I need to listen so much harder, to get right in close to someone’s face and read her lips and look in her eyes. It’s that I need to work to be able to hear—and that looks, to everyone who talks to me, like the most attuned listening of all.
And so people say to me, a person who can’t really hear them: “You are the best listener I have ever met.”
Listening began with seeing. And seeing meant seeing others as they really are and seeing myself as I really am. I got honest with myself and others about my depression and my deafness. I stopped writing those terrible notes. And now people see me, and I can tell them: severe tinnitus, hard of hearing, legally deaf. Smart. Listening. And paying close attention.
And if I was wrong about that, what else have I been wrong about?
How to Quiet Your Inner Asshole
Make a new mind tattoo.
We repeat ourselves all day long in our minds. If those repeating thoughts shuts you down—words like “I am bad” or “I am broken” or “I am not enough”—the first step is rewiring that repetition into something that opens you up.
Well, one thing is to quiet and listen, check where you are in your body. Here’s an exercise to find it: Take a seat, get quiet, and spend a few minutes with yourself. Rest your hands somewhere on your body. And wherever your hands find themselves, take a moment and check in with that part of the body. Grab a journal and write for three minutes as if that body part is speaking. What comes up? What does it need from you? And then you look for your new mind tattoo through that lens.
Find the ones that open you up: I am here. I am enough. I am worthy. I am safe. And when you catch your old mind tattoos running in your head, you replace them. It takes practice. But over time the new ones become the default.
Write a letter in the voice of someone who loves you.
If there are a hundred people in a room with you and all of them love you except for one, who do you focus on? For most of us, it’s the one. But it’s so much easier to walk through this world when you’re focusing on the voices of those who love you.
So I ask people to pick one of those people who loves you—it might be your best friend, your kid, or your grandmother who’s passed away—and write yourself a letter from their point of view. What do they see in you that you want you to see in yourself? Don’t think about it too much; feel it and write it down. Then read it out loud. Carry it with you.
What’s amazing about this practice is that it helps people remember who they are. Because it may be your loved one’s voice, but you’re writing it yourself. And it brings out the light, all the wonderful things about who you are—even if you’re feeling so in the dark that it’s hard to find nice things to say about yourself.
Look for beauty.
A therapist once told me: “Get out of your head; it’s a bad neighborhood.” And I find the best way to get out of your head or shut down your inner asshole is to go “beauty hunting.”
As often as you can, stop and notice the five most beautiful things around you in this moment. This practice asks you to really pay attention. It asks you to look for beauty instead of finding faults.
And sometimes it’s hard. If you are really in the shit, if you’re having a bad day, if you’re going through grief or loss, or whatever—it can seem so hard to find beauty. But the thing is: It’s always there. It really is. There’s something. Just sometimes you have to look harder for it.
Jennifer Pastiloff is a Los Angeles–based yoga teacher whose workshops and retreats combine writing, movement, and interpersonal connection. Her book, On Being Human: A Memoir of Waking Up, Living Real, and Listening Hard, is now available.