This is part 2 of 4 in our Modern Monsters series.
“Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.”
Clearly the speaker of this quote hasn’t encountered some of the modern monsters of the mind: the creatures that sow doubt and shame in our self-talk and steer us with their weaponized “shoulds” towards our personal doom.
Each of us has faced one of these eldritch monstrosities. While at times they might be a small tentacle at the back of our mind or an outright mythic horror we find in a downward spiral, negative self-talk can derail even our best laid plans.
Within D&D and other TTRPGs, these Lovecraftian creatures and aberrations mess with our mind in destructive ways, sometimes feasting on our very intellect or causing us to turn on our allies. In real life, we find that negative self-talk can produce a similar outcome. In both realms, these monsters are some of the trickiest to tackle.
Doubt in its healthiest form keeps us safe from harm and skeptical of those who might otherwise take advantage of us. Yet, in our party of allies, doubt is best as a member of our decision-making board rather than the bouncer of opportunities and ideas. In its unhealthiest form, it keeps us suspicious and disconnected from others, friend or foe.
Shame is another tricky creature. Whereas guilt manifests as “I did something bad,” shame manifests as “I am bad.”
Shame creates a spiraling pattern that starts to turn us into our own monster - much like a mind flayer looking for its next convert. When we are operating from a place of shame, we tend to lash out and harm others. After all, people who are hurt tend to hurt people.
The solution to doubt and shame is not all love and light either. It’s much harder than that. We can’t just “good vibes” these thoughtforms away. Instead, we have to first start by noticing they exist. We have to catch them in the act.
Sometimes a friend or coach can be a great partner to help you spot these creatures and call attention to those feelings of doubt or shame. By putting them in the spotlight, we can take a look at them and start to identify the source of those beliefs.
Often, these beliefs are rooted in ways we believe we “should” be or the things we think we “should” do - and aside from shared moral codes, these “shoulds” come from external, social pressures and not from our internal needs and desires.
When we find the source of the doubt, shame, and “should”, we can see what benefit they offer us, if any.
Perhaps they were beliefs that helped us survive or gain favor with others. Sometimes they want to make us feel validated or soothed or joy, but they are just choosing methods that run contrary to what we know is good for us. Yet, when we understand what the negative self-talk wants to achieve, we can meet that need directly and skip the eldritch monstrosity running amok in our life.
And this isn’t to say that once we’ve banished the monster from our inner monologue they are gone for good - there is likely some evil cultist out there ready to summon them back in our life. Yet, with each encounter we become stronger in our ability to keep these cosmic horrors at bay.
So forget the sticks and stones, it’s time to weaponize your words for your own protection, not your own destruction.
Yes, you’re talking to you!
Autumn & Jerod