I promised I’d share some of the things I’ve learned during therapy, so here goes. All the usual disclaimers apply: I’m not a psychologist, so feel free to correct me if I’m explaining this wrong.
Right, so the concept that was kind of an epiphany for me during therapy was that of “the toxic phrase” (gifzin). It’s something you tend to say to yourself when you get triggered and start diving into coping mechanisms.
My toxic phrase is “No matter what I do, it will never be good enough”.
It’s a simple sentence, but it’s the key to a whole edifice of toxic beliefs about myself. It’s tied to my lack of self-worth, the idea that affection must be earned and the effects of having overly critical parents.
Since learning about this concept, I’ve started paying attention to when I think this to myself. It’s become the mental equivalent of a red light accompanied by a blaring alarm. It’s a “hold the line!” moment.
Basically, it means “close your mouth and think before you say another word”.
My kitten and I have a code-phrase, called “cup of tea”. This means that if we’re having an argument, either of us can call a timeout by invoking the Cup of Tea. That means that we stop talking, make a literal cup of tea and drink it. It gives us a chance to cool down and resume the discussion in a more calm state of mind.
Whenever I hear myself say my toxic phrase (or when I find myself thinking it), it’s become the point that I invoke the Cup of Tea. It means I’m triggered beyond point of being able to be rational, and I’ll most likely say hurtful things just because I’m in emotional pain. The thing is though: it’s hardly ever her that caused the pain. She just happened to gently touch an old bruise that’s been there for decades, and that simple touch will hurt way more than it should because of the old bruise.
Ever since becoming aware of this, I’ve also started noticing that my partners have their own toxic phrases. Now, this is tricky since pointing out when someone is likely to be too triggered to be rational can very easily devolve into gaslighting. What we’ve done here is have a discussion upfront, where I said “Hey, I’ve noticed that X seems to be your toxic phrase. Is that correct?”
I’ve then gotten consent to point it out when they use that exact phrase. Not to draw conclusions, but simply to state “Hey, I hear you saying your toxic phrase right now. Are you aware of that?”. It’s helped a lot to de-escalate some arguments.
So, my question to you: do you have a toxic phrase, and if so, what is it? (If you’re comfortable sharing of course!).