Which, lovely you, would you prefer to move into your home—ants or a tiger? Okay, don’t be so quick to answer. Take your time. Sure, a tiger could kill you, eat your furniture and, yes, it bares repeating, it could kill you. But have you ever been inundated by ants? Do you know the torment of not being able to leave out a cup of coffee, or even water, for a moment without risking your entire counter being overtaken. And then once you manage to kill all of them ( and do you ever feel satisfied that you really and truly got them all?) then there is that horrible ants in your pants feeling in which you feel they are crawling all over you even if they aren’t. If a tiger came into my house I would simply leave and call the authorities and wait for them to remove Tony to the nearest zoo. But with ants you are on your own, lady. No gamekeeper is helping you with these And they are so small, so plentiful and there seems to be an endless supply of them just ready to pounce on every surface should you dare to leave a single crumb on the counter.
Okay, not really talking about ants…I am talking A.N.T.s which is an acronym for Automatic Negative Thoughts. You know the thoughts that you don’t even realize you are thinking? The sneaky insidious and almost silent negative judgements you have about yourself that show up and stop you without your even realizing they have. I wish we could get a download everyday of all the thoughts we had in a single day. I’m sure there would be more ANTS in our transcript than there would be if we left a bottle of Aunt Jemima open on the counter.
The ANTs pop up and tell us things like:.
And those are just what I like to call “Black ANTs’. Black ANTs are a nuisance and cause a mess and can stop us, but they aren’t quite as pernicious, biting and stinging as the “Red ANTs”. Red ANTs are the kind that are self-esteem attacking and come from a serious case of self-loathing, these thoughts are filled with things we would never say out loud to another( okay, most of us wouldn’t most of the time)—things like “You are so_________( chose from the following uninspiring adjectives with which to harangue yourself) stupid, fat, lazy, worthless, ugly, etc. To have your day covered with red ANTs in which we are assaulted by predictions of failure, judgement, attack and loathing is the kind of thing that could cause depression or anxiety or at the very least a psyche that is overtaken by cruel and biting commentary. I have been in a psyche covered with red ANTs and it simply no fun. Red ANTs weren’t however all bad…it was all of my red ANTs that tipped me off to the fact that I didn’t love myself and that I had introjected some serious self-attacks that I had learned from childhood and that I better seek out an expert in discovering where all these ANTs were coming from, how they came to be and that maybe I deserved more than there relentless and sadistic attacks that were infesting my life from ever being picnic like.
Years of therapy has happily removed the red ANTs out of my life—for the most part. However, I might, on a good day have only two or three of these unpleasant or unwelcome reflexive thoughts from the past that bite,sting and leave me feeling wrong. That may sound like a lot to you lovelies who have an internal monologue that sounds like one part self-help-motivational lecture and one part Snow White. Mine however, thanks to growing up in a home with a poisonous pedagogy that was in the business of shame inducing set my default tone to an internal drone of dread. Even to this day, after all that therapy, when things go to hell and I feel weak and tired and am experiencing a trigger from my past, well, that is the ant equivalent of laying down a coat of Karo syrup, powdered sugar and, to top it off, a big gob of marshmallow goo and then I just watch those red ANTs go marching in and they are fat and happy and are at their most powerful and potent to take me down.
The trouble with black ANTs is that they can be so small and sneaky that we almost don’t notice them, they can hide in my psyche and go undetected. They hide in the cracks between the neutral thoughts, happy thoughts and down right giddy and positively predicting thoughts ( these last ones were once thought to be extinct. However in the last three-years I have discovered a rare breed of them that does particularly well in my psyche these days. Even still, the blacks ones sneak through my filter by not being loud and obnoxious or alarm activating the way they were when they are the red kind. Thanks be to God the years of therapy and clearing out my internalized voices from childhood has made red ants few and far between and there is enough self love that should a red ANT sneak in there is a neutralizing blast of self-love that interrupts and says,”Um, excuse me…but that ain’t called for and you aren’t welcome here.” And the self-love will tell me why it isn’t nice to talk to me like that and how I deserve better and it takes the red ANT out. Ain’t self-love grand?
Let me boil down the events of the week into a more ego syntonic euphemism( which is a short and elegant way of saying that I had a crappy week that I want to spare you the details of). It was the kind of week in which I could have gotten over taken by a colony of red-fire-death ants that could have taken me down. However, the inoculations of self love, the support of dear friends who love me and kindness of strangers who barely know me yet resounded to my pain in the way we would hope from people and all of this love managed to get the red ants out of my psyche.
I was, up until yesterday, feeling good and cocky about surviving this humdinger of a week with nary a red ANT bite to show for it. It was then that I became aware of a sneaky batch of black ants that had moved in. It went like this,( we are now in Tracey thought land: Ooh, this camisole hurts. I should throw it out. No, you shouldn’t. You just bought. You should keep it. But it hurts. I know it does. Take some Advil, that will make the pain go away. Okay, I will. Silence as I take the pills. Then the thoughts return. That’s stupid to have a camisole that is so ill-fitting that it causes your shoulders pain. You should throw it away. No, seriously, you just bought it. Yeah, but it was only $5 at Nordstrom Rack. It’s now worth the money. But its $5. Okay, so ends the transcript of my thoughts. First off as I look at it the conflict seems absurd and there seems only one right choice. I can also see the automatic reaction and acceptance to my suffering for money. As hard as that is to see it gives me something to look at and see if I make massochistic moves out of economy. If I do that then I need to reevaluate my personal economy system.
The good thing about ANTs is that if you pay attention to what you are thinking they will allow you into the rules you make, schemas to which you are attacked for no good reason, and maybe how you have internalized the rules of family members and they are acting as ANTs in your head. ANTs leave clues about where they came from and what they want, you just have to engage with them to find out about them.
I am keeping my eyes open for other ways I self-loathe when it comes to my self-care. The messages that these sneaky and subtle ANTs tell me are: “It doesn’t matter that you are tired, cold, overwhelmed, hungry, thirsty or in pain. Your needs don’t matter.” These are some destructive ANTs that would advise me to take Advil before they would advise me to take off the stupid top.These are a bread of ANTs that came from lack of care I got as a kiddo and it made me take crappy care of my physical being. The message of those ANTs is “you don’t matter.” Only I do. So I am throwing away that stupid $5 camisole from Nordstrom.
Having said all this, do you think you’d prefer the tiger now?