Kristiyana Yordanova is 24-years-old and is currently studying psychology and neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. She spoke to us about learning to manage her destructive negative thoughts and how to avoid toxic relationships to find greater self-compassion and self-esteem.
Can you please share a bit about yourself and your passion for mental health advocacy and destigmatizing mental health?
My passion for mental health directly correlates with my experiences in life, and my curiosity towards individuals and how their minds work. I believe that speaking openly about mental health is still considered somewhat a taboo subject, and we have yet to break barriers and boundaries in order to have those intimate conversations. I am driven by creating an environment where people can be educated and empowered by discussing different mental illnesses. Especially by being equipped with the proper tools to cope with their issues and to thrive. This environment will create a safe space, where those who may have been stigmatized by the constraints of society such as mothers, low income families and youth will be provided with a voice where they can freely speak up. I am especially interested in creating programs and workshops catered to women and how they can become successful while battling mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. I believe having the ability to carry out these vital conversations, will allow people to feel like they are not alone in their struggles and they can overcome hardships.
Can you share some insights that you’ve gained from coping with destructive negative thoughts and depression?
Since I was a young girl I’ve been struggling with destructive negative thoughts. I was my biggest critic. One thought made me spiral into darkness, and led me to believe that I was worthless. I have learned numerous things throughout this process. First off, it is important to have a strong self concept, and to truly know yourself. These destructive thoughts begin and end with you, so it is important to build a relationship with yourself. That relationship should be positive, where you see yourself as your own best friend. Ask yourself, how would I treat this person if she was my friend? Most of the time you would respond with kindness and compassion. That is the number one takeaway, regardless of the struggles you are facing, you have to try to be understanding towards yourself. Once you begin that journey, the negative self-talk begins to silence. Another lesson I’ve learned is the importance of a psychologist and sharing your internal issues. Professionals have an objective opinion where they can pinpoint the flaws in your logic and negative thought patterns. Once you realize the habits you are engaging in, it will be easier for you to change them. Lastly, you have to realize one thing: you are one of a kind. Accept yourself with both your negative and positive traits. Don’t try to fix yourself, be honest with who you are as a whole. Get to the point where you are focusing on how to enhance your positive traits. While for the negative traits; (your shadow) use them to your advantage. For example: If you know that you have a lot of pent up anger within you, use the anger as a powerful tool to get active, use it towards a sport or something else you may be passionate about. This way, you are not removing parts of yourself, you are learning to use the bad for a good purpose. Your relationship with yourself, and how you view yourself is the place where you should be putting most of your energy towards. The time you invest in yourself will be worth it. Remember it is all in your own mind, only you truly have access to change your perspective.
What are some of the most helpful strategies you use for managing these thoughts and feelings?
The negative thoughts and feelings can be managed by many different strategies. What personally worked for me was journaling every day. This exercise allows you to come to terms with your thoughts and feelings and makes you gain clarity. Next, seeking help from a professional, or a friend and family member will allow you to open up about your personal issues. This will make you feel like you are not alone, and to gain some understanding and perspective which will help you when solving your issues. Your thoughts and feelings are also quite influenced by your lifestyle, so you should try to keep a healthy balance. The pillars of health are being active, and eating a healthy, diverse diet. These small changes can contribute to a healthier mindset. Lastly, on my own personal journey, spirituality has made me realize how powerful you can be. Spirituality doesn’t necessarily mean to believe in god, it means to believe in a cause, or energy which is bigger than yourself. The way I practice spirituality is beginning or ending my day with meditation. Meditation has many natural benefits such as; finding the answers to your problems within yourself, gaining peace and serenity, and allowing yourself to be more present in the moment. These combinations of strategies have guided me to a higher quality life, and flourishing mental health.
You mentioned experiencing toxic relationships and their impact on your sense of self. Can you describe how toxic relationships impacted your mental health and identity and the insights you’ve gleaned from these experiences?
I believe many young women have been in relationships where their significant other becomes toxic and exhibits negative behavior towards them. This has many implications on how you see yourself as well as your self esteem. After being a victim to this numerous times, I began to notice patterns which I should be avoiding. In retrospect, toxic relationships are very powerful. It is hard to walk away, because usually there is a magnetic attraction paired with an addiction to the extreme highs and extreme lows. However, you will be more well equipped if you initially notice the warning signs. One of the most frequent warning signs is the love-bombing. Even though it may not be present in every initial stage, it is important to take notice. This occurs when someone is smothering you with love, neediness and plans for the future. While this may appear attractive at first, be wary if it continues. Toxic relationships are often difficult due to the predicament you are in. While you may love the person deeply, your partner often imposes rules and restrictions on you. They try to control you through emotional manipulation. You lose your sense of self in these types of relationships, because your self esteem is deeply rooted in the relationship. And so breaking up, or walking away seems like it will cause you to lose who you are. However, after you become aware of the repetitive negative cycles of the relationship, then you can begin the journey of detaching and ending the relationship. There are two very important lessons when it comes to toxic relationships. It is unhealthy to fully depend on another person for your well being. While you may share things with your partner, you should always have other things outside of your relationship which make you happy and passionate.Independence is key. The other lesson you need to be aware of how you deserve to be treated. You need to feel confident in yourself, and what you can potentially offer in a relationship. Make sure to be transparent with yourself, and even write down a list of things which you will not tolerate. This way, once you see the red flags you will feel confident and trust your own judgment when to end the negative cycle.
How have you managed to develop greater self-esteem and self-compassion?
It is consistently something I am working towards. It is the path I am choosing for a lifetime; building a deeper and kinder relationship with myself. In order to do this, I began loving myself fully. I accepted myself for who I am. Instead of being ashamed of parts of me that I disliked, I understood that everyone has flaws. I also spent many years actively working on myself, by watching TED talks, healing my trauma, and reading various self help books. I decided to seek peace, by resolving negative thought patterns and becoming aware of how I was harming myself. Ultimately it’s a choice, how you want to live your life. I choose to be my own best friend, to provide compassion even in difficult times. Once you invest so much time and energy into yourself, your confidence naturally blossoms. I believe everyone has the power to make this choice. The choice to make a change starting from this moment.
What has been the most helpful form of support you have received? Are there any resources you would recommend?
The most helpful support is to surround yourself with positive people, who truly want the best for you. That begins with your family, and friends. Once you decide to make a change in your life, it is vital that you know not everyone will be supportive. Many people will not be on your side, and with time you may also lose close friends. That is completely normal, it’s like a snake shedding its skin. Every time you endure suffering and pain, you come out of the experience and go through a metamorphosis. This will lead you to feel empowered and like you can conquer anything that comes your way. Like I mentioned earlier, psychologists or any professional can help guide you and support you through hardship. The last resource which I highly recommend is books, as they can educate you and make you aware of problems which may explain your destructive thoughts, or anxiety. To name just a few books which have made an impact on me:
The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love by Amir Levine, Rachel S.F. Heller
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho