Smash Your Negative Thoughts, Literally and Figuratively

Write a negative thought about yourself on this square of tile, slip on this pair of protective glasses and smash that tile to smithereens with this mallet until the words you wrote are incomprehensible.

These were the instructions I was given last week as I entered my dorm lobby and was greeted by a smiling group of women standing behind a table covered in pamphlets and a banner that read, “Eating Disorder Care.”

“Every Body is Beautiful Week” is an event that aims to encourage positive body image and care. UMKC’s counseling services, the Women’s Center and Recreation Center teamed up with Kansas City’s eating disorder treatment center, ED Care, to host the week-long event. What I stumbled into was the final activity of the week, where students were encouraged to write their own discouraging thoughts about themselves on a tile, then smash it. When I met with psychologist and eating disorder specialist Sherri Theoharidis to learn more about the activity, she emphasized the therapeutic effects of physically ruining the written thought.

“There was some powerfulness in not only identifying them and writing them down, but that real physical piece of smashing them was pretty empowering and really symbolic, being able to see that message in pieces,” said Theoharidis.

And I entirely concur. The process of sifting through the self-defeating thoughts in my mind, choosing one and then literally and figuratively demolishing it was unbelievably cathartic. Bringing that negativity from its daunting place in your brain to the surface and then destroying it is a healthy way to prevent it from festering. Trust me, it’s easier said than done to pull that negativity out of your head and into physical form. But, it can be so beneficial.

We hear and repeat critical thoughts that have detrimental effects on our mental states regularly, especially about our bodies and appearance. It is so easy to fall into a hole of low sense of self when these messages are toxically thrown around. Theoharidis’ hope is that we can become aware of these thoughts, then challenge them and incorporate kinder ones into our lives. The significance of putting my negativity onto the tile and clearing my mind of it forced me to recognize its existence, then say goodbye to it. Obviously, that insecurity isn’t gone forever, but smashing it was step one.

“It really takes being deliberate and really just choosing to be kind to yourself,” said Theoharidis. “We get bombarded with negativity all the time, so it's easy to find that, so sometimes we have to just be really deliberate to be positive.”

I encourage campuses to emulate this activity and make it a goal to promote positive body image and conversation about eating disorders in the way “Every Body is Beautiful Week” did. It doesn’t have to be as strategic as the tile smashing. Simply writing a thought on paper and ripping it up can be cathartic. Students should know that there are resources on campus and ways to combat their negative thoughts, and making an event out of it encourages necessary conversation and action. I was lucky to have stumbled upon this activity and will carry the message it spoke to me.