Your Negative Self Talk–and Your Marriage: Ted Lowe
Your negative self-talk: It's sabotaging your marriage—and you may not know how deeply. Author Ted Lowe gets real about identifying and confronting the dark side within.
"I cannot tell you the number of times, standing on the sideline with the Detroit Lions at a NFL game over 33 seasons, that we get in the fourth quarter, it’s a close game, and I would have this thought: 'Our team does not believe when the game’s on the line we have what it takes to win. That’s the difference between winners and losers, is you don’t believe it, and your self-prophecy comes true.' And we don’t.
Again, I’m not saying that’s the only reason we lost so many games, but I remember in 1991 when we went almost—one game from the Super Bowl, you could feel the opposite. It was like, “We believe!” I really believe that teams that win believe it before they actually do it, and I think it applies to marriage. "
-- Dave Wilson
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Negative self-talk: you may not know how badly it’s sabotaging your marriage. Author Ted Lowe gets real helps identify and confront the dark side within.
Your Negative Self Talk–and Your Marriage: Ted Lowe
FamilyLife Today® National Radio Version (time edited) Transcript
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Your Negative Self Talk—and Your Marriage
Guest: Ted Lowe
From the series: Us in Mind: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Marriage
(Day 3 of 3)
Air date: September 6, 2023
Dave: I cannot tell you the number of times, standing on the sideline with the Detroit Lions at a NFL game over 33 seasons, that we get in the fourth quarter, it’s a close game, and I would have this thought: “Our team does not believe when the game’s on the line we have what it takes to win. That’s the difference between winners and losers, is you don’t believe it, and your self-prophecy comes true.” And we don’t.
Again, I’m not saying that’s the only reason we lost so many games, but I remember in 1991 when we went almost—one game from the Super Bowl, you could feel the opposite. It was like, “We believe!” I really believe that teams that win believe it before they actually do it, and I think it applies to marriage.
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Well, I’ll take you, let’s say even 15 years ago, 20 years ago. I’m getting dressed and I would put on a pair of pants and they’d be too tight, and here’s what I’d say. “Look at what you’ve done to yourself. You’re so fat. You’re ugly, too, and if you would have some self-control maybe you could get control of your life. You don’t even have a life. What in the world are you doing? You’re a fake.” Now do you think those thoughts affected my life, my marriage?
Dave: I’m married to you. I know those thoughts. I’ve heard them. So, obviously, if you can’t tell, today we’re talking about your mind and how that impacts your marriage. We have the mind expert, Ted Lowe. [Laughter]
Ted: Oh, don’t call me that.
Dave: We could almost see his mind, because there’s nothing to block us. [Laughter] You’re just like me; our minds are right there because we don’t have any hair. Your book, Us in Mind: How Changing Your Thoughts Can Change Your Marriage—we’ve sort of developed this thought, but that’s what you discovered, right? How we think impacts everything, especially our marriage.
Ted: Absolutely. We’ve said it a couple times already, but our thoughts are not our actions or our attitudes, but they lead to both, and that includes how we think about ourselves. In fact, when we were talking earlier, this chapter almost did not make the book. It begins with the question of “What do you think about yourself?” because it’s been such a struggle in my own life.
And then I thought, “How in the world does this impact marriage?” I knew how it was, but I thought, “I think I may be the only one that has this level of struggle with how I think about myself.” In fact, I call him “Fred in my head.”
Dave: How did you come up with “Fred in my head” besides that it rhymes?
Ted: I have no idea. I wish there was an origin story other than randomness, but I don’t know. Nancie used to say to me, “How are you doing?” and I would say, “It’s tough to be in here.” So I just gave him a name. I said, “Fred in my head is being a jerk today.” I started realizing in looking at all the research that how you think about yourself impacts who you are. It impacts everything, including your marriage.
For so long I’d have these thoughts, or Fred would be giving me these thoughts, and I just thought they were true, and they would guide my life. Despite it all, I was able to get married, have kids, write books, speak, all the while his voice being louder at some times than others. People say, “Is Fred the devil?” I’d say, “Hmmm. He’s at least a highly compensated employee.” I don’t know about that, but I do know that his voice is hateful and hurtful to me and has been even since a little kid.
Dave: What did Fred say to you? I know Fred is you, but what were you saying to yourself?
Ted: If people only really knew, because it was really strange. We started doing ministry. I say I went from frat house to church house in weeks, a radical transformation of the Lord. I started as a youth pastor, and the next thing I know I’m working in a large church in California and we’re on stage in front of thousands of people, walking down the steps going, “Nobody cares. That wasn’t good. Who do you think you are?” There’s no category that he doesn’t come after me about in some time and fashion.
Dave: So what do you do with Fred in the head?
Ted: So there’s an exercise that’s been around 30, 40 years. Daniel Amen popularized it and called it ANTs. It’s Automatic Negative Thoughts. The exercise begins with naming your Fred. By just naming him, it separates him from you. It’s a little bit, fun, too, but it’s like “Wait a minute.” When I hear that it’s coming from another voice and not my own, and certainly not God, okay, now I’m thinking, “Now, well wait a minute. This is another person.” So that helped tremendously.
And then you write down those thoughts. “You’re never going to be able to pull this off.” “You’re not as good at that as you think you are.” “Your wife is frustrated with you.” Whatever those things are, you write those things down, and then there are categories. Like Fred has all kinds of side hustles. He’s a fortune teller. “Ohhh, this is going to go really, really bad for you.” So a fortune teller.
He’s a mind reader. You’ll leave a conversation with somebody and he’ll go, “Oh, I don’t think they liked me. I could tell they didn’t.” They were probably just having a tough day with tacos, but you make it all about you. There’s the labeling. “You are so fat. Look what you have done to yourself. Shame.”
Or he’s a shamer. He’s a guilter, and then he’s also a convincer. “Go and do that thing,” that’s going to give you a few moments of relief. “Go ahead. It’s fine. It’s fine.”
Ann: “Go hide somewhere.”
Ted: “Go hide somewhere. Go ahead.”
Ann: In your addiction or your overeating, in your pleasure.
Ted: “You go.” Exactly. “You go hide.” And then it immediately becomes, “Oh, you’re never going to be forgiven for that.” I started getting so much relief from this, because mine used to be after speaking. I’d be walking to the car. It would be—
Ann: This was me, too.
Ted: “I can’t believe you said ‘XYZ.’ You didn’t prep enough. People gave you their time, and you should have done more.” And then, all the way home in the airplane, and then for a couple of days after, and you’d try to shake it off.
Ann: This is totally my Fred too, in terms of speaking over the years. Years ago, constant.
Ted: Yes! And you think, “Okay.” Don’t you think that breaks the heart of God? Because here’s the problem: Fred’s voice becomes louder than the voice of God.
Ted: That should terrify us, from a faith perspective, to say, “He went through so much to show us how loved we are, how cherished we are, how worthy we are, and yet we listen to this voice that seems to be destined to just pull our worth.” Does that make me a better speaker or a worse speaker? What’s been so profound is after you categorize them then you say, “What would my Abba Father say to me?” He said, “The spirit I gave you is not one of fear so you live as a slave again.”
I looked up that word, “spirit.” It’s actually lower case, and it means “dominant frame of mind.” “The dominant frame of mind I have given you is not one that lives in fear as a slave again. The spirit I gave you, you received. I brought about your adoption into sonship, and by Him we cry, ‘Abba.’” In other words, it’s not one of fear, it’s one of His family, and you think about Abba Father, the perfect father, not just Abba. That means “daddy.” A lot of people hear that and think, “Oh, that’s not a good image for me.”
Ann: It’s not reverent enough.
Ted: Well, you blend those two words. The perfect Heavenly Father is the one that we praise and the one when we see the ocean throw our heads back and go, “Wow! I have no place for this.” But it’s also the intimacy combined. So I just think about my Abba Who went through so much to have a relationship with me, and then me walking to the car instead of Him saying, “Hey, bud. You gave your best. I think that may matter to people.”
When I knew this had made a difference in my life, we had spoken at this retreat. Fred used to, right before I’d speak would just be sitting there with me, saying, “You didn’t prep enough. You haven’t done enough.” But there’s a picture, and somebody—I didn’t know they were talking it—I’m smiling before I’m going up to speak during praise and worship. It meant so much to me because I thought, “That’s a change in my life.”
Now here, let me say this: I felt so much relief from this that I thought it was done. I know that sounds ridiculous. I know it does. I thought it was done, so then the book released and the video series released, and Fred says, “Look at this. You’re so anxious. You know what? This doesn’t even work for you, and you’ve just shouted to the world that it does. You know what you’ve done? You’ve publicized false hope.”
I sat in that for over a month. I’ve never been more depressed in my life as I was during that, going, “Look what you have done. You’ve told them it was easy. You’ve told them they can hear from Abba and they cannot.” I was devastated and I thought, “Well, maybe I should do the Fred exercise again,” and I listed 47 things. 47 things. I’ve learned it’s a process. I had to sit down with the Lord this morning, and I listed 22 things, because right before you’re going to do something like this is when he just comes after me.
Nancie would say, “How are you doing?” I’d say, “I need to do some Fred work,” and know when I do it’s going to matter, because that’s when I can hear Abba with me again, and it’s tender. I want that for people so badly. So many people come up afterwards and tell me, “Oh, I have a Fred.”
I had a guy who was about 75 years old. He was a millionaire for sure; could have been a billionaire. He said, “My Fred’s been mean to me my whole life.” And that breaks my heart. It breaks my heart.
Dave: Now how do you process that in regards to your marriage, and maybe even as a dad or a mom, the Fred in the head?
Ted: Let’s say somebody’s leaving work, and they have to go by and pick up the kids before they get home and meet their spouse. On the way to pick up the kids, Fred’s saying, “Oh, that meeting didn’t go so well for you, did it? I could tell so-and-so is frustrated with you. You know, I’ve heard there are layoffs. Mmm. If I’m them, it’s you”—
You pick up the kids. You’re exhausted. You see them. You’re thinking you’re not going to be able to provide for those kids, and you get home, and you see your spouse, and you walk in with all those insecure thoughts. How do you think they’re going to receive you at that moment? Are you happy to see them? Are you a good listener? Are you affectionate? No, because you’ve been hanging out with a jerk all afternoon.
I mean, if we had a friend like that, first of all we’d get a new friend. But if there was somebody in our life that just constantly did that—the only person that knows what’s going to happen in the future is God, so anybody that’s telling you otherwise is lying to you.
So what Nancy has to experience is somebody that doesn’t need her to be God, that doesn’t need her to counteract everything Fred says, because she can’t do that. That’s too much pressure for her to counter it. And she tried. Even when she tries, she can’t. So what she’s gotten to experience is somebody who feels like they’re loved and secure, therefore more present for her. I’m more available for her. She’s not worried about me as much, and I’m settled.
You know, when you listen to podcasts you can listen to them at different speeds. Like here’s what I know: There’s a personality like me, they are listening to it at—
Dave: Two times.
Ted: Yes, two times. Until I got on here, and then they had to back it up to 0.75. [Laughter] But I think for me, I was always living life at 1.25, wanting to just always, and I think it’s slowing me down, which has made me more present. And this exercise seems so silly that people don’t believe it works and they don’t even do it.
But I think what I’ve found through the whole book, even though there’s neuroscience in it, even though there’s a lot of research in it, is what it all boiled down to was simplicity, that this way is really the simplest, cleanest, easiest, purist thoughts of your head. Satan is the author of confusion, and Abba through this is just like this: [deep breath] I can breathe!
Ann: I want to go through that whole process, but I’m just going to say, speaking to women over the years, a majority of us are living in these ugly places. We’ve been listening to Fred for so long that it’s just so normal that we don’t even realize that he’s been speaking to us for years. It reminds me of John 10:10 where Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy.”
I look at that and I think he starts with us in our minds and in our heads, and I love that Jesus said, “But I have come to give you life, and live it to the full.” What I’ve done, actually, is I got into this dog cage, because this is what it felt like for me. I felt like I was in bondage. I’m in bondage to Fred in my head. Honestly, I just did this this week. I got inside of this dog cage and I said—
Dave: On the stage. She’s speaking now. Not in our family room.
Ann: Yes. But I get in this dog cage and I say, “I am so tired of being in this cage of listening to the lies of Satan and the past pain of “You can’t do it. You’ll never do it. You’ve tried it before and it never works.” I think so many women are saying, “Yes.” And Jesus said, “I came to set the captive free,” so He opens the door. He says, “Daughter, come out. Son, lift up your head.”
But I was thinking when you said, Dave, “How does it affect your family?” What happens is I get so inside my head, that my head goes down, and I can’t see the people around me because I’m so in bondage to Fred. I love the Fred part. It’s just easy to talk about that. So for me, that’s been a process, too, and I feel like I’m on this mission. We need to set people free because they don’t’ even know they’re in bondage. They’ve just been living it for so long.
So as I was reading your stuff, like “Yes! Amen! Do it!” And Dave has lived with it for years. I’d get done speaking; I’d go into hiding. “That was awful.” And Dave would get done and I would say, “How are you so free? How can you be so free?” He said, “I just lay it on the altar, like ‘Lord, I did my best.’” I’m like, “Well, I could lay it there, and then I’m going to pick it up over and over again.”
Ted: That’s such a powerful image. I think the image that God’s put in my head the most is when I’m praying there’s a place in my mind I go to, that the beach I would go to when we lived in California, when I just really started to fall in love with Jesus. I just have this image of Him having His hands on my face and His forehead to my forehead.
Ted: To people listening that struggle with Fred issues I will say, “You’re His. He has you by the face. He has His forehead to your forehead.”
Ann: Jesus does. Not Fred.
Ted: Not Fred. Not Fred. He’s so powerless in the light of Who Jesus is.
Ted: When He puts His hands on your face—like if somebody’s listening right now and they’re running or whatever, and they’ve been struggling with Fred—man or woman, He is just saying to you, “Breathe. I have my hands on your face; I have my forehead to your forehead; I’m looking you in the eyes, and you are Mine, and there’s nothing you’re going to do that’s going to make you any less worthy, and there’s nothing you can do to make you more worthy. You are loved and worthy.”
“So one day when you are old, and you’re sitting there not able to accomplish anything, that day does not make you any less worthy than on your most productive day. I have you. You’re Mine. You’re safe, and when you hear voices telling you you’re ugly, that is not from your Abba, I can guarantee it.”
I’ve learned that for some people there’s a different kind of jerk. It’s everybody else’s fault. What Fred will do, he’ll rob your peace and you can’t hear Abba because he’s telling you why everybody else is wrong. That’s the other thing about it. “What if they just don’t listen to you? If they just would do what you say, if she would only—.”
They look at their spouse, and they only see the things that Fred just sitting there is telling them, all the negative things. That’s a different kind of Fred. But you can even bring that to Abba, go “Wait, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa.” I just think the image of simplicity of our Father—. We make life get so complicated, right? It’s just, “I have you. You’re fine. You’re fine.”
I lost my mom when I was ten years old, and I’ve been a little bit anxious ever since that someone is going to break my heart that hard again. I felt alone, and I thought, “If I’m going to be okay, it’s going to be because I make it okay.” I never want to hear that kind of news again. And I’ve heard that news again, and it almost knocked me out. So even those who have gone through tremendous pain, where you feel like, “If I don’t figure this out, if I don’t do all this, then it’s not going to be and it’s all going to fall apart.”
It’s the illusion of the control that we’ve never had. He’s going, “You don’t have to control this. You don’t have to control this, buddy. I’ve got this. You’re fine.” Just to feel loved. I just want people to feel loved by Him because He loves them so much.
Dave: I believe the two beliefs that change everything, two beliefs that we all hold; I think we make every decision every day of our life based on these two beliefs: theology, identity. Theology is what do I believe about God. Identity is what do I believe about myself. When you were just talking, Ted, I was thinking, “Oh, there’s theology. I have a God Who sees me, Who loves me, Whose forehead is with me. He’s with me.”
If I have a God Who is distant, Who is angry, I’m scared. I’m living in fear. But if I have a God Who sees me, gets me, has got me, He’s present, He’s loving, and my identity is I’m His son, I’m His daughter, I’m made in His image—yes, I’m a sinner, but I’m saved by grace—if that’s my identity based on my theology is I’m loved by God, I walk in my home not thinking I’m an unloving husband. I’m actually a loving husband. Why? I’m loved and I can love her.
I can lead my family. I’m a strong, spiritual man. One of my friends, Jamie Winship—we’ve mentioned him before—he says, “When you walk in a room knowing your God is the King of the universe, you walk in the room with power and authority, not arrogance. But identity, like God’s going to do something. God just walked in the room. Not that I’m God, but God lives in me, so here we go.
That changes a family. That changes a legacy. That changes the spiritual direction in a home. It puts Fred in the cage and me out of the cage. Freedom, right? I love your thought of that. It’s like take that thought captive. It is of the enemy; reverse that with correct theology and identity and go be the man, be the woman that God’s called you to be. God will move.
Ann: I love that. I’m amening everything. That’s so good. And one of the practices that has helped me, and I feel like you‘re alluding to this, too, Ted, is I take my thoughts captive. As you said, I start counting them; you write them down. I’ve done some of that, too. “What am I believing right now? What am I saying? What is Fred saying to me? What is the enemy saying? So I’ll write them down.
And then—I remember Jamie and Donna did this with me. They said, “Just close your eyes. Use your imagination. I want you to take all those things in your hand, the lies that you’ve been believing that Fred is telling you, and now—” I did the same thing. I pictured Jesus in front of me, and what He was saying. So I pictured myself giving them to Jesus, and He takes them. Then sometimes He’ll do something different to them all the time.
One time He buried it, but the beautiful thing is I remember them saying, “What’s it feel like to be free of that?” or “What would He say to you through Scripture?” because He’ll speak the things that Scripture would speak to you. So that’s been freeing to me, to just hand them over, bury them, give it to Jesus. You write them out. What do you do to them after you write them?
Ted: I always pray by journaling on my computer. So I wrote all those this morning—Delete. What do you say? “You get no space in my hard drive on my computer or my little heart. You’re gone. You’re gone.”
Ann: Oh, that’s good.
Ted: “I’m not keeping you. Now Abba, what would you say to all of this?” Because I had to categorize them in a general sense, because usually I will write a thought, and there were so many that I had to go, “Okay, I think I hear you being a fortune teller, I hear you being a labeler, I hear you being a shamer. There are just so many of you. Delete. Alright, Abba. What are You saying?”
And sometimes it’s even my anxiety. Fred will be saying, “Hey, you need to go do this. Now do this. Do this. If you don’t get this done, you’re—” and what I’ve watched is, I’ve watched him change tactics with me. I’ve watched him go from attacking me and labeling and becoming so obvious and when it comes, like “Wait, that’s Fred,” and then I started to realize, “Oh, he is telling me things about how God feels about me now, that God is mad at me, God is frustrated.”
There’s a beautiful song by Patrick Mayberry that I played on the way over here. It’s “How You Love Me.” One of the greatest lines in it, he says, “You’re not mad and You’re not scary, and all this guilt and shame that I’ve carried is why You died for me.” He says, “Could it really be this simple, that You love me like You say You do?” Come on, it is that simple.
Ann: It is.
Ted: The enemy is constantly confusing that. It is this simple. He loves you. So I delete those thoughts.
Ann: That’s good. I think it would be a great homework assignment—it’s a scary one—but even to ask your spouse, “Are there lies that you believe in your head? Is there a Fred?” Explain the Fred in the head. “Are there things that you’re believing that I don’t even know about?”
Dave: Talk about it as a couple.
Ann: And maybe even as a family. I’m thinking our teenagers, our kids in school, they’re little, and they’re starting to believe the Fred in their head. The enemy is after our kids, so just to talk about it openly is something that could be really beneficial to a family. Start out as the mom or dad saying, “This is something I’ve struggled with,” to let it be known, like “I’ve struggled with this too.”
Ted: I take my kids with me on speaking events sometimes, and my daughter’s name is Teddy. We call hers “Freddy.” If there’s anybody who has a Freddy in her head, it’s teenage girls. Wow. It’s been a journey with her, but I’ve loved being able to talk about it, to your point.
Ted: “Hey, baby, that’s not what Jesus says. That’s not Him.”
Shelby: Yes, knowing Christ more and more helps make it possible to embrace a positive self-image, not to glorify ourselves, but to know who we are in Christ and treasure the fact that Jesus treasures us. That’s a fantastic perspective. I’m Shelby Abbott and you’ve been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Ted Lowe on FamilyLife Today.
Ted has written a book called Us in Mind: How Changing Your Thoughts Can Change Your Marriage. You can pick up a copy of his book at FamilyLifeToday.com, or you can give us a call at 800-358-6329. Again that’s 800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.”
Let’s talk truth. Marriage takes work. You can ask your parents, ask your pastor, ask any couple you know. Great marriages don’t just happen. And at FamilyLife’s Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway, you and your spouse really get the time to intentionally grow with one another. So you may have already heard that Weekend to Remember is now 50 percent off through September 18th, but did you know that also our Weekend to Remember gift cards are 50 percent off, too?
It can sometimes be hard to choose right now where you want to go, so a gift card can allow you to buy now and register for your location later. You may even have another couple in mind who you want to give it to, and these gift cards are a cool way to encourage another husband and wife. All are half off right now through September 18, so you can head over to WeekendtoRemember.com and grab a gift card now.
Now, tomorrow Dave and Ann Wilson are in the studio with Howard and Danielle Taylor, talking about the error of prioritizing your career over your marriage. That’s tomorrow. We hope you’ll join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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