Assured Psychology | Calgary, Alberta

The Ghost Ship


A metaphor for overcoming self-criticism and negative self-talk

Blog entry by Cody Harper, MSW RSW

Imagine yourself at the helm of a ship, navigating through a dark and tempestuous night. Titanic waves lift your vessel skywards before it crashes back into the churning sea. Rain lashes the deck, and lightning fractures the sky. You have a clear goal: reach the safety of land. But the storm is so immense that you struggle to find your bearings. 

And if that wasn’t bad enough, there are also ghosts aboard your ship. 

As you grip the helm, one ghost berates you, shouting, “You IDIOT! How could you have sailed into this mess!? You deserve to drown out here!”

Another wails in despair, “We’re doomed! You don’t know what you’re doing! We’ll never make it to land!”.

A third cackles in ridicule. “Why even bother? It’s all meaningless anyways. And you think once you find land that everything is going to magically get better? HAH!”

Yet another offers a hollow cheer, “Oh come now! This storm isn’t so bad! And think of all captains who have it worse than you do! You’re lucky you even have a ship!”. 

In desperation, you yell at the ghosts to silence them, but they only grow louder . Ignoring them seems futile as well; their taunts and criticism is relentless. 

Now if you continue to treat these ghosts as real, if you engage with their wordsas if they carry weight, what are you more likely to do? Will you find land? Or wil you sail deeper into the storm? 

What if instead , you were to recognize these ghosts for what they truly are harmless echoes. They have no physical form , no real power, and they cant’t hurt you. They may be ugly and frightening their words may sting a bit, but these words are not truths. Their words cannot inflict any real pain. 

What if you chose to accept that the ghosts are on your ship, but then focus solely on what truly matters — steering that ship through the storm and reaching your destination?

Once you realize this, you’re free. It means you can take your ship wherever you want – as long as you’re willing to accept the presence of the ghosts. The ghosts may howl and protest, but they really are powerless because their power relies totally on your belief in their threats. 

Now, some of you might be protesting at this. You might say, ” But I don’t want to live my life surrounded by ghosts!” Well, like it or not you already are. Everyone has their own ghosts. And these ghosts are going to continue showing up, again and again every time you try to steer your life in a valued direction. 

But here’s the good news: If you keep steering the ship no matter what the ghosts are saying, eventually manu of them will just give up and disapper. And those few ghosts that remain ? Well, you’ll just get used to them. They’ll be nowhere near as scary as they were before. You might learn to laugh at them, or even grow fond of them.

This act of recognizing your negative thoughts as simply thoughts, not realities that dictate your actions, is called defusion. It involves seeing thoughts for what they truly are—transient mental events that need not control us—and choosing instead to commit to the actions that connect to your values, like steering your ship through the storm towards the shore. This shift will not silence the negative self-talk, but soon enough, you will realize that you won’t need to. With acceptance of your thoughts but then committed action towards your chosen values, you will diminish any influence the negative self-talk and self-criticism had on you, allowing you to move forward with purpose and in the direction of what truly matters.

For additional information or other questions please connect with a mental health
professional of your choice, or in Alberta you may contact Health Link (811) to
be connected to mental health support. 

Cody Harper MSW RSW