Beating Negative Self Talk
What is it?
“That’s too difficult”
“I look so fat ”
“I shouldn’t have said that, I’m so stupid”
We all do it. No matter how positive we think we are there is always that inner voice pestering us. The worst part is that those voices usually focus on the negative and we tend to believe them even if they are far from the truth.
Based on psychologydictionary.org's definition, negative self-talk is the expression of thoughts or feelings, which are counter-productive and have the effect of demotivating oneself. These thoughts accompany us in our daily lives and are with us in everything we do or don’t do. According to Dr. Amy Johnson, author of The Little Book of Big Change, our mind becomes biased and fixates on seeing this imperfection as a horrible flaw. So yes, negative self-talk is pretty biased against oneself and is usually wrong, but for some reason, we continue to listen to it.
Damage it causes
Because we all have some negative self-talk from time to time it is a normal part of human functioning, but it is when it becomes a habit and repetitive that it can evolve into something dangerous and even toxic. Negative self-talk can truly be damaging to your self-confidence, self-esteem, how happy you are and can keep you from going after and eventually accomplishing your goals. Depression, isolation, social anxiety, and feeling of worthlessness can also be a product of chronic negative self-talk. Often times, we usually don’t look for solutions to these negative voices: either to get rid of it, reduce it, or be fully in control of it. We might just accept them as part of ourselves and our way of being.
The feelings that come along with negative self-talk don’t only stay with us; they can spread into our relationships with friends, family and even romantic ones. When we decide to believe these negative massages and convert them to reality, they can lead to letting our feelings spiral out of control, and hence, end up having an unnecessary argument, suffer the loss of a friend or considerably damage a relationship. In the coaching environment, negative self-talk can truly get in the way of a client’s progress and truly fulfilling their potential for growth and achieving their goals. This is why it is important for us to recognize that these voices do exist and learn how to stop them from taking over our lives.
How to Beat Negative Self-Talk
Although those harmful messages are with us day-to-day, we can with practice and persistence, choose to challenge and change our way of thinking.
Step 1: Recognize Negative Self-Talk
We need to allow ourselves to recognize the negative messages while we are listening to them. Bradberry & Greaves, in their book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 explain how to detect such negative messages and what to do with them. For example, detecting Absolute statements such as I always, or I never are statements that are usually followed by a negative message such as “I always mess things up” or “I never stick to my diet.”
Judgmental statements are also worth looking out for. These are ones that attach a permanent label to oneself and leave no room for improvement. This is when we judge ourselves with statements such as “I am so stupid” or“I am so fat,” and “I am an idiot.”
Playing the Blame Game. When it’s “all my fault” or “all their fault.” Listening for this type of negative self-talk is also important, since usually there is more to the story than just it being all someone’s fault.
Step 2: Replacing Negatives with the Truth
So now comes the though part. After we have realized that we are throwing negative messages at our selves, we have to make a conscious effort to think of the situation in a more realistic manner.
When using absolutes like “you never do anything right,” changing that statement to “I made a mistake this time,” is a lot more realistic and takes that absolute out of the equation, making the situation more manageable and not as such a failure. This will help you look at the situation as an individual occurrence instead of some cyclical habit you can’t get out of.
Judgmental statements are a bit more difficult because you are creating your own reality and cannot just be replaced with a positive statement, since you will not believe it. Making a small change to our self-talk such as using more objective statements based on facts can help you focus on what you can do to make a change. Instead of saying “I’m so messy” changing that thought to, “I need to get organized,” focuses more on working toward making change, hence it sets you up for movement, growth and progress. Other statements such as “I’m so stupid” can be replaced by “Wow that made me feel stupid”. In this example, you are not saying that you are forever stupid, but you are acknowledging that feeling in that one circumstance. Although these changes seem small, they sure can make a big impact on your overall well-being and self esteem.
When it comes to blaming others as if it is all someone’s fault, you are using the word “all” as an absolute and not taking responsibility for your part. Step up to the plate and analyze the situation realistically. Also when taking the blame completely for something that someone else took part in is not allowing that person to carry his or her own load and puts added pressure onto you. So look at blame statements with more equilibrium.
Step: 3 Reach Out
Talking about your feelings with someone else can also help you get back to earth. Telling a friend about a particular situation or the way you are thinking about your self, is in it self an act of courage. Once it’s all said and done, your friend will most likely disagree with your negative self-talk and give you a more realistic opinion. Sometimes, just laughing about it with someone else can make you feel better.
Step: 4 Make the Choice to be Kind to Your Self
Yes, I said it. Embrace your self with your imperfections and all. Embrace those imperfections and see them as such, flaws, not condemnations. If you don’t love yourself, it will be very difficult for others to love you or convince you otherwise. Accepting your self for how and who you are is very important in challenging negative self-talk. Considering the value in your positive qualities is also a step towards beating negative self-talk.
Remember, you would never talk to a friend the way you talk to yourself. It’s time to see yourself as that friend and show as much empathy to yourself as you show to people you care about.
Try this: Ask three people close to you to tell you three things they like about you, then make an effort to see the same in yourself.
Nugent, Pam M.S., "NEGATIVE SELF-TALK," in PsychologyDictionary.org, April 7, 2013, https://psychologydictionary.org/negative-self-talk/.
Johnson, A., Howard, M. (2016). The Little Book of Big Change: The No-Willpower Approach to Breaking Any Kind of Habit. New Harbinger Publications.
Bradberry, T., & Greaves, J. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart.