I’m sad as I type those sentences. It saddens me to share my most brutal self-talk with the world. Read some of those sentences again. Can you believe we talk to ourselves this way? How do we stop negative self-talk? I have no doubt that many of you could rattle off a list of negative things you say to yourself, too. We would never talk to our children or loved ones in this manner, and it would BREAK OUR HEARTS if we heard our kids saying these things to themselves.
So why don’t we value ourselves enough to be kind? Our internal dialogue sets the tone for how we view ourselves. Between diet products, anti-aging commercials, and articles about celebrities losing all their baby weight in 12 days, we receive enough daily messages to make us feel bad.
We can’t control the thoughts that pop into our head, but we can control what we do about them. Just as our brain starts to believe the negative self-talk, it can believe positive self-talk as well. Today we will discuss some cautionary tales, effects of talking so harshly to ourselves, and what we can do to take back control of our thoughts.
Caution: These words cause damage
Anytime we talk to ourselves using words like can’t, should, shouldn’t, bad, wrong, always, or never, we need to proceed with caution. Our thoughts dictate our feelings, and then we act on them. The cycle repeats itself, and we start to believe the negative thoughts. How many times have you said “I was so bad today when I ate xyz?” Or conversely, you told someone she was being “good” for eating a salad for lunch? It might sound innocuous, but when we tell ourselves we are categorically “bad,” it leads to feeling bad. In this case, feeling bad could then cause you to overeat, therefore making you feel worse, and the cycle repeats.
When I eliminated sugar from my life last year (R.I.P., Sugar!), it affected my life in a variety of unexpected ways. I was inspired to take risks and step out of my comfort zone. As a 10-year High School Counselor, I enjoy college planning with students. Last year I took a huge leap of faith and started my own business. In addition to being a full-time counselor, I’m also an Independent College Counselor. But the going was rough. I distinctly remember sitting in my driveway one night after coming home from a presentation at the library. Only 3 people attended. I sat in the driveway, berating myself for attempting entrepreneurship. What was I thinking? I should never have tried this. I’m bad at this, and I’m taking time away from my kids. What is the point? “Should” and “shouldn’t” are the death of self-esteem. My business has since picked up, and I’m at max capacity with my clientele. In retrospect, I would have benefitted from grace and patience for the growth period.
Theodore Roosevelt said that “Comparison is the thief of joy.” It is so hard not to compare ourselves to others, but you know what? Nothing good comes from it. Nine times out of ten we are comparing ourselves in a negative way, and that will only make us feel…well, negative. Just like Roosevelt said, comparing ourselves zaps the happiness. We do ourselves a disservice by comparing our jobs, the way we mother, and how we look to other people. We don’t know what those people are going through. Maybe he or she worked for ten years to achieve their success. Maybe that person is 120 pounds, but what if she is sickly or works hard to maintain her weight? We must stop doing this! We are literally hurting ourselves by the negative self-talk.
Effects of Negative Self-Talk
Literally hurting ourselves. Research shows that negative self-talk can lead to lower self-esteem, decreased motivation, anxiety, a sense of helplessness, depression, and a host of other issues. We probably didn’t need research to tell us that, right? We know from our own experiences that talking negatively to ourselves is a self-defeating cycle. Millions of us struggle with body image, and it deserves its own post, but I will share a relevant personal example. Even though the majority of people in the United States are overweight (based on BMI), society still sends the message that thin is the ideal. We don’t have to search very far to be bombarded with images that perpetuate that being skinny is held on a pedestal.
The thing is, I started internalizing these messages. How many of you do that? I believed that I wasn’t worthy of attention. Paradoxically, when I was at my heaviest wegith, I felt invisible because people often wouldn’t even look at me. I believed I didn’t deserve to be noticed. I believed that men shouldn’t be attracted to me. I believed that my weight was my value. My negative thoughts about my body image created negative feelings, which then, in turn, led to negative behaviors. It became a self-defeating cycle and self-fulfilling prophecy.
We speak negatively to ourselves so frequently, that we often don’t even realize that we are doing it. The negative self-talk has become our default way of thinking and way we view ourselves. If we don’t take control of our own thoughts, we will pass these behaviors on to our children, isolate ourselves, and become lonelier. Notice I said “lonelier” instead of lonely because when we talk negatively to ourselves, we usually don’t recognaize that we feel lonely as an everyday state of existence.
How can we correct this? I didn’t ask, can we correct this? I asked how because we absolutely can take control of our thoughts and become more confident. First things first – you must become aware of the negative thoughts. Download my freebie to help track them! Once you have identified that you have spoken to yourself negatively (again, we do it with such frequency that we don’t always recoganize it at first), then you can fact check. If you think to yourself, I’m not good in relationships, follow it up with “Really, is that true?” and immediately provide examples to yourself of the contrary. Maybe you are an excellent daughter or supportive and reliable friend. Immediately follow-up with postiives.
Aaron Beck developed the concept of cognitive distortions, which are exaggerated or irrational thoughts. He created Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help combat our negative thinking. His theory follows this prescription: 1. First we have a thought. The thought creates feelings. 2. The feelings create behaviors. 3. The behaviors reinforce the thoughts.
This process can be negative or positive. If you are in dressing room trying on bathing suits, you might think to yourself, I’m so disgusting. I hate my cellulite. Those thoughts will create negative feelings about yourself and you will likely behave in a way (some type of negative compensatory action like overeating or drinking too much alcohol) that will reinforce the thoughts.
That’s why we must immediately stop the thoughts. Again, as soon as you have the negative thought, you must fact check and reframe it to self-correct the thought pattern. For instance, in the above example, after thinking to yourself that I’m so disgusting, you could immediately follow it with more positive thoughts such as I’m proud of my strong legs. They helped me jog a 5k with my son. I know this sounds overly simplistic, but just like we believe our negative self-talk, we can believe our positive thoughts, too. It takes practice and time. Practice and time. Rinse and repeat until it becomes a self-affirming cycle. Download my freebie to practice!
You have two choices: 1. You can scoff at the simplicity, stew in your negative self-talk, and remain stagnant and unhappy OR 2. You can make a sincere effort to improve your thoughts, thereby also improving the quality of your life. Practice and time. Rinse and repeat.
Remember, I’m right there with you. The frequency of my negative self-talk has decreased, but I’m still susceptible from time to time. Do you talk to yourself in a negative way? Do you know someone who does? Comment below. And click the link below for a FREE download to help you take control of the negative thoughts!
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As always, thank you for reading!