What do you say when you talk to yourself?
You have heard the statement: “Talking to yourself is the first sign of madness.” We talk to ourselves most of the time, even though we may not realise it. This self-talk takes place internally within the privacy of our own minds. All too often, self-talk is harsh, self-defeating, counterproductive and even abusive. We give ourselves labels that can prevent us from experiencing a truly happy, productive and fulfilling life. If you’ve developed a negative style of self-talk, you may be missing opportunities, performing below your potential and experiencing more stress than necessary.
In a similar way to negative comments from other people, our own internal dialogue can have a dramatic effect on how we feel, especially when it consists of unkind and unhelpful language.
Sometimes, this negative self-talk has a personal historical root. It is as children that we first internalise unhelpful ideas. Parents, teachers, religious figures and others can lead us to believe negative and unjustified ideas about ourselves. If we are continually in an environment where we are being judged or criticised, our internal dialogue takes on an extremely negative tone.
So that …
- “You’re stupid” becomes “I’m stupid”.
- “You’re bad” becomes “I’m bad”.
- “You’re selfish” becomes “I’m selfish”.
- “That’s far too difficult for you – don’t even try” becomes “Why bother” and so on.
Since the things we say to ourselves can have such a powerful effect on the way we feel and act, negative self-talk often leads to fear, anxiety and depression. Harmful self-talk can be triggered by all sorts of events, including social and work-related situations, and can occur when both good and bad things happen.
Fortunately, the reverse is also true. You can turn negative self-talk into an optimistic, positive-style of thinking. Martin Seligman, an American professor of psychology, has studied the way people explain the positive and negative events in their lives. His research has shown that pessimists tend to base their view of the world on negative events. Conversely, optimists tend to distance themselves from negative events and gravitate towards the positive.
As an example, imagine that you are at a friend’s home and you drop a mug of coffee. Do you see this as a small accident that occurred because you were distracted, or do you feel ashamed and tell yourself you’re an awkward fool? If you’re a pessimist, you’re likely to label yourself as the latter, whereas optimists are far more likely to experience the former response.
Replacing negative self-talk with a positive attitude will create good feelings and set you on the path to achieving healthy emotions.
“I will never succeed with this project – it’s hopeless and so am I.”
“I have achieved more than I am giving myself credit for. I am not hopeless and have a very good chance of succeeding.”
“She thinks I’m attractive – she must be mad!”
“I’m going to ask her out on a date – I hope she’ll say yes.”
“My presentation is going to be terrible! I’ll be the laughing stock of the office.”
“I have given successful presentations before. This one is likely to be well received.”
What would you say to a best friend?
Your best friend comes to you for support. She’s in tears because she’s made a mistake and is berating herself mercilessly.
Do you say?
“I agree with you. You have made a terrible mistake that you can never put right. You, of all people, should really know better. You are a horrible person who should be thoroughly ashamed of yourself.”
Perhaps a family member comes to you because he or she is discouraged and on the verge of giving up on an important project.
Would you say?
“Yes, give up now. In fact, you should have given up months ago. You know you’re weak – a loser who’s destined to never amount to anything. It’s only going to get harder, so why try? What were you thinking anyway?”
I’m sure your answer to both of these is a resounding no! The reality is that you would want to show your friend empathy in a positive and reassuring manner. After all, a friend is meant to be someone who believes in you when you have given up believing in yourself.
But wait… do you talk to yourself in ways you would never contemplate when talking to a friend or family member?
In times of need, do you offer comfort and support to your friends and loved ones, but reprimand yourself with harsh and critical putdowns?
If so, why the double standard?
Remember, be your own best friend. Whatever encouraging words you’d say to your best friend, say those words to yourself. You deserve nothing less.
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