I can’t ever do anything right. I’m such an idiot. No wonder I haven’t gotten a promotion. Of course this happened, because I don’t ever do well enough. I’m worthless.
These thoughts then prompt feelings of self-hate, disappointment, and sadness. Suddenly the bad day at work is becoming a bad life.
So, if talking this way to ourselves causes and promotes feelings we find uncomfortable, why don’t we just stop it?
We use super critical or harsh self-talk to try to motivate ourselves to do better, to avoid doing things that frighten us, and to try to control situations. Think about the last time you did something or attempted to do something that pushed you toward the edge of your comfort zone.
What things did you tell yourself in preparation? Did you completely talk yourself out of applying for an awesome position because you thought “I’m not good enough for that job,”? Did you sit on a bench while your spouse zip lined through the trees because you told yourself how stupid you’d look in the harness or screaming?
We avoid fear of public rejection or ridicule by internally rejecting ourselves through negative self-talk, which has us avoiding the possibility of public rejection altogether – we end up waiting on the sidelines of life.
Negative self-talk is often rooted in the voices we internalize. A fearful or controlling caregiver that minimizes the things we attempt to do or criticizes efforts we make early on can become our own inner voice.
Talking smack at ourselves is a learned behavior that becomes a habit, and just like any other habit, we have the power to change it.
What Lies Beneath
To start your journey toward dismantling the negative self-talk habit, start with exploring what is underneath that talk. Step back from the situation that generated the less than helpful talk and ask yourself, what you’re afraid of in that situation. Become a detective and dive into the fear that underlies much of that negative talk with questions about where it comes from. When you’re able to see what’s really there the self-talk that masks it diminishes.
Relearning what to say to yourself in moments of discomfort that prompt negative self-talk is another powerful tool. When self-talk is rooted in controlling outcomes, like preventing rejection, taking the opportunity to be realistic about things can be helpful in creating new responses to these situations. So what is the most likely reality of whatever situation you’re facing? That you’ve been in hard places before, that they aren’t avoidable, and that kindness can help you survive. Pause your negative self-talk with a phrase like that to return to reality that is more balanced as opposed to more negative-leaning.
Thought stopping is an important component of both of the practices above. Get in the habit of noticing when you’re speaking poorly to yourself and politely remind yourself to stop it. Follow this with your more realistic statement or something compassionate like, “Everyone makes mistakes.”
Self-talk is an underlying cause of many uncomfortable emotions, chances not taken, and “bad” days, weeks, or months. Working toward curbing it using these three steps is guaranteed to help you on a journey toward a happier and more compassionate life. Like anything worthwhile, this takes practice and time. Counseling can provide additional support in uncovering your self-talk and its roots, too.
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