The moment I confessed that I used to have a crush on this one guy and he chose to dodge the entire message, my first instinct, and immediate reaction was, “OH MY GOD! I’m so stupid, I shouldn’t have even brought this up.”
But wait a minute. What was so stupid about being expressive of one’s feelings? Why doesn’t it deserve to be expressed and instead bottled up? However, instead of addressing the reality of the situation, my embarrassment and disappointment made me immediately jump into my conditioned response to be highly critical of myself. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you how negative self-talk looks like. Negative self-talk is dialogues that you have with yourself that contain self-limiting beliefs and pessimistic perceptions of yourself.
How Negative Self-Talk Is Developed
How your self-talk generally sounds like has a history of its evolution in which what one is exposed to during childhood plays a major role. Being raised in an incredibly healthy and supportive environment can have a positive influence on the way you speak to yourself. Often children being raised in such an environment constantly receive encouragement and exchange kind and compassionate words with their parents. However, not everyone is fortunate enough to have the same luck, as many people grow up in a household that is highly critical of all their actions. Thus, when receiving criticism from others, it has the effect of becoming what they believe about themselves.
Societal pressure also becomes a factor that affects your self-talk once you step into the outside world. There is the expectation to dress, speak, and behave according to the norm. Naturally, our conditioned response is to conform to the subtle or obvious social norms that are already in place; fit in. The main reason we opt for conformity is to win the approval and acceptance we crave from the people around us. When we fall short in this quest, it is easy for the disappointment of not being liked to turn into personal attacks in our minds.
Constant negative self-talk can lead to feelings of helplessness where you feel powerless to improve bad situations and solve the problems you face. Negative self-talk not only causes decreased motivation but was also found to be linked to depression. However, the art of self-talk is not something you either possess or don’t but a skill that can be mastered. So, here are a few ways you can work on turning your internal negative statements into neutral or positive ones,
1. Be aware
Listening and observing is the key here. Understand that the way you address yourself has its patterns just like our thoughts. Some topics or events can be walks on eggshells for some people. Unless approached with caution, it is relatively easy for them to develop into major downward spirals led by none other than our negative self-talk. Be aware of what topic can be a trigger for your negative self-talk to jump in. Is it when you’re dealing with failure or is it when others fail you and your expectations? Being aware helps you understand in which instances you need to slow down your thoughts and be mindful before your negative self-talk takes the wheels. Also, be conscious to listen without judgments to your self-talk, or it becomes the same negative self-talk, just through the back door of your mind.
2. Incorporate kindness
Ever heard of the phrase ‘speak to yourself as you would speak to someone you love’? We can’t even imagine saying half of the highly critical and horrible things we tell ourselves to someone else, never mind to a loved one. When you’re faced with a situation where your self-talk is spewing hateful things at you, for starters begin to form more neutral statements about the situation. Instead of ‘I’m so stupid for doing this’, maybe go for ‘this situation I’m in is disappointing’. Soon, rather than neutral statements, slowly turn toward positive ones that portray more kindness and compassion towards yourself. Word choice matters.
Positive kind statements can also be self-affirmations. Statements such as ‘I’m strong and loving’ can engrave positive messages in our subconscious mind. Positive self-affirmations are said to be having the ability to counteract negative thoughts and habits, improve problem-solving, and allow us to view events from a more rational and reasonable point of view. Here are a few positive affirmations for you to start your day with!
3. Using the non-first-person pronoun
In an interview recalling the Taliban’s rise in power, Malala Yousafzai addresses her monologue asking “If he [a Taliban] comes [to kill her], what would you do Malala?”. Notice here that she addresses herself as a third person instead of using ‘I’. Researchers Ethan Kross and friends found that using second or third person pronouns helps one to distance themselves from themselves (self-distance) and leads us to think of ourselves as though we’re someone else. They found by self-distancing, we can objectively think about our irrational thoughts and have the ability to regulate our thoughts, feelings, and behaviour under stress ultimately avoiding the source of negative self-talk.
Maybe we couldn’t choose how our self-talk was developed, but we have complete control over how we want to shape them. Being aware, incorporating kindness, and using non-first-person pronouns are a few steps we can take to embark on the journey of shaping our positive self-talk. Be conscious because how you speak to yourself might also manifest into how you choose to speak to others in your life. It is important to not just practice them, but set an example for others around you, especially if you’re a parent.