Photo by Brian Asare
Throughout the day, we constantly experience a stream of thoughts and inner dialogue. This is our self-talk. We experience self-talk in different ways, whether it is an inner cheerleader, inner child, or inner critic. Our self-talk can stem from our core beliefs, past experiences that we had, trauma, and our thought processes. Self-talk can be connected to how we feel about ourselves and how we perceive the world around us. When our self-talk is in a negative light, it can have a heavy influence on our self-esteem.
For many of us that experience negative self-talk, the inner critiques can take on the voice of a caregiver that we had growing up. If we were taught that we had to earn love, were constantly criticized by an attachment figure in our childhood, or abused, we may have internalized those messages and carry them with us in our adult lives. There are different types of negative self-talk. Here are some examples below:
Filtering refers to solely focusing on the negative and "filtering" out any positive or neutral experiences that we may have. This can look like having an amazing day at the beach, but then someone cutting you off on the drive home and you only focus on that negative experience for the rest of the day.
Personalizing refers to you constantly blaming yourself for anything bad that happens, even if you have no proof or evidence that something was actually your fault. Those of us who were gaslit often may experience negative self-talk through personalizing.
Your thoughts gravitate towards the worst possible outcomes. This can look like you not knowing the answer to a question on an exam that you're taking and because you don't know the answer, you automatically assume you are going to fail your class.
Although negative self-talk can take a toll on how we feel about ourselves, we can always overcome it. Overcoming negative self-talk isn't something that will happen overnight, but with consistency, compassion, and support, you can always heal. Here are things that you can do to begin the process:
1. Practice awareness towards your thoughts
As a therapist and life coach, I find that self-awareness is the catalyst to change. When we practice awareness towards our thoughts and feelings, we are beginning to be mindful of them. Anytime that you might experience a negative thought about yourself, bring awareness towards it and reflect on where it might be coming from.
2. Fact check your thoughts
As silly as it may sound, it is important for us to fact check our own selves. When experiencing negative thoughts or dialogue, ask yourself "What actual evidence do I have that this is true?"
3. Shift your negative thoughts and inner dialogue to a neutral stance
I specifically mention neutral instead of positive here. Changing our thoughts from negative to positive is a process. If it is difficult to shift your thoughts to positive ones, try a neutral stance. Instead of thinking or saying something along the lines of "I can never be good at this," shift to "This is challenging. I will do my best."
4. Speak to yourself as you would a small child
When you find yourself speaking or thinking unkind words to yourself, ask yourself if this is how you would speak to a small child. If not, reflect on that.
5. Get present
Our negative thoughts and inner dialogue can take us far into the future, something that anxiety thrives off of. It is important to find ways to get present, whether it be through mindfulness, meditation, or any other practices.
6. Process past traumatic experiences with a therapist
Although the above tips can be helpful, ultimately what will be most impactful is processing and healing from any past painful experiences that you might have. The past can give us insight to our experiences in the present.
Treating PTSD in battered women : a step-by-step manual for therapists & counselors / Edward S. Kubany, Tyler C. Ralston.
The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Self-Esteem : Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy to Move Beyond Negative Self-Talk and Embrace Self-Compassion.