From a reader: I’ve always been one that has been very self deprecating, and after my recent split (which I initiated) my negative self-talk has gotten worse and is really impacting my life, my work etc. Any advice on how to stop?
Let’s start with clarifying self deprecation and negative self-talk.
Self deprecation is typically what we say aloud to others about ourselves. It’s usually said with a bit of humor, such as, “I can’t believe I spelled that wrong, what the heck is wrong with me?” It’s a way to let others know that we have identified some flaw in ourselves and we are willing to point that out in public. Self deprecation can be useful in acknowledging something that we’ve done wrong and owning up to it.
Negative self-talk is usually quite a bit more dangerous because we say it only to ourselves and we frequently don’t negate what we’ve said. Negative self-talk is usually done repeatedly, similar to a tape on repeat.
Since there is no one to negate it (except ourselves), most of us have pretty aggressive self talk. I often say to clients, “It’s unlikely that anyone else is meaner to you than you.” Rarely do they disagree. Let’s use the spelling example again and this is what might be going on with our self talk, “I’m such an idiot, I can’t even spell. People are going to see how stupid I am and not even bother spending time with me.”
Of course negative self-talk and self deprecation can go hand in hand in which we say something negative about ourselves out loud and also think it in our heads. Either way, neither are very helpful and doomed to lead us to not feeling so good about ourselves.
It’s not surprising that negative self-talk is common for divorcees in that we might be spending more time alone with our thoughts and with some of the more hurtful words that might be said to us as we end a relationship.
So what can we do about all of this negativity going on in our head? First, we want to be aware of it. Listen to your thoughts, connect with them, and really hear what you are saying to yourself. Make those thoughts conscious so that you have the opportunity to address them. Second, take some time and accept that that’s what you’ve been saying, don’t judge yourself or even the thoughts. Instead hold space to get curious about what you are hearing yourself say.
From there we want to ask ourselves where those thoughts are coming from. Dig deep here. Often our negative self talk comes from internalizing things that others have said to us. Ask yourself where you picked up this message and why you’ve decided to accept it for fact. This can be a bit painful as we look back on our lives and realize how often we’ve accepted negative messaging as truth and thus have internalized it as part of our personal dialogue.
Next we want to challenge the messages we are giving ourselves. How true are they? And ultimately if they are true, how helpful is it for us to hold on to these deprecating beliefs? Our brain listens to what we tell it, so if we tell our brain that we are stupid, ugly, unloveable, etc., it will believe us. If we tell our brain that we are powerful, smart, and extremely lovable, it will also believe that. Why wouldn’t we want to pump our brains full of empowering words? What’s the downside of that?
Here’s the most dangerous part of negative self-talk: it leads to painful emotions and self defeating behaviors and thus, a doom loop. Let’s say we tell ourselves that we are unloveable. How do you think we feel when we think that? I’d feel sad, hopeless, and defeated. If I feel sad, hopeless, and defeated, how do you think I’m showing up in the world? You got it, exactly the same way!
On the other hand if I tell myself that I am powerful, smart, and lovable, I feel excited, strong and hopeful. When I feel powerful then I show up to the world as joyful and powerful. The negative self talk feeds on itself and so does the positive self talk so why wouldn’t you choose the positive version?
Practice catching those negative thoughts, challenging them, and ultimately changing them to positive thoughts, even if you don’t believe the new thoughts at first. Studies show that it’s harder to keep positive information in our brain than it is negative informations. Therefore, we will want to work a little bit harder at telling ourselves motivating, inspiring messages. However, it will be worth it!
Lisa Kaplin, Psy. D., CPC is a professional certified life and executive coach, psychologist, and professional speaker. She helps people tackle that “One day I’ll do this and then I’ll be happy” goal, today. You can reach Lisa at Lisa@lisakaplin.com or lisakaplin.com
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