Most of us understand that how we choose to talk to others, and the words we use toward/about someone is very important because they can impact what that person feels or how they see themselves. This is much the same when it comes to self-talk and how we choose to speak to ourselves and what we plant as a seed in our own inner thoughts.
Self-talk is an internal discourse — that can be, for some, visual rather than verbal — that’s influenced by our subconscious mind and how we are (or are not) processing the thoughts, feelings, beliefs and experiences that we encounter throughout life. Like the ways in which we choose to speak to others, our self-talk can either be positive, uplifting and affirming or negative, restrictive and stagnating. It’s deeply connected to our overall mental health because it can both trigger or perpetuate cycles of stress, depression and anxiety.
Often it’s during the times when we are struggling in life when our self-talk can become particularly harsh or overly critical. As we fight through something that takes an emotional or mental toll on us, it can be very common that we start to speak about ourselves in a negative way causing us to generate more anxiety around our abilities, opportunities or successes. It can develop into a cycle of inaction or despondency that becomes self-fulfilling — so it’s essential that we learn how to combat it before it begins to work against us.
A useful step to begin combatting detrimental self-talk is to catch yourself when you do it and set aside some time (immediately, if convenient, or later on) to think about what may be behind it and whether or not it reflects reality (it’s an actual problem or issue that needs resolving) or if it’s a symptom/reaction to a separate issue that you’re grappling with. Get used to asking yourself if what you’ve just internalized is how you really think/feel or is it connected to something else that’s impacting your overall mental and emotional wellbeing. Consider whether or not your self-talk manifests a constructive way to move forward — if it doesn’t, and only serves to denigrate, it’s possible that you’re inwardly projecting your stress, anxiety or depression about something you’re navigating.
Once you’ve examined why you might be using negative self-talk you can then actively challenge what you’ve said and turn it into something more realistic or self-soothing. For example, when I’m experiencing anxiety and stress I often disparage myself by saying I’m lazy if I haven’t done something or completed a task to my usual standard. As soon as I recognize that my inner dialogue is working against me, I take the time to remind myself that I don’t need to be outwardly productive in the same way when I’m emotionally tired and trying to manoeuvre through anxiety.
It’s important not to ignore negative thoughts as they often allude to something that needs to be addressed. It isn’t healthy or helpful, however, to think that we should only focus on the beneficial aspects of our lives and constantly search for the purpose/light in everything we experience. Believing that this is how we need to navigate life can contribute to a toxic positivity that leaves us feeling shame, isolation or guilt, etc about experiencing mental or emotional hardship and pain. Sometimes life is just terrible and we are entitled to feel what we feel. Learning how to acknowledge when we’re misdirecting negativity towards ourselves is key to making sure we can rise up even when we’re weighed down by what we carry.
For more comprehensive advice from mental health experts and health professionals, check out the links at the end of this article and throughout this post.
Do you use self-talk in a positive way? Are you able to catch yourself when it turns negative? How do you help yourself through difficult times?
Challenging Negative Self-Talk – Psych Central
Overcoming Negative Self-Talk – Mayo Mindfulness/ Mayo Clinic