Self Matters: You Say What to Your Self!!

    Billie Wade March 15, 2021

    How you talk to yourself whether in your own voice or someone else’s affects your feelings, the way you live, your relationships, your decisions, and your self-care. Negative self-talk contributes to a low sense of self-worth, anxiety, depression, and intensifies the symptoms of other mental health issues. Revising your self-talk, even when you do not fully understand or believe it plants a seed that grows every time you repeat it. With time and practice, you can recognize your negative self-messages and learn to replace them with messages that support you. You will figure out which words and phrases you use most often. When you talk to yourself, you internalize and reinforce the message.

    Many people tell you to talk to yourself as you would a friend with the admonition that you would have few friends if you talked to them the way you talk to yourself. But you are closer to yourself than to your friends. To transform your thinking, you must be unflinchingly honest with yourself and combine it with the gift of self-compassion. If your friend said words of sincere honesty to you, would you listen or would you seek a new friend?

    Where Negative Self-Talk Comes From

    Negative self-talk often begins with the admonishing voice of someone important to you who picks at your self-confidence by pointing out what they see as your faults, shortcomings, mistakes, failures, and fundamental deficiencies. Although barbed comments hurt, over time, you internalize them as the truth of who you are. The other person may even insist that you repeat out loud the words and phrases, “so you never forget…” I knew a woman whose boyfriend beat her every morning “because I know you’ll do something by the end of the day to make me mad.” While some negative messages are not as verbally violent as this, perpetual putdowns, even subtle ones, can erode your sense of self. People may point out how much and how often you disappoint them. Or they are silent and withhold communication, attention, and affection. They dishonor the good about you, what you do well, what excites you or has meaning for you. Making choices in your own best interest become murky and you feel unreliable to make even simple decisions. You are always afraid of saying the wrong thing or making a mistake.

    Sometimes, despite supportive, nurturing relationships throughout your life comparisons to others lead you to determine you are not enough: good enough, educated enough, pretty enough, thin enough, smart enough, worldly enough, etc., you fill in the blank.

     

    How Do You Clean Up Your Negative Self-Talk?

    Getting out of a negative self-talk spiral is daunting when we focus on it. Thinking of the negativity of the message makes the situation feel worse by feeding strong emotions and reinforcing the feelings that accompany them. The ability to see other perceptions and perspectives gets foggy. It decreases options and narrows vision. It is helpful to acknowledge the negativity by talking to it. “Hello, worry. I see you’re back again.” Those seven words can help identify the thought pattern and deescalate fiery feelings. Then, you can deal with the situation with a calmer, cooler head.

    This process is best done alone to avoid the influence of others while you are in a vulnerable state of exploring, discovering, and learning new skills. You can be your own therapist: If you have a video conferencing account—Zoom, Google Meets, FaceTime, etc.—open a meeting and talk to yourself on screen. Look into your eyes and really listen to your voice. Videoconferencing also lets you record your conversation which you can replay to use in coordination with your journaling. Practice your new words and phrases by writing them and saying them aloud, with a mirror and look into your eyes.

     

    Self-Distancing

    Just like journaling, self-talk can take you on an adventure of self-discovery of delightful traits about you. One tool to counter negative messages is self-distancing, that is talking to yourself using your name rather than the pronouns “I” or “me.” You hear your message in your voice, but your brain thinks it is talking to someone else. Rather than, “I am really mad about this,” you would say, “Susan (your name) is really mad about this.” You have stepped away from yourself and the problem and become an observer. You can then ask questions that promote clarity and decision-making. Self-distancing helps you see the bigger picture of options and possibilities. You then substitute positive messages using your name, then repeating them using the pronouns “I” and “me” to integrate them into your mind. Next time, you may be less likely to default to the negative.

    Positive self-talk helps you figure out what is true for you and what you want from every aspect of your life. It helps you befriend yourself which increases your self-confidence. Setbacks and disappointments will have less impact on your life because you spend less and less time berating yourself. You will learn how to rebound after a mistake or unpleasant turn of events. A clearer picture of where you went awry will emerge and you can use the information to move forward. You will be in a better position to problem-solve and course-correct and make decisions that serve you.

     

    Journaling Exercise

    1. Find a quiet, comfortable space where you will not be disturbed. Though you will want to minimize distractions and noise, you may want to light a candle and play soft music, perhaps music that has special meaning for you.
    2. Open your journal and title your entry “What I Say to Myself.” You may want to be specific about the area of your life or situation you are addressing. Examples include: “I feel…when I make a mistake.” “I feel…when I’m learning something new.” “I feel…when I work on a project (mental or creative).
    3. Close your eyes and let words and phrases drift into your awareness.
    4. With each one, gently open your eyes and write it without judgment or engaging with it—just the word or phrase.
    5. Close your eyes and repeat steps three and four until you have a list of three to five words and phrases.
    6. Read the list carefully and choose one that stands out.
    7. Journal about the word/phrase, again without judgment. Rather, be open and curious. Is it true? Why or why not (write the validation for your answer)? Who said so? What else do you want to write or find out about it?
    8. Write these sentences on an index card or sticky note. Only I know who I am. Everyone else tells me who they want me to be instead of myself. I declare who I am and who I want to become.”
    9. Refer to it a minimum of three to five times throughout your day.
    10. Highlight, underline, or rewrite the phrases in a different color ink. Have fun! Continue rewriting until the word(s) feel(s) right to you. Please note: Aha! moments are common.
    11. After seven days write seven to ten words/phrases in your journal that more closely define who you are becoming, in present tense. Example: “I’m innovative and see many possibilities.” Don’t believe it yet? Continue to repeat it until you feel confident.
    12. Ask questions: What do I want to be, do, or have? Be as indulgent or elaborate as you want. Envision big; What doubt is in the way? What is the truth? What is accurate? Write the answer on an index card or sticky note and display it prominently. Repeat it out loud.
    13. Repeat these steps as often as necessary to address the other items on your list or when new doubts arise. Notice shifts in your attitude toward yourself, and the new messages that come up.

    The Challenge

    Hurtful messages may be deeply imbedded in your mind. They may be decades old or more. You may not be able to distance yourself from the source of the messages. As always, the number one practice is to be safe.

    Changing self-talk takes time and practice. Early attempts feel awkward or even silly and pointless. Transforming a long-held belief may sound impossible and foreign. I encourage you to stay with it, keep practicing. Becoming your absolute best friend is a reward worth pursuing. Practice the sensitivity and gentleness of self-compassion. Smile at yourself a lot, preferably while looking into your adoring eyes. Giggle at yourself a lot, preferably while listening to your happy voice. Hug yourself, preferably while embracing your magnificent body. Happy Writing.


     

    Billie Wade

    Author bio:My Logo

    Billie Wade, a lifelong journaler, believes people are precious, sacred, resilient, and stronger than they know. She created Journaling to Heal, LLC which helps people discover the power of writing in their process of recovery from emotional stress and trauma. Visit her at www.billiewade.com and find more of her writing on www.dmpcc.org/billie where she writes a monthly newsletter column for Des Moines Pastoral Counseling Center.

     

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