Musings on Stopping Negative Self-Talk

Negative self-talk is that cycle of criticizing yourself.  It’s your own words used against you.  By you.  In your head.  And, becomes part of you.

Negative self-talk is a vicious cycle.  It starts with self-doubt.  A negative experience triggers self-doubt.  Self-doubt invites criticism and blame of one’s self.  The internal language is negative self-talk – of not being good enough, of never getting anything right, of being a failure, and so on.  Negative self talk feeds itself.  What we say in our head becomes our belief.  And, the cycle continues with each negative experience.  Negative self-talk is bad – all bad.

Self-awareness and self-reflection are different.  Self-awareness involves noticing and monitoring what is going inside us.  It opens the heart and mind behavior that is responsive and not reactive.  Self-reflection involves focusing on and thinking about one’s self – character, actions, motivations, and the like.  It opens the heart and mind to self-knowledge and purpose.  When doing either, one can identify and think about negative experiences and feelings.  But, neither is simply the self-criticism of negative self-talk.

Stopping (or at least curbing) negative self-talk is the best thing I have done for myself in a long time.  It is incredibly freeing.

Some tips on how I did this:

  • First, recognize when it is happening.  Notice it (putting self-awareness skills to work).
  • When you recognize it, name it – this is negative self-talk.
  • Tell yourself to stop.  (It’s also okay to acknowledge that stopping is hard.)
  • Recognize that this is a thought.  Not reality.  It is the story you tell yourself.
  • When the negative self-talk involves an experience with another person, recognize that this is your perception.  That you can only experience what you perceive and you do not actually know what the other person perceived, thinks, or feels.  Remind yourself that your perception of interactions with others is just one side of the story.
  • When the negative self-talk involves only yourself and your own actions, be your own friend.  Ask yourself what you would say to a friend who told said the same thing of him/herself to you.  We are far kinder to others than we are to ourselves.  Tell yourself what you would tell your friend.  Be as kind to and gentle with yourself.
  • If you cannot let go in the moment, indulge yourself by setting a time limit on how long you will allow yourself to dwell on the situation.  Then stop when the time limit has passed.
  • If you can let go in the moment but also think there is something to learn from the situation, set aside a time later to reflect on the situation and your role in it (putting your self-reflection skills to work).
  • Talk with a friend or family member, ask for honest feedback.  The situation is probably not as dire as you think.
  • Recognize that this is a habit.  Which takes time to break.  Begin again when it creeps back in.

Though originating in a very different context, I cannot help but think of Bob Marley’s lyrics from Redemption Song:  “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery.  None but ourselves can free our minds.”

I welcome your tips on how to break the negative self-talk cycle.

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