Negative statements from others can erode our sense of self-worth. As children, we tend to believe negative assessments from teachers and parents and develop a compromised self-concept when criticized on a regular basis. Researchers estimate that it’s necessary for the ratio of at least five positive-to-every one negative comments for a relationship to be healthy and survive long-term. For these reasons, we are taught not to let others put us down, but sometimes the person eroding our sense of self-worth and limiting our potential is us. That’s right, our self-talk can increase our stress levels, limit our potential, and color our experience with a negative pen.
Self-talk is the way you communicate with yourself. It is your internal dialogue. Self-talk can be positive or negative, but it is important to realize that it is rarely neutral. The more negative self-talk the more you believe it. When you start to believe the negative self-talk then you begin to experience lower self-esteem and begin to believe you do not deserve anything better.
Though it’s not clear as to what extent this occurs, it has been found that the types of words we use can alter expectations and even our perceptions of reality. For example:
•If you’ve been told that a difficult person is ‘a nightmare to work with’, you will probably perceive that person as more frustrating than if you’ve been told they’re ‘particular’ or ‘somewhat demanding’.
•If your dentist tells you, ‘This will hurt. A lot!”, you will probably find a procedure more painful than if you’ve been told ‘You may experience some discomfort.’
As it subtly impacts what you perceive and what you focus on, negative self-talk can alter your experience of stress. When your self-talk is negative, you may perceive things as more stressful. For example, when you tell yourself something is ‘difficult’ or ‘unfair’, it becomes more stressful to deal with than if you tell yourself it’s a ‘challenge’, or even a ‘test’. Using self-talk that is optimistic rather than pessimistic has stress management benefits, productivity benefits and even health benefits that have been proven by research.
Self-talk can be limiting. If you say, “I can’t handle this”, you more likely can’t. This is because your subconscious mind tends to believe the thoughts it hears. When you tell yourself you can’t handle something (or some other self-limiting thought), you tend to stop looking for solutions. For example, notice the difference between telling yourself you can’t handle something and asking yourself how you will handle something. Doesn’t the second thought feel more hopeful and produce more creativity? Negative self-talk tends to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Patterns of negative or positive self-talk often start in childhood. Usually, the self-talk habit is one that’s impacted our thinking for years, and can affect us in many ways, influencing the experience of stress to our lives. However, anytime can be a good time to change it. When you can stop yourself from using negative self-talk, you will be able to use your mind to boost your productivity and self-esteem and relieve stress.
The first step toward change is to become more aware of the problem. You probably don’t realize how often you say negative things in your head, or how much it affects your experience. Once you start noticing those patterns, you can begin changing the wording to something more neutral or even positive. It seems difficult at first but once you begin practicing it, you will begin to notice it happening much more naturally.
Until next time….
Change. Discover. Transform.
Carla Carter, Ed.D., LCPC, CMPC, EMDR Certified