Get rid of the negative self-talk - Anxiety Tip #14
You can be your own worst enemy. Negative critical messages you say to yourself can rev up your stress, hold you back, and take you down!
Negative self-talk is messages like:
- “You’re stupid.”
- “You can’t do anything right!”
- “You’re ugly.”
- “What a loser.”
- “You’ll never amount to anything.”
The messages in your head may be generated from low self-esteem or be repeats of messages voiced by flawed parents, bullies...
All too often, parents who don’t deal with their own shortcomings put them onto their children.
If you were repeatedly put down by a parent or other important adult—that was their stuff, not yours.
When I was devouring self-help books in my 30’s, one of the books I read was “Mind Traps.” It’s a huge book but the basic concept is simple: What you say to yourself is important. You don’t have to keep repeating the negative messages.
The book spurred me on to notice what I was saying to myself.
I noticed that I would say “You’re stupid” whenever I was disappointed in something I thought or did.
That message had haunted me for years but letting myself hear it clearly led me to being able to banish it from my inner repertoire.
In bringing the message up from my subconscious to my conscious in such a clear way I knew immediately where the message came from. My mother sent me that message in a myriad of ways including saying “You’re so stupid!”
I also realized “I’m not stupid.” This was mom’s stuff. She had an 8th grade education being forced out of school by the era she grew up in and an abusive father. Mom overcompensated for her own ignored inadequate feelings by putting me down.
I developed a system for countering the message.
I came up with a list of evidence that I’m not stupid.
Whenever I heard “You’re stupid” in my head, I would say to myself “Reality check.” Then I would recount the list of evidence that I’m not stupid.
Eventually, I didn’t need to use all the items on my evidence list before I would feel myself snap out of feeling inadequate.
A short time later, I didn’t need the list anymore. Just saying “Reality check” would undo the “You’re stupid” message.
And soon, “You’re stupid” went away.
I had been rid of the “You’re stupid” message for over 20 years when one of my sisters told me she too had been haunted by “You’re stupid.”
I said to her “You too?” to express my surprise. And she replied “With our mother, how could you not.”
To get rid of negative self-talk take these steps:
1. Begin to notice it. Pay attention to what you say to yourself. Rather than push it away, bring it up to full awareness and hear the message clearly. Possibly write it down so you’ve really got it .
2. Counter the message. The phrase “Reality Check” worked for me as a signal to counter the message. That may work for you too. Whether or not you use that signal, you want to challenge the message and provide yourself with evidence to the contrary. It may be helpful to write out the evidence.
3. Replace negative with positive. Possibly replace the negative message with its positive counterpart. “You’re stupid” can be replaced with “You’re not stupid” “You’re smart” “You can do this” “Academics aren’t your thing but there’s more to smart than school grades” or something else that empowers you.
Reflect on whether you have any negative self-talk.
Where did that message come from?
How has the message gotten in your way?
Use the steps to practice riding yourself of the counterproductive message.
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- Ann Silvers