Overcoming Negative Self Talk
Speaking to Ourselves with Kindness
BY: T. Franklin Murphy | February 16, 2022
The words we think matter. Harsh self talk impedes personal growth.
We blast ourselves with judgment. Constantly bombarding our ego with critical remarks and hurtful labels. Negative self talk has a cost. And no, contrary to authoritarian critical parents' opinions, strict standards laced with character blasting judgments does not motivate self-improvement. It invites depression. If we want to grow, then we must dispose of our negative self-talk habits, replacing the practice with compassion, kindness, and gentle pokes to push us towards worthy goals.
In a wonderful article on self-forgiveness, author Alexandra Smith wrote that the self-punitive mindset "might also perpetuate feelings of negative self-worth as well as that self-fulfilling shame-based mindset: I’m just a bad person; naturally I make bad choices" (2020).
Self assessments through careful examination of failures is not negative unless it morphs from honest and helpful insights to hurtful shaming of character. One provides the foundation for improvement while the other discourages and depresses.
Negative self talk is any inner dialogue that limits our ability to reach our potential. Self talk is expressed silently through our thoughts, judging, labeling, and shaming.
Examples of Negative Self Talk
A helpful inner dialogue usually points the way to the solution, leading to a commitment to change, "next time I will try it a different way." Negative self talk provides no healthy solution, focusing on the blunder, and our stupidity for acting so foolishly.
Negative self talk expresses judgements like:
The judgments typically are universal instead of focused on specific facts that can be addressed. The negativity hurts rather than heals.
Those who find themselves frequently engaging in negative self-talk tend to be more stressed. This is in large part due to the fact that their reality is altered to create an experience where they don't have the ability to reach the goals they've set for themselves.
Elizabeth Scott, PhD. | Verywellmind
Broaden and Build Theory
Barbara Fredrickson taught that positive emotions create an atmosphere for growth by encouraging exploration and creativity. Negative emotions encourage protective withdrawal.
"Fredrickson posits that positive emotions not only signal flourishing but also produce flourishing, creating an upward spiral of wellness" (Murphy, 2020).
Our self talk is a critical component of our environment. Constant character assassination creates a dangerous landscape that we respond to by pulling back, limiting risks, and protecting against failure. We fear failure more than we desire success.
Combatting Negative Self Talk
We need a multi-prong approach to tame the self-critical beast. We must establish personal practices and improve environments. Often, critical self-judgments is a practice we integrated from external judgments. If our parents or a spouse constantly berated us, we tend to integrate their harshness into our own self-talk. Sigmund Freud's concept of the super ego represents this phenomenon.
Professor David L. Robinson describes the extreme attack that superego engages with against the ego, "during an attack, the superego becomes over severe, abuses, humiliates, and ill treats the unfortunate ego, threatens it with punishments, and reproaches it for long forgotten actions" (2011, page 130).
Combatting the negative talk is accomplished by transforming our approach, moving away from character assassinations towards gentle encouragements. This begins with the underlying belief that imperfections is acceptable.
Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioral Science at the London School of Economics and Political Science wrote in his book Happiness by Design that, "nobody’s perfect, and to be happy in any relationship, you can either accept the other person, flaws and all, or walk away. You live with yourself forever, of course, and this means accepting yourself as both imperfect and able to change" (2015, Kindle location 1,809).
We engage in this transformation by:
Mindfulness of Negative Talk
We engage in critical self talk largely without recognizing the hurtful nature of our judgments. We sit, we ruminate about our stupidity, and we depress never taken time to examine what is occurring. We blindly suppose we are depressed because of our action or flawed character without recognizing the power of the narrative we have given to the event.
It's the narrative wielding the power. We can change the narrative once we mindfully direct attention to it.
We can't change the way we think about ourselves if we surround ourselves with people that agree with our harsh inner critic. They feed the monster, supporting the self bashing hypothesis. If our environment constantly bashes our character, we will not be able to adopt a compassionate inner narrative. Period.
We need kind validation, supporting new improved self narratives.
Challenge Negative Judgements
Katherine Schreiber wrote in a Psychology Today article that writing down negative self criticisms and then challenging them is helpful in overcoming negative self talk (2022).
Writing down self criticism helps identify the rascals and challenging them weakens their impact on our emotions.
Negative Self Talk: "I'm stupid."
Challenge: "I'm not stupid. I did well in college. I solve difficult problems at work."
Negative Self Talk: "I always blow it."
Challenge: "I succeed at a lot of things. Last week I did well on my project. I'm a great parent."
A significant aid to improving self is changing our narrative through replacing the negative evaluations with positive ones. We can transform the narrative by taking note of successes.
A journal provides a healthy medium for recording daily success. A success journal is mush like the gratitude journal, except the daily entry includes a few things we did well that that day.
Books on Overcoming Negative Self Talk
Final Thoughts on Negative Self Talk
We can't burden our minds with thoughts that leave us shrinking in shame. Personal development is a challenging endeavor. When weighted down by an ever-flowing onslaught of blasting harsh judgements we shrink before the challenge, curl up in a protective ball, and avoid risking failure.
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Dolan, Paul (2015) Happiness By Design: Change What You Do, Not How You Think. Plume; Reprint edition
Murphy, T. F. (2020). Broaden and Build. Flourishing Life Society. Published 9-4-2020. Accessed 2-20-2022.
Robinson, D. L. (2011). Brain, Mind and Behaviour: A New Perspective on Human Nature.
Schreiber, K. (2022). 6 Tips to Overcome Negative Self-Talk and Self-Doubt. Published 1-29-2022. Accessed 2-20-22.
Scott, E. (2020). The Toxic Effects of Negative Self-Talk. Very Well Mind. Published 2-25-2020. Accessed 2-20-2022.
Smith, Alexandra (2020). A Path to Self-Forgiveness. Experience Life. Published 3-20-2020. Accessed 02-21-2022.
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