As we go throughout our day, we all have internal conversations that provide opinions and evaluations on what we are doing. This inner monologue is called “self-talk.” When your self-talk is positive and self-validating, the results can boost your productivity. However, when the voice is critical and harsh, the effect can be emotionally crippling.
I grew up with parents that had extremely high standards and were very critical. I tried hard to meet their expectations but I never measured up and the continual criticism shaped how I viewed myself. Years later when seeing a therapist to deal with issues from my past, I realized that I had taken over their role as critic and held myself to impossible standards. This revelation opened the door to make changes to my self-talk that were life changing.
If you grew up with critical parents, teachers or others you too may have come to believe many negative things about yourself and you may be striving to reach impossibly high standards. When you are harsh, unkind and critical of yourself the affect is dramatic. Psychologist Dr. T.E. Chansky, author of Freeing Yourself From Anxiety explained that studies show negative self-talk is associated with low self-esteem, perfectionism, higher stress levels and even depression.
What do you say to yourself when you’ve made a mistake or have done something embarrassing? Do you tell yourself “that was stupid” “I’m such an idiot?” “What’s wrong with me?” or “Why can’t I do anything right?” This type of self-talk is destructive and causes you to question yourself so you can become paralyzed with doubt and uncertainty. If a friend did something embarrassing or made a mistake, would you be critical or supportive? Do you treat yourself with the same level of grace, encouragement and forgiveness that you extend to others?
Negative self-talk is a habit and the good news is you can change it to be positive, and encouraging. The first step toward change is to recognize what you are saying to yourself. Pay attention to your inner voice as you go throughout your day. Note what you say, either out loud or in your mind. You may be surprised at what you discover.
Once you begin to recognize negative self-talk, change the voice by choosing to focus on the things you do well. What are your strengths? Are you a good friend? Do you have a lot of inner strength? Are you a survivor? If you are a Christian, look in the Bible for all the verses that speak of your value in God’s eyes. Write these statements down and when you become self-critical remind yourself of the positive. With practice, you will eventually replace your critical voice with one that is more supportive. Speaking from personal experience and from what I’ve observed when counselling clients, becoming your own friend and cheerleader changes your negative self-concept, reduces anxiety, builds confidence and promotes inner peace.
Are you struggling with critical self-talk? Replace the critical voice with one that is encouraging, supportive and forgiving. Remember, if you wouldn’t say it to your friend, don’t say it to yourself.
Wendy Rhyason, MA Counselling Psychology
Registered Provisional Psychologist