How many women do you know who engage in negative self-talk? “I’m not good enough”, “I’m too fat/ too loud/ too ugly/ too old…”, “Everyone else has it together and I’m a mess”.
Sometimes it seems we can be our own worst enemies. We’ll be harder on ourselves than anyone else in our lives would ever be, expecting ourselves to live some perfect cookie cutter life akin to the fake lives we see on TV. But that’s the thing about those lives on TV and in advertising – they are fake.
Sometimes my friends say there is no harm in negative self-talk and after all, everyone does it. In a report by Dr Alice Domar PhD, Clinical Psychologist, she states, “Two researchers in 1969 found that negative self-talk causes an increase in stress. Our self-talk can be rigid, inflexible against ourselves, life, other people and this will increase our stress. If we think we are a failure or useless we just tend to accept it. We tend to think our thoughts are just thoughts, but they are not and have been shown to affect our brain chemistry. That is why research has found that optimists, who have a positive self-talk and belief in themselves, have better physical and psychological health than those of us that tend to be pessimistic with a negative self-talk.”
That’s right. Science has proven that our negative self-talk affects our physical and psychological health. So there is in fact harm in negative self-talk. Plus, it’s contagious. We can pass on our negativity to other people, including children. I’m sure nobody wants their own attitude to be contributing to their child’s ill health.
Dr Domar also stated, “The problem in the western world is that our culture and philosophy gives us the notion that it is all right to think ourselves as morons, or useless, but it is not acceptable to give ourselves a pat on the back, because it is seen as egotistical. This is inflexible and if we want to be able to reduce our stress we need to change our internal self-talk and not just accept what we say to ourselves. It is not selfish or self-centred to think about ourselves. If we are not feeling our best then we won't be able to give our best.”
So how do you stay upbeat in the face of tragedy? How do you change the negative talk, especially without being an ego maniac?
It takes practice and time to alter the way you think, so don’t get down on yourself if you still fall into the negative habits. Start by being aware of when you are looking at the worst aspects instead of the best. When you notice a negative thought, try to replace it with a positive.
Realise that nobody is perfect: everyone makes mistakes and mistakes are a great chance to learn, accidents happen and there is no need to assign blame. Blame fixes nothing, guilt fixes nothing, the past has happened and can’t be changed, the only thing you can change is how you behave in the future.
Try to be grateful for the good things. You may think, “Well that’s easy for you to say, you don’t have problem X in your life”. Everyone has problems, everyone suffers and no one person’s suffering in any way diminishes another. Take time to list the good things about your life, about yourself, about how lucky you really are just to be alive. Focussing on problems does nothing to fix them, whining does nothing to save you, only positive actions can influence positive change.
Wallowing in self-pity only serves to harm your health. I know a man whose divorce from ten years ago is still upsetting him and the people around him, even though he has moved on to a new partner. Set a time limit on your grief and anger and then start to mentally shake it off when those sad and negative thoughts enter your mind. Those thoughts are of no use to you once you’ve properly grieved. They are holding you back from moving on to a positive and happy future.
Remove yourself from negative situations, people, places and activities. This might mean ditching some toxic relationships. While that may seem hard at first, a weight will lift from your shoulders when you’re free from people who make you feel blue, who in any way bully or abuse you, or who drag you down.
Learn to give and take compliments graciously. If you feel awkward or embarrassed by compliments a simple, “Thank-you” will suffice. Giving a compliment to someone else will make you feel good, and is a good reminder that other people can be and have good things without it taking away from our own good fortune.
Be generous and kind to others. Spend time focussing on being and doing good instead of sitting at home over analysing every bad thing that happened to you. By helping others in need you gain a great perspective on your own problems.
I’m not saying a positive attitude will solve all of the world’s problems. It won’t make a poor person rich, it won’t make you look like a model or find you a good home. What I am saying is cultivating positive self-talk helps to make the unbearable in life more bearable.
Imagine this: You’re walking down the street looking fabulous on the way to a hot date when your heel breaks and you fall over. At this point you can cry, yell, get upset, call the shoe store and yell at them and let it ruin your date. Your other option is to laugh at yourself, dust yourself off, go to the date and regale your date with the funny story of, “You’ll never guess what happened to me on the way here tonight”. I know which person I would rather spend time with.
When tempted to yell, scream, and carry on over a setback, observe how you feel if instead you choose to brush it off, remind yourself that yelling won’t solve your problems, and instead focus on a positive point of action from there.
When you are feeling fragile, be kind to yourself. Treat yourself the way you might treat someone else who is in pain; draw a long bath, make yourself cosy, treat yourself to something special, take five to just breathe, tell yourself everything will be okay. Then think about the things that are good in the world, list the things you’re grateful for, and smile.