By Lindsey Rogers, LCPC
Perhaps you have heard it before, from belittling comments made under the breath and muttered statements that discount achievements to loudly judging, criticizing, and even name-calling. The victim is left feeling discouraged, wounded, and weak. There is no motivation to do better or be better if you are cut down by biting statements. Hearing this type of verbal abuse makes us want to yell at the victim to leave, get out, and do not take this kind of treatment. Yet this is not the dialogue from a Lifetime movie depicting domestic abuse. What I am describing is a voice that is more powerful, more intrusive, and utterly inescapable: I am talking about the voice in our heads, our self-talk. Self-talk is our internal chatter and it can cause significant psychological effects on self-esteem and confidence if it is constantly negative and self-defeating. Luckily there are ways to change the bullying aspects of self-talk to a more supportive and encouraging voice.
Who is on your mental guest list?
We are constantly processing and interpreting the world around us. However, our mental filters and core beliefs about ourselves have a huge impact. The self-talk we experience is impacted by and then perpetuates either a positive dynamic or (as described above) a really bad relationship with ourselves. So let’s figure out how to make this relationship a lot healthier. Imagine that your thoughts and feelings represent “guests” at a party. Every thought and feeling is a person who shows up to this epic mental shindig in your head (and this party is happening all the time). Think about whom you are inviting to your party. So much of how we talk, think, and feel about ourselves is automatic or longstanding. It can be difficult to slow things down and think about self-talk and how we got to this place. So maybe some of the names on this mental guest list are grandfathered in. Maybe they represent thoughts and feelings from our families and upbringing and have become internalized. Maybe some of these guests are total bullies who are occupying your mental space and are making you feel bad about yourself. They are totally ruining your party.
Evict the bullies from your mental space
So the party is happening in your head and suddenly one of these bullies shows up, walks in the door, and gets in your face. You know this guy and you may know he is a bully but yet again, like every party, here he is on your guest list. The bully walks up to you and starts spouting terrible stuff to you about you. And here is the clincher: You actually listen. You don’t just listen; you eat up this garbage. You give all of your attention to this terrible guest, this awful bully within your head, to the point that you ignore the rest of the guests at your party. You don’t care about what the other partygoers have to say; you have allowed this bully to dominate your time. That bully, that awful party guest, that guy is negative self-talk. He shoves his way in the door and dominates the room. Well, this visitor sucks and is not doing you any favors. He is the worst! So here’s the thing: Nothing is worse than a bad party guest overstaying his welcome. So it is time to evict that rude attendee, stop the internal bullying, and turn the destructive self-talk into something much more positive. Bullies feed off of attention so the first way to improve that mental party is to stop giving so much of your time to that bad party guest, that negative self-talk. That guy may show up to your party; he may even talk to you. But you have the power to ignore him, “walk away” so to speak, and focus on the other guests at your party who have much more positive and realistic things to say. Give less attention to the damaging self-talk, that bully at your mental party. Challenge those thoughts and quiet the negative self-talk.
Cheerleaders welcome here
So maybe you have started to do some spring cleaning of the negative voices in your head. Good riddance! Now is the time to invite a lot more cheerleaders to your mental party. Maybe you are struggling with finding some positive guests to invite. It can be hard to switch the script to positive self-talk when the harmful voices are so much more familiar. Affirmations are a great way to dip your toe into a more positive inner dialogue. They are positive statements that are typically short and focused (e.g., “I am enough” or “I am worthy”). Work on saying affirmations to yourself aloud. Repetition is key to change them from mere words to internal thoughts and feelings you have about yourself.
Positive visualization can help guide that inner chatter. Imagine yourself reaching your goals. If you can see it, you are working on believing it. Another way to work on positive self-talk is to change that negative thought into a positive one. If that awful guest starts spewing nasty stuff at your party, can you change that undermining talk into something brighter, or at least neutralize it? Maybe the negative self-talk is, “I just messed up that project.” Try reframing the story to focus on the positive aspects: “Maybe I didn’t completely screw that up. Maybe I can fix this.” If you feel overwhelmed by the future, try to keep that positive self-talk focused on the present and what you can do now versus the pressure of what to do to reach those future goals. Keep that inner dialogue positive and focused on obtainable goals. Allow yourself to be successful.
You are worthy and capable of a good, healthy relationship with yourself. Take time to take stock of what is going on in your head and whether your self-talk tends to be more positive or negative. Know that you can change that destructive chatter by challenging those thoughts and making room for much more affirming dialogue. Treat yourself the way you would treat someone you love and that mental party in your head will start to be an amazing celebration!