Negative self-talk is often formed through our experiences with others, especially during childhood, who have subconsciously embedded thoughts in our minds throughout our life. Often times as an adult, it is hard to identify negative self-talk, because they are forming from those unhealthy thought patterns that have been ingrained in us, whether by hearing the voices of authority figures, old friends, and others who don't have our best interests in mind. In order to break free from negative self-talk, you have to exercise your brain, just like your body. Do you go to the gym for the first day of your workout program and expect to leave after an hour with the results you are seeking? Re-wiring your brain takes the same time, practice, and dedication. You are erasing the negative messages and reprogramming your mind, almost like that of a computer, with new and improved software.
The first important part of removing negative self-talk is to begin recognizing the messages you send yourself, as well as others. You can inform a close confident or two of your plan to change the negative self-talk, and have them stop you and make your reword what you are trying to say in a positive way. For example, instead of saying, “I can’t get that promotion at work”, you can change it to, “I will ask my boss what I can do to get a that promotion and try my best.” By using definitive statements, you are subconsciously telling yourself that you shouldn’t even bother working towards your goals, and putting yourself down before you even give yourself a chance to succeed. Having a loved one constantly make you repeat yourself and rephrase your sentences may be frustrating, but the more there is repetition, the more you will begin noticing the negative phrases as you are thinking them, and soon you will begin to re-word your own thoughts on your own.
"Black or White" Thinking
You may also find it helpful to re frame dichotomous, or “black or white” thinking. For example, say you are going out to meet some friends for dinner after work. Your boss ends up keeping you a half hour later to work on a project. A “black and white” thinker may say “Well I am already going to be a half hour late, so I might as well not go at all”. Thinking in absolutes prevents you from spontaneity, open-, minded thinking, and viewing anything other than “perfection” as failure. When you begin to recognize yourself using this form negative self-talk, use the first exercise above to re-frame your thoughts. Instead of not meeting up with your friends, you could meet them for dessert or coffee, or suggest an after dinner location. Dichotomous thinking leads to missed opportunities, as well as giving up on yourself before you have a chance to succeed.
Another exercise you can try is taping yourself while you are talking to someone, for example while you are on the phone with a friend, and then watch the recording to recognize how many times you put yourself down, or use negative wording. By watching yourself, you can begin to notice patterns, which may help you identify the triggers for your negative self-talk. Do you find yourself using negative wording when discussing a toxic relationship, or discussing your career? Maybe you are putting yourself down because you think that you are not worthy of a healthy relationship, or you feel that you have to be negative towards yourself to make someone else feel better. Whatever the reasons are, you deserve to always see yourself in a positive light, and eliminating these triggers may help you do that.
Negative self-talk is destructive to your self-esteem. Whatever experiences in your life that have made you see yourself in a negative light, it is important to work towards making positive change. If you are struggling to identify what negative self-talk looks like, a support group may help. At The Center for Growth, we have support groups which work on re-framing your thought patterns, with like-minded individuals who can help you on your journey.