According to www.psychologydictionary.org, negative self-talk is the expression of thoughts or feelings which are counter-productive and have the effects of de-motivating oneself. It would not be a stretch to say that this is both a common and unhealthy state of mind. We beat ourselves up when things in our lives look insurmountable.
Negative self-talk rears its ugly head on the couches of therapist, counselors and coaches every day. We hear phrases like:
“No matter what I do, I will not be able to give my children the life they had.”
“I am no good at this dating thing. I rarely get asked out again and this time will be no different.”
We hear these and dozens of similar phrases that absolutely paralyze people. But what is the cause and why is it so prevalent? To those who exhibit negative self-talk, the causation is reality. As a client once told me, “when enough bad things happen, it is completely realistic and justified for me to believe the shit will keep hitting the fan.” I understand this train of thought but it is void of necessary context.
Before we criticize ourselves, let’s look at things from a practical lens.
It’s Not You, It’s Them: A common source of self-doubt is the experience we have with other people. Pam may constantly criticize herself because she cannot erase the memory of her parents constantly telling her to strive for more—that she can always do better. Megan was belittled by Jack nearly every day of their nine-year marriage and his words have created a significant cloud of lingering self-doubt in her.
Before you begin to criticize yourself, consider where the criticism is really coming from. Is your self-criticism justified or are you listening to those unhealthy voices in your head?
Perfect May Be the Enemy of You: Tamara was a top-notch student in school. At work she is a fast burner with three promotions in less than five years. Unfortunately for Tamara, this level of success has made her a perfectionist that is overly self critical. No matter what she does, it just isn’t good enough. Just yesterday, Tamara told her best friend that she should not be able manage money because she realized that she accidently paid the same bill twice.
Before you criticize yourself, ask yourself if your need for perfection is your own worst enemy.
You Are Putting the World On Your Shoulders: Eileen is the one that everybody talks to when they need help. When her friend Alice got dumped, it was Eileen’s shoulders that carried the weight of her tears. When it comes to her children, Eileen is the answer to every question, this on account of her ex being a deadbeat everything. Of course, this also means that when Eileen cannot be all things to all people, she beats herself up about it. Is this fair? Of course not. But Eileen is not fair to herself.
Before you criticize yourself, put things into perspective. It is very possible that you are holding yourself accountable for the woes of others.
Looking back to one the examples of the negative self-talk, we find ourselves with a story and a lesson.
Mary said: “No matter what I do, I will not be able to give my children the life they had.” But the voice in her head was that of her ex-husband Michael. Mary initiated their divorce and Michael consistently told her that if she ever went through with it, she would struggle to provide for their kids. Meanwhile, Michael would always be able to spoil them. Twelve months and a divorce later, Michael was a spoiler and Mary began criticizing herself.
In an effort to help her get past the criticism, I asked two questions.
Question 1: If Michael did not buy the children whatever he ended up buying them, would the children be struggling? The answer was no. Michael was buying the children things that were nice but not necessary. It was important for Mary to focus on this reality because until she really thought about it, the guilt of not providing that was weighing her down.
Question 2: Do you want your children to have and appreciate things or time and love? The answer was yes and Mary cried when she answered it. Not only did she realize that her children were clothed, bathed and fed but more importantly, they were loved and cared for. There was no level of trumped of criticism from Michael that would change this.
Before you criticize yourself, explore the cause of the criticism. You owe it to yourself my friend.