I used to be really mean to myself most of the time. I was SO critical, demanding perfection in all things, and not the least bit patient or kind. Looking back, it makes me really, really sad. I wouldn’t have ever talked to anyone else that way.
Maybe this came naturally to me (this negative self-talk), but I suspect it was learned (cultural) behavior. I don’t remember thinking that way when I was a kid. It started creeping in as I entered adolescence and heard my peers start to echo the same insecure feelings I had. Before long, that insecurity became negativity, and it became my default setting.
Unfortunately, I know that negative self-talk is extremely common. In an “I’m not good enough” world where we’re surrounded by (filtered) picture perfect images and (supposedly) picture perfect lives at every turn, it’s not like my story is at all unique. (I wish it was!)
I think our relationships to ourselves are ongoing, evolving things, just like any other relationships are. They also take WORK, just like any other relationship does. I’m proud to say that I’ve worked really, really hard at getting better at loving myself over the past few years, and have been successful at turning that once-negative relationship into one that’s positive and kind. Do I still say mean things to myself? Yep, absolutely. But those times are SO much less frequent, and when I do have those negative, critical thoughts, I have experience and wisdom to draw from to help keep them at bay.
It’s funny, because I think it’s very easy to roll your eyes at a post like this one. It’s full of cliched advice, such as “treat yourself like you would treat a friend.” But here’s what I’ve realized: So many times, there’s truth to those cheesy, often-repeated phrases.
I thought I’d collect a few of said relatively cheesy pieces of advice and share them here, in case you find yourself dealing with a flurry of negative self-talk and are ready to pull yourself out of that. (As with most things like this — these lasting, personal shifts — you do have to be ready for and open to it in order for them to stick.) But, as a former negative self-talker turned much more positive self-talker, I can tell you that it’s absolutely possible to change this behavior in meaningful and lasting ways. Here are some things that have helped me during that process:
Treat yourself like you’d treat a friend. Keeping this perspective in mind has helped me time and again when I find myself being hyper critical or just downright mean to myself. I would NEVER treat a friend (or a stranger, for that matter!) that way, so why in the world would I treat myself that way? It sounds simple, but if you can bring it to the forefront of your mind in moments when you need it, it can make a huge difference.
It’s okay if your default feeling isn’t positive. It doesn’t mean you’re failing at this whole positive self-talk thing if your first reaction is a negative thought or feeling. Instead of viewing it that way and beating yourself up for it, try to combat that negative thought or feeling with a positive one. You aren’t failing — you’re being super self-aware!
Try to identify what’s at the heart of your negativity. What’s at the root of this feeling? Is it coming from a place of habit (i.e., do you always default to negative self-talk)? Why are you envious of that other girl on Instagram? What is she achieving that you want in your life? Can you pivot envy into motivation, using it to illuminate goals you may not have realized you had? Why are you chastising yourself right now, really? Take a few moments to dissect these feelings, and really try to determine what’s at their core. Don’t just brush it off as “just the way I talk to myself.”
Take stock of the things and people around you. As much as possible, surround yourself with people and things and situations that can help fuel positive self-talk. Maybe that means you unfollow certain social media accounts. Maybe it means you open up and share your self-talk journey with a friend who can help you dig into your feelings and habits. Maybe it means you aim to spend more time with people who are overall more optimistic and positive (because that stuff is CONTAGIOUS, just like negativity spreads like wildfire).
Direct the focus away from yourself. It’s not a revolutionary thought, but by spending your time and energy helping others, you’re sure to feel happier and more fulfilled and needed overall. This can be as simple as encouraging a friend, or taking the time to send a quick, heartfelt email to someone you haven’t connected with in a while.
Throw away the notion of “always” and “never” (and other black and white words). Because, after all, things are rarely black and white. Plus, the beauty of being human is that we are always evolving (or we should be, if we’re doing this whole humanity thing right!). Let yourself be okay living in the gray. In the place of change and growth and learning.
Create a mantra that can be your go-to. I think negative self-talk is largely habitual. (Mine was, at least.) To help break this habit, determine a mantra you can reach for over and over when you need it most. It doesn’t have to be at all deep or insightful or inspirational, but it can act as a tool. Pulling out that mantra is telling those negative feelings and words that you see them and you’re not going to let them take the reins today.
Keep at it. There will definitely be moments and days and possibly weeks where you can’t shake the negative self-talk, no matter how many cheesy positive self-talk tactics you employ. Welcome to being human! Just keep trying to temper those negative thoughts as often as you can, and eventually you’ll be able to hoist yourself into a more positive, affirming place.
Get excited about what this means for your life. Are you ready to be happier overall? To be better at being genuinely excited for others (rather than feeling jealous or “less than” when others succeed)? To be a better friend, sister, wife, mother, etc. as a result? To be healthier? To live more fully, and without as much hesitation? This is hard work but, like most things that are difficult, it’s SO very worth it.