The little angry monster that rides us around. Or at least, that’s how I think of it sometimes. We all have that inner voice. Sometimes it is encouraging, like when we have to start a new job “You’ve got this, you’ve done this before, it’ll be fine”. Sometimes it can be full of wisdom, like “no, don’t park here, there’s no lights and no one will be around when you get out late.” But other times it is down right negative and unnecessary, “You’re a failure; you can’t do this; you’ll be alone forever”. No one deserves to be told these things, least of all by ourselves. In the moment it can be hard to remember anything good about yourself, but I’ve got some really great tools to help with that.
Negative self talk can come in different flavours, it can be about avoidance or fear, it can also trick us into thinking it is being realistic, when really it is being condescending and unfair. You’ll know your self-talk has turned negative any time your inner critic is making you feel badly, whether it’s about yourself, your abilities, your thoughts themselves, or the people you choose in your life.
Unfortunately, this type of self-talk can have serious consequences. It can start by keeping you from doing the activities and hobbies that you enjoy, for fear of failure. It can isolate and ostracize you from your community because you think you don’t fit in. It can keep you from going after that new position at work that seems like it was written just for you, because you don’t feel deserving. And if all that wasn’t bad enough, it can lead to major stress and even depression.
Lucky for us, there are things you can do to help mitigate your angry monster, and stop him from ruling the roost.
- One of the first things I do, like you’ve already seen, is imagine this negative inner self talk like a little angry monster. He’s not big, he’s just little and he’s having a temper tantrum. “You suck. You’re no good. You can’t do it. You’re a disgrace”… whatever this little monster is saying, picture it coming out of the mouth of a small little monster with no power — and it even starts to be a little funny, don’t you think? I can almost visualize his little fit and that’s the key. You take your power back from this negative self talk.
- The next step is to combat the words being said. This is where affirmations can come into play. If your negative self talk is telling you that you can’t, remind yourself that you can — and even likely, that you already have before, so this time you’ll know even more! If you think you’re a burden, like my little monster tells me I am, remember that people around you love you and find joy in your company, and helping you out is part of that joy. If your self talk says you’re not smart or capable or strong or worthy or that you are selfish and irredeemable, whatever it may be for you — just flip the narrative and remind yourself that you are, that you can, that you have, that you will!
- If affirmations are too much, too soon — try to have some neutral thoughts. Instead of saying “I hate…” you could try “I don’t like…” or, “I can’t do…” could be “I find … challenging”. Because sometimes jumping from a really dark mood to a sunny one can be too much of a leap. Switching gears mid-stride can knock you off-kilter, so go slow and shift through neutral. This will take practice, give yourself time, stumbling through it is okay!
- The biggest win for me with negative self talk was the first time I heard this saying: Don’t always believe what you think. As I heard it, I assumed the sentence would be something like “Don’t always believe what you see on television/read on the internet”. Those are sayings I’m familiar with, and I almost tuned out. But as the sentence began to shift, and morph into such a huge statement, I literally had to pause in what I was doing, pause the playback and take notice! You mean, just because it’s in my mind, I don’t HAVE to believe it?! This was life-changing. Yes, when you think your affirmations, and you visualize and manifest your dreams, I want you to believe in them. Yes, when you’re studying for a test and gaining new knowledge, I want you to believe your thoughts. But when you are being overly self-critical and talking negatively to/about yourself…. HECK NO! You don’t have to always believe what you think. What a novel idea. Why hadn’t someone said this to me much earlier in my life!
- Speaking of someone else — another way to switch your thoughts, is to think like a friend — would you ever say these negative things to someone you care about? Or think about yourself when you were younger, can you imagine leaning down to talk to a 10 year old you, and telling yourself you can’t do it, don’t even try, it’s not worth the effort, you’ll never amount to anything anyway? No, I don’t imagine it feels very good in the pit of your stomach when you think about that. So visualize the negative self-talk as coming out of your mouth and being said to a friend or a child, and realize that it wouldn’t be okay by you to do such a thing. If you need to, you can even do a little role-playing with a friend, pretend you’re them and they’re you — let them say these negative things and see what your response would be.
- You can also ACTUALLY speak it out loud. If you say some of these negative things out loud, you can hear just how cruel and untrue they are. You can say it to yourself, or you can tell a trusted friend what you’re thinking about, and I’m willing to bet they won’t believe those things about you at all. In fact they’re more likely to tell you good things about you to help you combat the negative.
- Evidence to the contrary is a good tactic — make a list if you need to, remind yourself, you’ve been around the block a few times, I’m sure! There are successes in your lifetime that you can use to combat against the negative self-talk telling you that you can’t complete your task or that you shouldn’t even try. If your negative self-talk is based on evidence from your past, I’m certain that it is far exaggerated from what actually happened. Cross-examine your own thoughts — did it REALLY go down like that?
- And, even though it is bothering you so much right now, will it really matter in 5 years? or 10? Will anyone remember it happening by next month even? Shifting your perspective can really give you a boost. When you’re worried about trying that new bathing suit out, sometimes going to a beach far out of town or in another country will give you the freedom you need, because none of these people will ever see you again. There is safety in anonymity.
Somewhere in these options there must be something to help you combat your negative self-talk! It isn’t as easy as picking one, trying it once and giving up when it doesn’t work the first time. Practice, practice, practice. You are worthwhile and worthy of learning to turn down the dial on your own inner critic.
One last thing: I like to have a little charm or a note on my wall, something that gives me a visual cue to remember — this is just a little angry monster who wants to keep you from living the life you were born to live. Maybe this monster has protected you in the past and that’s why you’re believing him now, but he doesn’t serve you anymore. So pick him up, give him a hug, and let him go!