Does this negative self talk sound familiar? “I can’t believe how stupid I am. As if anyone would really want to read this article. What could I possibly have to say? I’m just not good enough”.
You know what negative self-talk is, but do you recognize how often you say critical things to yourself? You may use a harsh tone, telling yourself you never do anything right. You may use a pessimistic voice, assuring yourself that nothing ever turns out as planned. Negative self talk may come in your own voice, or in the voice of a parent or other person in your past.
Most people are familiar with the practice. In some cases the statistics are staggering. For example, only 4% of women worldwide believe they are beautiful. Four percent! The cause of their low-self esteem is attributed to the internalization of an inner, critical voice.
Effects of Negative Self Talk
Beyond low self-esteem, there are physical effects tied to self-criticism. Many personal development teachers claim that self-critical thoughts are not confined to the mind, but permeate every cell in the body, wreaking havoc on our physiology over time.
They are right. Studies show that negative psychological events do raise cortisol levels in otherwise healthy people. High cortisol levels are associated with weight gain, low immune function, high blood glucose levels, high blood pressure, fatigue that is severe, and muscle weakness. Anxiety, irritability, and depression also occur in people with high cortisol levels.
It’s serious. Living with daily negative self talk forces the body to live in fight-or-flight mode, which inhibits nearly every natural function.
What Causes Negative Self-Talk
Negative self-talk is something that you actively do, yet many people feel like it “just happens.” In other words, it is an autopilot response, something your brain is generating automatically, out of sheer habit.
The habit is adopted in childhood following years of being criticized by a parent, sibling, or another caretaker. In psychology, the phenomenon is known as an introject. Introjects are internal representations of the people who raised us. When a child is raised by a critical parent, that child will soon internalize that parent and end up carrying around a self-critical voice that behaves the same way the parent does. The critical parent becomes a part of us.
How to Overcome It
Overcoming negative self-talk is entirely possible. In fact, the process is straightforward. Two things need to happen:
1) The underlying reasons for the self-criticism need to be healed.
The introject needs to be integrated in a healthy, compassionate way. This is the most important aspect of overcoming negative self-talk. When the issues have been dealt with, the critical parent fades naturally.
Issues to deal with may have to do with individuation, forgiveness, anger, and learning to trust your own self-assessment more than that of others who have an agenda.
2) You need a strategy for dealing with the habit.
When your underlying motivation for criticizing yourself fades, you are left with the habit. This habit can be tough to break. The following three ideas may help.
Don’t fight it. Most people resist their inner critic and even start criticizing themselves for being self-critical. Don’t fight. The healing process always begins with greater consciousness and self-awareness. In other words, just listen. Don’t resist. Don’t judge. Just hear yourself out.
If you are patient and merely listen to the voice for what it is, it will lose much of its power. Say to yourself, “I have an inner voice that is saying…” Then repeat what the inner critic said. Listen, repeat…you will be amazed at the objectivity this simple technique gives you.
Ask for more. Turn the tables completely and ask for more criticism. You’ll be surprised at what happens. When you get more, just listen, repeat and ask for even more. The whole idea here is to raise your conscious awareness and control over what is going on in your own head.
Get outside your mind. Once you no longer allow the inner critic to get the best of you, move on. Turn your attention to something outside your mind. Feeling the temperature of the air. Feel the weight of your own body. Listen to the mundane sounds around you. Doing this is inherently calming.