On Negative Self-Talk

12 Dec

I know what it must sound like to you whenever those ugly words start pouring out of me.

Every time I tell you that I’m so stupid, I’m a failure, everything is my fault and so on and so forth forever into eternity, you must think that what I’m really doing is asking a question, namely: Do you agree that these things are true?

Or else maybe it comes off as a command: Tell me that I’m wrong. Tell me that I’m worth it. Validate me.

Maybe it sounds like a dare or a taunt: Go ahead, fight me on this. Just try.

It must seem like I’m looking for some kind of reaction – a hug, or an eye roll, or something in between the two, an affectionate sort of “there she goes again” crossed with “don’t worry, you’re not monster.”

The truth is that when I fall into the spiral of negative self-talk, even when my words seem to be directed at another person, they’re almost always meant for me and only me. These words are also a compulsion, and in the way of many compulsions they act as a sort of charm or a spell to ward off something worse. They’re a way of beating everyone else to the punch, and they also function as a funny type of pep-talk. But even when I say them publicly, they’re never meant for anyone but me.

Sometimes it’s almost like I have to say something out loud in order to know whether it’s true or not. It’s similar to how I can’t memorize something unless I’ve actually muttered it through several times to myself, except that it’s more like I have to shape my mouth around these vile thoughts about myself to see if they have a taste of truth to them. A thought seems so insubstantial that it could be anywhere on the realm of possibility, but a spoken or written word – well, that’s a different kettle of fish, isn’t it?  A thought is like cotton candy, melting and disappearing the moment you try to properly consume it; a word has heft. Speaking or writing something gives me the chance to weigh it against reality, to see which side the scale comes down on.

Negative self-talk is also a way of loudly and triumphantly declaring all of the terrible things you worry that other people are thinking about you. It’s a way to take the sting out of an insult, a way to toss your head and wink like you don’t care. Theoretically, what’s the hurt in someone else calling you stupid or ugly or pathetic if you’ve already embraced those awful things yourself? It’s a pre-emptive shedding of your emotional clothes before another person can come along and lift up your skirt; it’s biting your lip, hard, so that you don’t feel the needle in your arm. But of course you do still feel the needle, and even when you invite people to stare at your naked feelings their gawking sneers still hurt. You’re not really beating anyone to the punch, you’re just pounding away at yourself like a schoolyard bully landing one hit after another on some poor, defenceless, cowering kid.

Whenever I talk badly about myself, it turns into a sort of Harry Potter Devil’s Trap situation – the harder I struggle and the more I tell myself to stop, the worse it gets. Like, if I start of by saying that I’m stupid and can’t handle even the smallest things, then it escalates to saying that calling myself stupid is proof of my own stupidity, and having this meltdown is proof that I can’t handle my life, and then anger and shame that I’m letting other people see me going through this, with every added layer just making me feel worse and worse and worse about myself. Once you’re down in that pit, there’s no way out – you’re just scraping your fingers against the walls, unable to climb or dig through and ultimately only hurting yourself more. My own negative self-talk validates my low self-esteem, and in my rational moments I know that. But when I’m feeling awful about myself, the only way to fix it seems to be to drive the knife deeper.

I know that the negative self-talk serves no real purpose, no matter how I try to frame it or justify it, but it’s hard to quit. It’s an internal groove on a record and whenever my mental needle slips into it, the music needs to play the whole way through before I can put on something else. I’m slowly learning to pull off the needle mid-song, but it’s hard. If I tell myself to stop at the wrong time and I can’t or don’t for whatever reason, then that just leads to feeling awful over the fact that I’m still going. Right now I’m at the point where I can pick out harmful thought patterns after the fact; later, once I’m not sobbing stormily and feeling like the world is ending, I can look at what how wrong and harmful what I was saying about myself was. But when I’m in the middle of berating myself, I’m not in a place where I can listen or change – it’s like this howling mess that blocks out or distorts anything that doesn’t agree with what it says.

So I’m working on this. Along the same lines, I’m learning to Take A Compliment. Whenever someone trots out something nice about me, I just breathe deeply and say thank you instead of explaining to them all the particular ways they happen to be wrong. Sometimes, if I’m not too consumed in the haze of panic that compliments set off in me, I’ll remember to compliment them back. I hope that someday my negative self-talk will work along these lines – like, whenever I feel the compulsion to do it, I’ll just take a deep breath, smile, and say no thank you, brain. Not today. I’m too awesome for your shit right now.

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37 Responses to “On Negative Self-Talk”

  1. J December 12, 2014 at 3:36 am #

    Someone just said to me, “You don’t know how to take a compliment, do you?” I don’t think I do! 😡

    • csawe December 18, 2014 at 3:59 am #

      Yess I do ficture to your I like

  2. balletandboxing December 12, 2014 at 3:48 am #

    I love this post. Every part it is exactly how I work too, and where I’m at in my path to better Self-Talk! Thanks for sharing.

  3. Kanav December 12, 2014 at 4:02 am #

    Loved it, Totally! 🙂

  4. poorsickandshunned December 12, 2014 at 4:55 am #

    Thank you very much for this post. Now I know I’m not alone, and you explained things about negative self talk that I didn’t even realize were happening. Seriously, thank you.

  5. The Rider December 12, 2014 at 6:27 am #

    Thanks! This is really something to think about today! I also tend to be my own worst enemy…

  6. dodgysurfer December 12, 2014 at 8:54 am #

    Thank you for writing this.

  7. treatwilliams December 12, 2014 at 9:39 am #

    If you can knock out an analysis like that you’re categorically not stupid. Case closed. Very helpful post thanks.

  8. Tina December 12, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    I’m right there with you. The negative self talk. Not being able to take a compliment. I don’t see myself as others see me. The way that I used to see mself. I feel like a fraud most of the time. I will say though, I have learned a lot about myself over the past couple of nightmarish years. I’ve learned that the negative self talk is a byproduct of a very unhealthy and manipulative relationship I’ve been in for over 20 years. My self worth dwindled down to zero. My identity, that of a strong woman WITH self worth slowly evaporated in such a way that I didn’t even reaize it until I crashed. Sometimes I dn\t reconize myself anymore. But I have noticed some things that are helping me out of this pit. I know thatfeelings aren’t facts. That the way I treat myself is unjustified. That there’s some kind of effed up payoff I get when I talk about myself the way I do. A friend once said to me, after I said I feel like such a loser, ” Do me a favor, and sop talking about my friend Tina that way. It ofends me”. That was an eye opener. Ilve also learned that being unable to accept a compliment is a form of false humility. So I try to just simply say, “Thank you so much”. Period. It’s hard, but I know it doesn’t serve me well to negate someone’s kindness. Not does it serve them well; it’s almost like a slap in the face to them. When I find myself berating who I am, I try to turn it around almost immediately and use gratitude to ward off the damage I inflict upon myself. Just taking it down to the basicsl I have a roof over my head, a fridge with food, healthy kids, etc. I try to access the healthy me, the one who says, be gentle with yourself, and kind; for ou have lost your way only temporarily. You’ll come back if you just stop it. But those are flittering moments of clarity that can turn on me at a moments notice. Itls a struggle. Thank you for your post. It’s important to hear the rawness of others. If I hear, “chose happiness”, etc, one more time, I’ll scream.Those positive affirmations are great for some, but for others, it minimizes what we go through. Its just not always that easy. Best wishes to you and all who’ve commented. Sorry for typos, spell check is in bed, as I should be. Goodnight.

    • neighsayer December 13, 2014 at 1:43 am #

      Tina, see my comment below, made just a minute before this one . . .

  9. garence51 December 12, 2014 at 10:47 am #

    I tried to post this before but received an error. Sorry if you see it twice.

    Your internal groove thing is very apt.

    If you don’t wish to know what I do when it happens to me then please stop reading.

    I open iTunes or Spotify or something. I play the song that closely fits my thoughts. Slowly I play more positive songs until I find another groove.

  10. amommasview December 12, 2014 at 11:29 am #

    Love your last sentence: I am too awesome for this shit!

  11. tendernessontheblock December 12, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    I love this photo of you. I hope writing this has helped navigate you round the corner.

  12. Jaja Devicais December 12, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    Thank you for this. I tend to do that same thing about myself. I’m glad I’m not the only one in this spot.

  13. kstroh96 December 12, 2014 at 2:37 pm #

    Reblogged this on Growing Up Angry.

  14. viviennemarks December 12, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

    Love this! ❤

    For me a big part of negative self-talk is…. it kind of makes me feel armored. Like nobody can hurt me as badly as I can hurt myself, so I have no one to fear but me. And it's a good strategy except for one thing: I can hurt myself SO MUCH.

  15. mrwriteon December 12, 2014 at 6:49 pm #

    Some good wisdom in this. And yes, always accept compliments even if you think they’re false. They just might not be.

  16. neighsayer December 13, 2014 at 1:42 am #

    The part about self talk that is sometimes a mystery is the phenomenon called “splitting.” When we’re trash-talking ourselves, we are actually identifying with the side of ourself that at the moment ISN’T stupid and useless. This means to me, that it begins from a weird sort of positivity. We split ourselves and one side judges the other, so that in that moment we are the smart one, the clever judge who knows better and can see the fault in the other side of ourselves clearly – so we tell ourselves how stupid we are so that we can be the smart one who knows better and is able to pass this judgement.
    That is the explanation that helped make some bit of difference for me. Now I can tell my negative inner voices “shut up! You don’t know better, you’re just more of me. So don’t get all cocky!”

    • MissPistachio April 29, 2015 at 11:36 am #

      This paragraph made a huge amount of sense to me. I have a really bad habit of consistently telling myself that I’m stupid when I do something wrong or screw something up even though I’m not stupid. And I know I’m not. But in that moment, it actually makes me feel BETTER to just say it out loud. I tried going for a week once without outwardly expressing any negative self-talk (no saying, “God, I’m so stupid,” or anything like that) and I actually felt worse about myself after not getting it off my chest for that long. It was just a bunch of pent up anger that had no release and I hated it. I felt no better by the end of the week. I NEEDED that negative self-talk as a release. Like punching a pillow. I don’t actually have anything against that pillow, it’s just an emotional release. Same with when I verbally punch myself. I don’t actually hate me. And I consistently feel better afterwards.

      But it does drive everyone around me crazy. So I’d like to do it less. Or maybe less verbally. But I’ve already tried and it didn’t affect me positively. I’m hoping that thinking of that side of me as just more of “me” might help. I’m going to try that. Thanks for this explanation and solution! I hope it works for me. Other advice would also be keen for my situation.

      • neighsayer April 29, 2015 at 5:39 pm #

        thanks! I can relate to everything you said, but just to be really clear, just because we feel that way (that negative self-talk is inevitable), that suppressing rather than expressing our negative feelings doesn’t work – doesn’t mean that cutting back on nasty self-talk isn’t still the goal, for longer term reasons. But it does mean that simple suppression isn’t an answer. I know you know, just it’s so easy to have less than great communication online.

      • neighsayer May 5, 2015 at 5:42 am #

        I think I ruined my golf buddy’s life with my anger and self-talk. That will be added to my lowlight reel that plays in my head when I’m at my lowest. 20 years that poor bugger put up with me most weekends.

  17. mindfulexpat December 13, 2014 at 11:28 am #

    So many people struggle with negative self talk and end up in the viscous cycle of criticizing themselves even more for that. I think it can be helpful to recognize that they’re just thoughts, that thy don’t really have to mean anything about you. Also to practice some self compassion – this is a hard well-rehearsed mental habit you’re trying to break and it’s going to take practice. Good luck! I appreciate your thoughtfulness and openness about this difficult subject.

  18. kristanicki December 13, 2014 at 5:13 pm #

    This is so spot on. I’ve been learning to turn off negative self talk too! That record is awfully persistent. One day at a time, and eventually we’ll realize how awesome we are 🙂

  19. Danika Maia December 14, 2014 at 2:51 pm #

    This is so true and I’m so guilty of this. I’ll do something I know I’ll regret later (like eat an entire pizza) and then spend hours reprimanding myself to my boyfriend only to go to the gym and feel good enough to do it all over again the next night. He’s so sweet about it but I know how annoyed I get with my own mother for her CONSTANT verbal vomit about her weight and I don’t want to be that same annoyance to my boyfriend!

    http://www.danikamaia.com

  20. heathelise15 December 14, 2014 at 6:52 pm #

    Ibelieve I’m going to enjoy your blog! I find myself at times talking negatviely or asking questions for validation. It’s unfortunate. Thanks for sharing and allowing me to follow. Please visit my new blog at http://storyofasunflower.wordpress.com. Thank you!

  21. Jessica Malionek December 15, 2014 at 2:11 pm #

    I love this. You’ve captured what I call spinning down the toilet bowl. The inability to stop my own negative talk from sweeping me up into its tornado and flushing me down the pipe. I hate that spinning and yet sometimes, once I’ve danced around the perimeter of the bowl, its so familiar and taunting, I can’t help but fling myself in. Thank you for this. While I don’t wish these feelings upon anyone, I’m grateful to be held by your written words and take comfort in knowing that someone else gets it! Take care!

  22. A.Heister December 19, 2014 at 2:19 am #

    You look like Geddy Lee in a dress.
    There.

  23. allthoughtswork December 22, 2014 at 7:13 am #

    Bucket List

    1. Attain spiritual nirvana by not giving a shit what anyone else thinks.
    2. Worship my awesome self.
    3. Keep shooting for #1 and #2.

  24. Jenn the PerioGirl Personal Trainer February 12, 2015 at 4:20 pm #

    Very indepth post! I wonder how we develop these negative thoughts? Does it start at a young age? Do we learn this behavior from another person or is this how are minds are when we are born? I see so many of the same things you have said that I have done to myself. I appreciate your honesty and your integrity on this hard subject. Positive self talk is so important! Thanks for posting

  25. confessionslipsticklesbian March 26, 2015 at 6:47 am #

    I have struggled with this issue as well. Hell, I still struggle from it almost constantly. I was told again and again that I needed to “Fake it till you make it” and “just tell yourself the truth until you believe it.” But things like that didn’t work. They were things others told me to do, they were false and hollow, and meaningless.

    And then I started writing notes to myself and posting them around my home. My favorite note is the one by my bathroom mirror that tells me “I have beautiful features. Stop focusing on the ‘ugly’ bits.” Which is a truth that I can see and understand. Followed by the quote: “For once, you believed in yourself, you believed you were beautiful and so did the rest of the world.” – Sarah Dessen. These two things together started to work in helping me feel better about myself.

    It wasn’t an immediate change, but after a couple months, I noticed that when I looked in the mirror, I would smile more. I wouldn’t focus so much on my crooked nose, or my messed up teeth. I saw my shining eyes and the way my hair fell across my face.

    It is amazing what a little work from ourselves can do.

    Thank you so much for sharing this part of you, and I hope that you don’t struggle with this so much any more.

  26. chriscpye April 18, 2015 at 5:10 am #

    Great stuff. As a counsellor, I love working with people to fid creative responses to this challenge. Your idea of addressing your mind directly and letting it know that “you don’t need this shit right now” holds a lot of power, I think. Are you familiar with ACT (acceptance & commitment therapy). some of your words could be taken straight from the users manual!

  27. artisanne101 June 23, 2016 at 2:23 pm #

    Reblogged this on LISA ECHEBIRI'S BLOG.

  28. gina edeh June 29, 2016 at 11:18 am #

    It a nyc write up, sometyms I feel d same way, but must tym I bite my tongue so I won’t say anyfin negative to pple.

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