What does the most famous, successful, wealthy person you can think of have in common with the newspaper delivery person or the maid at the hotel you stayed at for your last vacation? They are very likely plagued by negative self-talk. People who are successful often tell themselves they are “phonies” or they aren’t successful enough or that the bottom is going to fall out at any point. People who are trying to make it might tell themselves they “could have, should have” done more with their lives, that they aren’t worthy or aren’t very smart.
Negative self-talk is that little voice that creeps in telling you that you can’t, that you shouldn’t, that there is something wrong with you. It’s the visitor that appears in full force in the middle of the night when you lie awake in the dark thinking of all of the things you need to do, that you haven’t done and that you can’t possibly finish. It’s the constant chatter going on in your head.
Most people aren’t even aware that they talk to themselves. They are only aware that they feel anxious, or stressed. They are aware that their energy is depleted as they think about what they need to do, or how frustrated they feel about their life. They don’t realize that there is a running commentary on their life that tells them what to think and how to feel.
Why is it the great equalizer? Why would a person who seems to have everything still talk to themselves potentially as much as someone who has nothing? Because most people are completely unaware that they are doing so! It doesn’t matter what’s going right, what a person has amassed or how “lucky” their life may be, they may be afraid of losing everything. They may tell themselves they haven’t done enough. They may worry about their health, or their family. The person who has little may worry about the bills to pay, or their ability to keep working and make money.
Consider the statistics that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of the U.S. population). Anxiety does not differentiate between income levels, prestige or success. A person who is afraid of flying, for example, could be afraid no matter what their life situation. They tell themselves how scary it is to be “vulnerable” up in the air, how little oversight there is for air traffic controllers, and how likely they are to be injured if not killed flying. The person who is afraid, and then uses negative self-talk to convince themselves the fears are justified, could be anyone.
The voices telling someone what to believe, what’s “real” and what to expect come in at any point and in a variety of disguises. They could sound like one’s parent helping them navigate through life. They could sound like a boss who was never pleased no matter how well you performed. They could sound like a sibling, a spouse, a friend from the past. The self-talk you hear is often authoritative. It doesn’t allow for argument. It doesn’t allow for a healthy debate. It presents its case as if it were fact based.
Negative self-talk also interprets for you. It views what’s happening and then tells you what’s really happening. It is the play-by-play on your life. Everyone is visited by self-talk. Some are visited more often than others, and some are visited by more negative self-talk than others.
What can you do to turn negative self-talk into positive self-talk and make it more useful for you?
- Know it’s there. Some people aren’t even aware that they talk to themselves. They think their thoughts are just thoughts. They don’t realize it’s a conversation going on inside their head. Realize that you talk to yourself, and start to become more aware of how and when you do.
- Identify “triggers” or things that set your negative self-talk in motion. Is there something you are afraid of? Are there things that just “bug” you? What happens that creates a negative reaction in you? Identify these and you’ll likely see associated triggers.
- Recognize the words you use. What do you say to yourself? How does your negative self-talk manifest? What does it say to you?
- Create positive affirmations and self-talk to replace the negative. Once your triggers kick in, and your typical negative self-talk starts, choose to stop. Cease. Start to replace the chatter with something more positive. Keep a list of affirmations close by so you can refer to them when you need to.
Become more aware of the impact of negative self-talk on your life. Know that it is a common visitor for everyone. Choose to manage it differently and use it in your best interests, and not to defeat you.