It is interesting to note the negative comments we tell ourselves throughout the day. Often these messages begin with “You are …” or “I am so …” They may include the word “always” (e.g., “I’m always late.”) or “never” (e.g., “I’ll never get this done.”). Although these messages may appear as coming from us, they did not originate from us. What is their source?
Chronic exposure to critical, judging, disapproving, correcting and even humiliating comments results in a repertoire of toxic self-thoughts. One of Jack Canfield’s studies watching parent-child interactions found on average 400 negative comments to ever one positive comment made to a child.
Self-talk is what our inner voices tell us. Unfortunately, for the most part, the self-talk is negative and leads to deep self-injury. Awareness of some of the less obvious ways that negative thinking enters our thought patterns can be helpful.
Pessimism refers to looking at the worst about each situation. It may be raining or the bus might be late and yet, these situations now appear negative. Pessimism taken to extremes is making the worst out of a situation and is called catastrophizing or as author Joan Borysenko terms it, “awfulizing.”
Look for times when problems or imperfections are magnified or blown out of proportion. This is when the use of “always” and “never” may enter our thoughts. Similarly, polarization – viewing situations through extremes with no middle ground – leaves little room for any perspective besides good or bad. Few events or happenings are totally bad or perfect.
We often set ourselves up for negative self-talk by perpetually imposing above-human standards or perfectionism on situations or ourselves. Where did we learn such high or unrealistic expectations? Similarly, the act of ‘should-ing’ – reprimanding ourselves for things we ‘should’ or ‘should not’ have done – also adds to our psychic burdens.
So, what do we do about the negative self-talk? We want to be able to ‘thought-stop’ the negative message and replace it with a new, more compassionate, truthful and positive inner message. This method has been adapted from Gabor Maté’s work on addictive behaviour.
First, we stop the negative thought as soon as it emerges. We then confidently say, “This thought is not true.” We then take time to reflect upon the original source (usually a key childhood influence) of the thought.
When we get to the source of the thought we say, “This is not my thought. This thought came from … which has been engrained in my brain for decades.” This acknowledgment helps externalize the thought and often has a profound distancing and disowning effect.
We compassionately replace the untrue thought with a true one. “I am ….” In fact, we are mirroring back to our inner child what it wished it heard while growing up. This step actually helps to rewire or re-script our neural pathways. The more we repeat the new thought the stronger its neural pathway will be and the old negative one will diminish.