“I can’t believe how stupid you are.” “Wow, your butt looks humongous in that!” “Your life is such a joke.” “It’s obvious everyone thinks you’re a loser.”
Pretty harsh, huh? Most people would identify comments such as these as bullying. The problem is these words may never be uttered to you by another person, but you may be saying them to yourself!
It has often been said that we are each our own worst enemy, but I have noticed more and more in my psychotherapy practice that the most negative beliefs a person has are generated by his or her own mind. This can sometimes take on a “brainwashing” effect — the more you tell yourself something, the more likely you are to believe it as the truth. If you are telling yourself cruel things, it will likely have a hugely negative effect on your self-image and self-esteem.
This may seem like a terrible fate, but wait! If we eventually believe repeated negative self-talk, then the flip side is true as well. If we repeat positive messages to ourselves, we are likely to believe them as truth! Self-talk is something that we all participate in every day… whether we realize it or not. The key is to recognize self-defeating or self-chastising self-talk so that we may challenge it and replace it with more positive, helpful thoughts. In psychotherapy sessions, we often focus on identifying and cataloging these thoughts to determine patterns that may exist. For instance, are you an “all or nothing” thinker? You may think of things only in extremes, with no “wiggle room.” For example, if you’re not the most educated person in a room, you believe you’re automatically the most stupid. Or perhaps you often over-personalize, and take responsibility for things that are out of your control. For example, if your baby happens to catch a cold, you believe it is all your fault and you are a horrible parent. Recognizing such patterns help us determine more positive (and truthful) thoughts that can replace this old, unhelpful thinking.
When trying to revamp your self-talk, it’s possible to find it challenging to accept the new, positive thoughts you are saying to yourself. Why? Well, if you’ve spent years and years telling yourself negative things – “I’m so stupid!” – the new thoughts may go against what you have come to accept as “truth.” You do, however, have the power to retrain your brain by discovering the type of thinking pattern you typically engage in and the new thoughts that will serve you better. It may, initially, feel like you’ve got to “fake it ’til you make it,” but that is a-okay. Most new habits take a period of time to develop. And, like most new healthy habits, if you put in the work you will see the success! Just imagine how much more peaceful your world may be if you lose the 24/7 bully in your head. Make the change, and be your own best friend instead of your own worst enemy.
Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker providing counselling and psychotherapy at IHI. Check her out at www.laurenberger.ca, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW.